Using Kahoot Jumble to Teach Paragraphing in the Writing Classroom

Adam Sprague, Bellin College, adam.sprague @

Over the past twenty years, online formative assessment has emerged as a valid pedagogical strategy from the combination of research in both formative assessment and computer-assisted assessment. In fact, numerous scholars have synthesized a plethora of knowledge in these two fields of research (Clark, 2012; Conole & Warburton, 2005; Nicol, 2009). One common thread found within these syntheses is that technology can be used successfully by instructors for evaluative purposes (Brown, 1997; Skorczynska, del Saz Rubio, & Carrió-Pastor, 2016). This realization may mean that writing instructors could use student response systems (SRS) to help evaluate how their writers are progressing toward various writing skills as SRS have been used successfully to evaluate a wide range of other skill sets in courses ranging from Sports Management to English as a Second Language. Furthermore, students consistently report that SRS are easy to use and improve their engagement in these environments (Dervan, 2014; Sprague, 2016; Steed, 2013; Williamson-Leadley & Ingram, 2013). As a result of SRS providing immediate, targeted feedback that improves overall learning (Angus & Watson, 2009; Kibble, 2007; Wang, 2007), I wanted to test how they would respond to the use of Kahoot, a mobile SRS, as a way to evaluate their progress with paragraphing within the second unit of a college-level writing course.

Kahoot is an Internet-based SRS that enables students to practice skills in a fun and inviting atmosphere. Teachers can create quizzes, puzzles, surveys, and polls, and students can respond during class time by using a smartphone or computer. By mimicking a game show, Kahoot encourages students to compete with each other, which, research suggests, both increases motivation to learn and increases engagement with class material (Iaremenko, 2017; Wang, 2015; Zarzycka-Piskorz, 2016).

During the Fall 2018 semester, I tested Kahoot’s newest mode, Kahoot Jumble (KJ), with forty of my own students across two sections of a required, first-year Composition & Professional Writing course to see if the software could serve as an effective modality for demonstrating paragraph writing knowledge after a series of lectures, readings, and activities on paragraph writing conventions. I was particularly interested in KJ because it offered a different experience from the other SRS like Socrative in that the mode encourages even more focus and critical thinking. That is, KJ’s questions challenge students to quickly place answers in the correct order rather than only select a single correct answer from a list of possibilities (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Kahoot Jumble projector layout (on the left) with students’ smartphone layout (on the right). KJ drastically differs from the two other modes in Kahoot. For example, Kahoot Quiz simply asks for the correct answer in multiple-choice fashion, and Kahoot Survey allows teachers to gather only students’ opinions about the prompt they create.


Using KJ as a teacher is an easy and straightforward process. In order to create a quiz, log into your account and select from the quiz, jumble, or survey options displayed under “Create new Kahoot!” Once you select the jumble option, you will be asked to enter a name for the KJ, select “Go!,” and write the first prompt or question. There are a variety of options available when writing questions for the activity, including uploading videos, pictures, and music in order to encourage thinking. A drag and drop option is also provided for adding pictures. You can also play a YouTube video during a specific prompt/question by placing a URL address in the box requiring a website ID.

Once you add the prompt or question (e.g., “Correctly organize the following sentences to make a paragraph”), and you have added any other multimedia features, you can include up to four “answers” for students to drag and drop into the correct order. The answers can be single words or short phrases, but both the questions and answers have character limits. Prompts and questions are limited to 80 characters, while the answers are limited to 60 characters.

You can also adjust the amount of time to answer each question and the number of points each question is worth. Once you have completed the prompt/question, select “+ Add question” at the bottom of the page until you have completed the quiz. After adding the last question, select “Save & Continue” to be asked about language, privacy settings, and the primary audience. There is also an option to include a description of the jumble and the difficulty level of the KJ.

Then, once ready to present your KJ, log in and choose your previously created KJ, which is then displayed on the screen. Students then visit via their browser, enter the PIN displayed on the main projector screen, and type their name or nickname (which will then be displayed on the main screen). All names entered are then shown to the class, so both students and teachers can see who has joined the session. Once everyone is accounted for, simply click to start the KJ.

