Rethinking Writing Assignments in an Online Classroom Environment

I’m just going to say it.

It is unrealistic and unnecessary to assign full essays in an online environment. You do not need that stress of grading, and it may not be the best way for students to learn. I stopped assigning full essays in my classroom 3 years ago. I always told students, we are training for a marathon. (The AP test). When you prepare for races, you never run a full 26.2 unless it’s race day. You spend your training building up to that race, and that’s what we did with roaring success. If you are still rolling your eyes, each year I did this, my students scored above state and national averages on all the writing pieces… Including this year. That is because we were continually looking at where we were and what needed to change to get there. It was part of the DNA of the class, not a separate piece. We would discuss FRQs as warm-ups and how to ANSWER THE QUESTION. Anytime someone said something, I’d ask for evidence and how it ties back into their original thought. I’m sure it annoyed my students, but it’s all part of good civil dialogue and writing.

Here are a few tips and questions to ask yourself to help you navigate through teaching and assessing writing in an online environment.

Questions to ask yourself as you plan:

  1. What did your writing assessment look like before? How does it need to change to accommodate a new way of instruction? If you are struggling, write out what you want them to accomplish and move backward.
  2. Will I have ample time to grade this, or is it worth grading? Whenever I graded any writing, I scheduled it into my week to grade it. And then, I put that into my Outlook calendar so that others could see I was unavailable. If I didn’t have time IN MY WEEK to grade it, I needed to reconsider the assignment because I did not bring work home or work on the weekends (this was after the great burn out of 2016)
  3. Is this assignment creating a situation where students need to work harder than necessary? I learned this the hard way. If they have to do too much too soon, they check out of writing, and if you have to do too much, you’ll burn out on teaching it.

Tips for writing assignments and assessments:

  • The writing rubrics are your students’ best friend. They need to be familiar with it, so they know exactly what they need to do. I always start with thesis writing because I feel like it’s specific to AP Government in the way it’s graded.
  • SHOW them excellent writing. Use the Declaration of Independence and discuss what his thesis is. What evidence does he give? Is there an acknowledgment of the opposing side? In this, they are reading the document AND discussing writing! I did this with Letter from a Birmingham Jail as well.
  • Have students submit their thesis anonymously or write some of your own for a warm-up and have a class discussion using the rubric. Make that rubric a constant talking point.
  • Have them do their writing AFTER a Socratic Discussion. Students have been able to talk through something, and the writing will be so much better. If you see my Sample Schedule, you can see where this fits in. It could also be helpful to give them a prompt during the seminar so they can start to prewrite a bit.

Most of all, create assignments that you enjoy reading, and students enjoy writing!





1 thought on “Rethinking Writing Assignments in an Online Classroom Environment

  1. Maria Maldonado 17 Aug 2020 — 2:20 pm

    Thank you for this! Very well said and great tips!


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