two pages) describing their decision about cancer treatment in the
form of a letter to a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with cancer and is considering their treatment options. Students also indicate how they responded to peer feedback and
engage in self-evaluation. We ask students to highlight the big
ideas, bold their reactions, and underline dilemmas and tensions
regarding what decisions they would make.
Instructor evaluation. The instructors and teaching assistants
assess and score the students’ submissions and peer reviews using
defined rubrics (Figures 3 and 4). Rubrics greatly facilitate rapid
scoring of assignments. We award students up to five points for
their peer evaluations, up to 15 points total for the three WTL
collections of thoughts, and a maximum of 15 points for their
essay (35 possible points in total). Finally, the instructor,
informed by the students’ essays, leads in-class discussions and
provides feedback to the students on their understanding, mis-
conceptions, and connections with the core topic area. For this
to occur, we recommend that the instructor read several (~20)
randomly chosen essays and identify which concepts, reactions/
connections, and dilemmas/decisions students most often
describe (highlight, bold, and underline). This subsample review
gives the instructor some idea of issues that he or she can present
in class. In addition, if there are missing concepts that the essays
do not reflect, the instructor can also share these.
During our first implementation of WTL in our cell biology
courses, we required that each sub-assignment be submitted
within a week, the collection of thoughts on what they know
in the first week, their reactions the second week, what they
would do (decision they would make) the third week, the peer
reviews the fourth week, and the WTC essay the fifth week. In
current implementations, we make the three collections of
thoughts and the draft essay due at the end of the third week.
To determine whether the WTL tasks have a positive effect on
student learning outcomes, we implemented a simplified version
of the writing assignments by asking students to read articles
and respond to an essay prompt without participating in any
WTL activities (Figure 5). While the learning outcomes were
diminished, the WTC assignments (persuasive essays) did prove
useful in improving performance outcomes (Balgopal et al.,
Figure 3. Rubric for evaluating peer evaluations.
Figure 4. Rubric for WTL assignment evaluation. Figure 5. Writing to Communicate – assignment 1 only.