During the KJ, the three top-scoring students will be displayed after each question. This is a useful way of introducing a competitive element, particularly if there’s a reward for the winner. An especially useful feature is that each time you deliver a KJ, the data from all of the participants’ responses are saved. You can choose to download this after the session is over either as a Microsoft Excel file or to import the data directly to Google Drive.

In my class, I introduced paragraph organization and transitional phrases, and my students learned how to place sentences in the appropriate location of a paragraph by only looking for key phrases. They then learned a number of basic transitions presented in the textbook, They Say/I Say. For example, we analyzed basic one-word, two-word, and three-word transitional phrases like “for example,” “next,” “the primary reason,” “another point,” “in conclusion,” “this means,” “moreover,” and so on. We then discussed how such phrases usually appeared in a very specific part of a paragraph. We also analyzed previously published articles and essays to understand this point more fully.

Rather than rely on what I have regularly done, that is, cut up paper copies of paragraphs I’ve written and distribute the randomized sentences to groups to re-order, during the KJ I presented them with the key phrases we had covered and then assigned them to drag them into the correct order on their smartphones and laptops. Immediately, I noticed improved engagement and fun levels compared to the non-digital alternative. Additionally, the results report (a downloadable spreadsheet) allowed me to see who was struggling. I learned much more about each individual learner this way than by the much more difficult approach of walking around the room and checking each student’s work, as one of the sections of my course had an enrollment of more than thirty.

Although it is natural for students to improve over the course of the semester, the average essay grades in the course rose from unit 1 to unit 2 when KJ was implemented in regard to paragraph organization and transition use. Ten points of each essay grade were linked to paragraph organization and transitions, and the average in this category rose from an 8.3 or 83% in unit 1 to a 9.1 or 91% in unit 2. While this positive change in academic performance is encouraging, 14 students also commented on the use of KJ in a short, anonymous survey emailed to them three months after the class concluded and final grades were released. Key written responses included:

I [can’t] believe you made all of those [prompts/questions] for us. They really helped me understand how to do a good paragraph.

The [KJ] games were fun. It was better than reading. It made me really want to win too.

My favorite part was that you gave us cool little prizes for winning. I wish all my teachers at [the college] used [KJ] for review especially for [course title] because [the teacher] is never around and [he/she] doesn’t explain anything and [he/she] doesn’t review anything either.

[KJ] helped me with [transitions]. Words like moreover I don’t even get. I honestly hated the book but [the KJ] told me which ones to use.

I really liked the games. They also showed us exactly what you wanted [in] the essays. It helped me get [an] A.

They were good. I just liked that I could play it after class.


Despite this positive feedback, we know that technology can fail and have several downsides. First, students can be bumped from the game if their WiFi connection drops, which did occasionally happen. Another concern may be the level of noise KJ will create itself and promote in the classroom. In true gameshow fashion, KJ plays music in the background and uses sound effects to mark when time to respond is running low for a particular prompt. While the music and sound effects can encourage engagement with the software, it could also be stressful and cause the classroom to become quite noisy as students yell in excitement or agony over gaining and losing points. Additionally, everyone will need either a phone or laptop in order to participate fully and may feel singled out if they do not have such technology. It is harder to measure and evaluate individual learning if they are then paired in groups versus tackling the KJ independently. Finally, I would not recommend using KJ for each unit. Teachers also need to be aware that KJ’s ease of use and functionality might lead to becoming too reliant upon it rather than varying pedagogical approaches to appeal to a variety of learning styles.

Even with these concerns in mind, the advantages of KJ vastly outweigh the disadvantages. Those kicked out of the game by poor WiFi can easily be partnered up with a peer, and the majority of group activities, digital or non-digital, tend to bring with them a certain expectation for noise. After my experimentation with KJ, I can confidently recommend this modality as an effective way to create intrinsic motivation among writers because it allows them to engage more deeply with their instructor and peers because of its collaborative nature. I feel strongly that such engagement and intrinsic motivation are key to encouraging long-term retention. KJ provides an enjoyable and meaningful learning environment that, if implemented carefully, may further increase the likelihood that students will end the course with a higher writing proficiency than if KJ were not used at all as evident by the rise in essay grades in unit 2 versus unit 1 mentioned above.

