Dec. 11 faculty-led workshop: Improving student writing

By Richard H. Miller, Academic Outreach & Innovation

theresa-jordanPULLMAN, Wash. – When Washington State University history professor Theresa Jordan taught World Civilization, she required weekly writing from her class of 50. Grading all those papers, and the revised versions, was time-consuming but manageable. Then her class size increased to 150.

“I wasn’t going to give up on having them write papers,” she said. “History is all about writing.”

She had an idea: Have students create a portfolio of three to five papers. No revisions allowed. Dedicate a class to the writing process. Evaluate each paper according to a detailed rubric. Return each paper with specific suggestions.

“The average grade on the first paper is C minus – and students look a little stunned,” she said. “The second papers have a B average. In the third paper, more move up into the A’s.”

Jordan said her approach makes expectations more explicit: “Students always see grades as an evaluation of the paper, but they don’t necessarily see those grades as a communication about how to improve.”

Jordan won a 2014-15 Smith Teaching and Learning Grant from WSU to test her portfolio plan in other history courses. At the next faculty-led workshop, she and graduate student Katie Perry will share their results and rubrics.

Improving Student Writing Without Grading Revisions will be 12:10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, in CUE 518 and will be live-streamed. Lunch will be provided. Please register at

This workshop series is sponsored by the WSU Provost’s Office, WSU Teaching Academy and WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation.

Along with winning the Smith grant, Jordan has a certificate in secondary education teaching from WSU and was the first recipient of the Richard G. Law Excellence Award for Undergraduate Teaching. Her role, she said, is as much about influencing the future as teaching the past:

“Our topic is history,” she tells her students, “but the real purpose is your brain. I’m here to help you think better and understand the world you live in so you can make good decisions.”