Scholars from various disciplines have investigated topics as diverse as the discrepancies between instructor and student expectations for assessment, the different stylistic conventions of writing across disciplinary and institutional boundaries, student perceptions of the value of essay writing, problem- oriented collaborative writing projects in the humanities, the prevalence of plagiarism, the ethics and efficacy of third-party proof-reading, and the relative value of study skill manuals for improving writing skills and competencies. Although the essay occupies a central place in university assessment, a number of scholars have commented on the lack of attention devoted to essay writing in the scholarship of teaching and learning (e.
McCune (2004) points to the lack of research between essay writing, student perceptions, and learning outcomes. Knudson (2014) notes that few studies have investigated how students conceptualize the process of essay writing and how they develop competencies over time. Court, (2014) asserts that the link between assessment and writing skills has not been widely studied (p. Furthermore, the relationship between the coursework essay and undergraduate learning outcomes is a field that remains largely unexamined: this article seeks to address, in particular, the critical lacunae around metacognitive approaches to first-year undergraduate essay writing. Through a series of interrelated and scaffolded exercises, students evaluated undergraduate essays using a predetermined assessment process. They were then asked to write their own essays and evaluate them using the same assessment criteria. The students were supported throughout the process with preparatory seminars, videos, and written resources delivered during class time or assigned for self-directed study outside of class hours. The impact and efficacy of the project was evaluated using student feedback, both quantitative and qualitative, uk thesis and an analysis of their marks. In designing this project, I sought to create conditions to enhance learning outcomes based on evidence- based and capacity-building strategies drawn from the large body of research related to teaching and learning. Therefore, in the first section of this article, I will outline the scholarship that informed the fundamental principles of this project: namely, that early intervention in first-year courses around essay writing helps students transition into university and increases chances for student success, that clear and transparent expectations significantly influence student perceptions of learning, that carefully scaffolded assignments help students develop their writing skills over time, and that increasing the frequency of writing opportunities and feedback leads to higher learning outcomes.
Finally, in the third section, I will present the qualitative and quantitative results, analyze the impact of the project on student learning, and make recommendations for how the project can be adapted to different disciplinary contexts. Section I: Links between Essay Writing and Student Learning Managing expectations Many students face tremendous challenges as they develop essay-writing competencies, especially when they encounter essays for the first time within a higher education context. In the light of these findings, it is imperative that we intervene early in the undergraduate writing process in order to support students in their earliest forays into academic essay writing.
Therefore, I introduced a rigorous approach to essay writing in a first-year, introductory English literature survey course. I designed the project in the context of a small, bilingual, primarily undergraduate, liberal-education focused Canadian institution that values exemplary teaching and research, small class sizes, and strong faculty-student interactions. Every incoming English major is automatically enrolled in the survey course. The class size is 65 - 75 students, and there is a mix of out-of- province students who have gone through the high school system and Quebec students who have graduated from the CEGEP system. I have taught the class 9 times in 7 years at two institutions in Quebec. Assignments Every three weeks, students completed an in-class assignment (1. Syllabus, course times, and class size for the introductory survey class remained constant across these two institutional contexts.
Essays were chosen from a bank of essays submitted by students in the course from previous years. Former students granted permission to use their essays and I erased any identifying features from the essays.
I scaffolded the quality of the essays given to students: the first assignment featured an essay that had clear problems in content, structure, and form, and the quality of the essays increased in each subsequent iteration. Therefore, as students became more experienced in evaluation, the essays required more nuanced analyses. In this section, students evaluated the content of the essay, including the use of evidence, logic and argumentation, and the quality of analysis.
In addition to the page of comments, students were also encouraged to engage with the essay in the margins of the paper in order to create verisimilitude with the experience of marking an essay. In the third section (worth 15 points), students evaluated the mechanics of the essay and filled out a style checklist that identified strengths and weaknesses in punctuation, grammar, and syntax.