While there are certainly numerous ways to teach paragraphing, it can safely be argued that KJ positively impacted my students’ grades and afforded them a more collaborative, engaging, less confusing unit compared to when KJ was not used. Certainly, they could have scored just as highly or perhaps even more highly on the unit 2 essays without the use of KJ; however, KJ provided an enjoyable environment that differed from a textbook, PowerPoint, or traditional lecture. Though more research is needed to fully understand KJ’s efficacy in the writing classroom, and this experiment was conducted with a relatively small sample size, these results are nonetheless a promising addition to the ongoing conversation regarding SRS. I strongly believe that KJ could be an excellent platform for grammar instruction and evaluation in relation to a number of topics.

I will definitely use this tool in future semesters to check my students’ comprehension of paragraphing. As an assessment tool, I think it has some benefits as a way of getting a general sense of knowledge or skill in the room because the nature of the activity demands full class participation and provides a lens through which to view individual results. More importantly, KJ is a useful way of breaking up class sessions and re-energizing students who display signs of boredom. Most importantly, students reported loving the activity and requested to do more throughout the remainder of the semester. Given the easy interface and low learning curve, why not give it a try and share your own results?
Angus, S. D., & Watson, J. (2009). Does regular online testing enhance student learning in the numerical sciences? Robust evidence from a large data set. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(2), 255-272.

Brown, J. D. (1997). Computers in language testing: Present research and some future directions. Language Learning and Technology, 1(1), 44-59. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 2002650154)

Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: Assessment is for self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(2), 205-249.

Conole, G., & Warburton, B. (2005). A review of computer-assisted assessment. ALT-J, 13(1), 17-31.

Dervan, P. (2014). Increasing in-class student engagement using Socrative (an online Student Response System). AISHE-J, 6(3), 1801-1813.

Kibble, J. (2007). Use of unsupervised online quizzes as formative assessment in a medical physiology course: Effects of incentives on student participation and performance. Advances in Physiology Education, 31(3), 253-260.

Nicol, D. (2009). Assessment for learner self‐regulation: Enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(3), 335-352.

Skorczynska, H., del Saz Rubio, M., & Carrió-Pastor, M. L. (2016). Second language teaching and technology. An overview. In Technology implementation in second language teaching and translation studies: New tools, new approaches (pp. 13-32). Singapore: Springer.

Sprague, A. (2016). Improving the ESL graduate writing classroom using Socrative: (Re)considering exit tickets. TESOL Journal, 7(4), 989-998.

Steed, A. (2013). Technology in the classroom. Teaching Business & Economics, 17(3), 7-9. through application of digital games in an English language classroom Retrieved from Education Research Complete database. (Accession No. 93286186)

Wang, A. I. (2015). The wear out effect of a game-based student response system. Computers and Education, 82, 217–227.

Wang, T-H. (2007). What strategies are effective for formative assessment in an e‐learning environment? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(3), 171-186. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ762695)

Williamson-Leadley, S., & Ingram, N. (2013). Show and tell: Using iPads for assessment in mathematics. Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Teaching, Technology, 25(1-3), 117-137.

Zarzycka-Piskorz, E. (2016). Kahoot it or not? Can games be motivating in learning grammar? Teaching English with Technology, 16(3), 17–36. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 2016651621)

“Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice”: Helping Students Understand That All Kinds of Writing Can Change the World

Michelle C Lange, Parker High School, Janesville, WI, michlange @

I have a vision of bringing meaningful writing tasks to students. While we need to teach the craft of writing, we also need to teach the art of writing. Like fake news, fake professional learning communities (PLCs) confuse the truth about how and what we teach in our content areas and grade levels. Five-paragraph formulas and paragraph templates such as MEL-Con stifle student creativity and authenticity, engagement, and empowerment. Teacher-directed formats are destroying our opportunities to enable students to develop their creative and critical thinking skills. Our current state of “synchronized” teaching, standardized testing, and quantity-over-quality curriculum design not only disengage our students but also the teachers. My vision is to teach writing that will engage and empower my students to effect change.

