Assessment in Writing 101: Reflection and Revision

In the same way that Writing 101 faculty promote revision as a crucial component of effective academic writing, we also regularly reflect upon, assess, and revise our own goals and practices as undergraduate teachers.

This sustained reflection begins for incoming Writing 101 faculty with an intensive three-week summer seminar in teaching writing, in which participants develop and workshop syllabi and assignments, and share ideas for classroom practices. These interchanges continue during the academic year through reflective practitioner groups (RPGs), in which faculty join small working groups centered on a shared area of interest related to the teaching of writing—such as responding to student writing, teaching writing in the sciences, or integrating scholarship with course themes. 

The program directors review student-course evaluations every semester for all Writing 101 sections. In doing so, we have found that students consistently rank Writing 101, on the average, a both more demanding and more intellectually stimulating than most other courses they take in their first year at Duke.

In their second year of teaching in the UWP, each Fellow submits a

Teaching Portfolio

documenting their work in Writing 101 for rigorous review by the program directors. (We recently revised this review process itself to include an electronic—rather than paper—Teaching Portfolio.) We have also formally assessed our work through the

2004-06 iPod project

, in which Writing 101 faculty used iPods to record and reflect on their work in the classroom; a faculty

survey on teaching writing to non-native speakers

of English; and a 2007 student

focus group on Writing 101 course descriptions.

Our ongoing work in assessment has been anchored by two formal, program-wide studies of student growth in Writing 101. Both our 2003 and 2005 Assessment Projects clearly showed that, over the course of a semester in Writing 101, students learn how to make more critical and assertive use of source texts in their own prose.

These formal and informal modes of assessment have helped us rethink our work as teachers of academic writing­—generating ideas for invited speakers, teaching workshops, and follow-up assessment projects. Our teaching portfolio reviews, for instance, have prompted an ongoing professional development workshop series, led by Writing 101 faculty, on such topics as foregrounding student texts in class or teaching writing through a disciplinary lens. Our surveys of faculty and students have led to our recruitment of an ESL specialist and a program-wide workshop on strategies for developing effective course descriptions. Our Writing 101 Assessment Projects led us to revise our Writing 101 course goals and practices so that they more fully and clearly articulate our actual aims in teaching academic writing.

In coming years, we plan to build upon this culture of reflection and revision. We are, for example, planning a new assessment study that will examine the relationship between our Writing 101 course goals and practices and the writing Duke students go on to do in their upper-division, writing-intensive courses in the disciplines.

Assessing the Teaching of Writing in the Disciplines: Articulating Learning Objectives

Since the Writing in the Disciplines (WID) Program offers no courses of its own, we do not have our own set of learning objectives for students. Instead, our goal is to help instructors in other departments help their students become stronger writers.  Click here for a list of departments whose faculty we have consulted with recently and current WID courses.

When the WID program started in 2000, we reached out to Duke faculty in the form of centralized workshops on issues in teaching writing.  But such workshop had two important limitations: First, they tended to attract mainly instructors who were already interested in teaching writing.  Second, they left the most difficult task—figuring out how to apply general advice about teaching writing to specific courses and contexts—to the instructors.  In 2004 we thus switched our emphasis from offering workshops to working with particular departments or instructors of specific courses.  Such help has included consulting with instructors on matters such as crafting assignments, giving feedback, and course design; conducting workshops on various aspects of writing pedagogy for department faculty and graduate student instructors; and developing discipline-specific materials for faculty to use in their teaching.  In one department, Biology, our work has included supporting the development of an assessment tool for honor’s theses called BioTAP.

During the next few years, we plan to extend this discipline-focused approach to include collaborating with three Trinity College departments in articulating learning objectives for student writing, identifying curricular changes to help meet those objectives, and to assess the success in those curricula in meeting those objectives. Part of this work will involve using BioTAP as a model for developing assessment tools for capstone writing projects in other departments. Given the wide range of writing tasks that students are given throughout the curriculum, we know that the learning objectives for student writing differ markedly across Trinity College departments.  Our challenge will be to help departments assess how they teach writing in ways that are both practical and true to the spirit of their disciplines.


Assessment at the Writing Studio: Achieving Learning Objectives

Since its inception in 2000, the Writing Studio has assessed its work with student writers with a variety of tools. Daily assessment includes student writers’ setting the agenda for each conference at the beginning of the session and assessing achievement of those goals afterwards in student questionnaires and conference summaries to professors.  Students who schedule E-Tutor appointments fill out a detailed submission form, which both serves as a self-assessment and directs tutors’ written comments on their work. Students also fill out a self-assessment before certain milestone appointments—the 5th, 15th, and 20th—and discuss these with their tutor.  All three instruments play key roles in helping us rethink and improve our work as tutors.

We conducted a Fall 2003 survey that asked Writing 101 (20) students about their perceptions of the Writing Studio and made strategic planning decisions based on the results. We now emphasize that students do not need a complete draft to benefit from an appointment and that the Writing Studio is for all students, of all writing abilities, and not only for remedial assistance.

Determining if we are meeting our learning objectives is also an integral part of the new Undergraduate Writing Tutor program, which was the focus of a

Spring 2006 survey

. The Director of the Writing Studio co-authored

“Can You Hear Us Now?,”

an article based on a study in spring 2007 that shows the value of audio feedback as a revision strategy in the composition classroom and the Writing Studio.

Writing Studio usage has increased dramatically over the years, almost tripling from 1200 appointments in 2000-01 to 3300 in 2006-07, and the number of tutors has gone from an initial 16 to 29. Although we are pleased to reach larger numbers of students, we also encourage repeat visits by students, as we believe regular tutoring creates better writers. Indeed, one of the findings of the 2005 Writing 101 (20) Assessment Project was that frequent visitors to the Writing Studio showed dramatic improvements in their writing for class. As a result, we encourage students to schedule appointments on a regular basis.

We plan in 2008 to target seniors who have been frequent users of the Writing Studio and assess to what extent their uses of the Writing Studio— through individual face-to-face and/or E-Tutor appointments, group workshops, writing groups, and web site resources—has helped them improve as writers during their four years at Duke. And, with the help of a new ESL Specialist, we also plan in Fall 2008 to survey the ESL undergraduate population in order to assess what level and types of additional support we can provide these students.

Trinity College Office of Assessment

The Office of Assessment provides analysis and research on Duke's undergraduate curriculum, courses, departments and programs in efforts to improve student learning.  To learn more, please visit

Ed White on Assessment

On June 24, 2013, assessment expert Ed White led an informal discussion hosted by the Thompson Writing Program and Duke's Center for Instructional Technology. The talk was titled "A Personal, Historical, and Tagmemic Look at the Assessment of Writing: from Multiple-Choice Bubbles to E-Portfolios."

The video can be viewed here.

Dr. White reviewed the developments in portfolios and writing assessment since 1971--when, as an English department chair, he became involved in writing assessment by accident--through this year, when he designed and consulted on assessment in Duke’s English-Composition MOOC.