While my passion lies in our need to bring real-world importance to the curriculum, my cynicism about the realities of this world inspires my need to provide opportunities for change. As I contemplate reasons to bring in real-world education, I only have to watch the news to find evidence for the need to bring social justice issues to our curriculum. For example, in early November 2018, USA Today ran a headline that “Male Students at an (Almost) All-White High School Gave a Nazi Salute” on the steps of the courthouse in Baraboo, Wisconsin (Nelson). Ultimately, according to a follow-up in late November, the “students’ actions were protected under the First Amendment” (Pinsker). Still, as reported in the Wisconsin State Journal on December 5, 2018, the Baraboo School District proposed instituting changes such as “yearly field trips to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois, and developing teachers’ social justice instruction skills” (Aadland). In a similar story, students from Minnetonka High School in Minnesota posted on social media an advertisement for their school dance, reading “Sweethearts would be a Hit(ler) w/you, and I could Nazi myself going w/anybody else. Be Mein? Yes or Nein” (Moritz-Rabson, 2019).


Also, many of us remember the viral video of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, all wearing MAGA hats, reportedly intimidating Native American protester Nathan Phillips and other activists after the Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial in January 2019. We soon learned, though, of many conflicting accounts of what happened that day. As Robin Roberts, news anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America, said in reference to the encounter, “Only people who were there know the truth” (as cited in Wootson, Olivo, & Heim, 2019).


In each of these instances, the schools stated that the actions of these youth do not reflect the core values of the district. This leads me to ask what we are doing to educate students about how to instigate change surrounding justice issues and learn to respect the real world we all share. It is important that we start building a generation of youth that understands social justice and injustice and knows how to use its education to make this country really great. That starts with learning fact from fiction, understanding multiple perspectives, and considering the most effective words and actions to bring about change.

“Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice”
During the Greater Madison Writing Project’s 2017 summer institute, I designed and proposed the course “Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice” to be offered during the 2018-2019 school year (Appendix). “The Power of Choice and Voice” suggests that we employ methods that engage and empower students and also engage and empower the teachers responsible for these students. It is important that we widen our students’ vision of education and our own vision of the teaching profession in a system often polluted with standardized testing, misrepresented professional learning communities, poorly practiced instruction, and stifled creativity.

The uncertainty of the course’s approval inspired me to research what this idea of choice and voice could mean. Is it a feasible idea? Will it teach critical thinking, creative thinking? engage? inspire? meet the CCSS? prove to students that they have the power to effect change? Isn’t that important if we want them prepared to be global citizens? The work I did for this workshop introduced me to sources that will help shape this course and assured me that the answer to all those questions is “yes”!

The purpose of the course is to blend critical and creative thinking skills alongside presentation and performance skills. Students will understand the concept and power of different genres to change the world. Major concepts include the study of social justice and culturally charged issues that affect our world globally, locally, and, possibly, very personally. They will study different genres of writing as they research social justice topics: Words on paper, images on digital screens, messages encoded on other surfaces such as canvases, sculptures, billboards, music, video games, websites, social media, narrative, documentary films, television, advertisements, maps, illustrations, letters, magazines, digital texts (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 92). In fact, the study of these genres will inform them of how we are influenced through different texts and how they can create influence through the production of different texts. Ultimately, this is one of the choices students can make.

The meaning of voice is multi-faceted: students give voice to an issue they care about (another choice), the voice in their texts will establish the writer’s authenticity, and the voice is the format through which they choose to express their ideas : poetry, performance, letters, memorials, plays, photography, action research, columns, blogs, digital storytelling, documentary film, autobiographies and biographies, speeches, music, comics, visual arts. Pipher (2006) argues that “All kinds of writing can change the world” (p.15), and we need to share that secret with our students, for “You want to search for what you alone can say and then how you can say it most effectively” (p.27). This means, too, that our students choose the genre of communication created from personal strengths. To this end, they will study the elements of different genres of communication; study, research, and discuss social issues; plan, write, revise, and/or rehearse their choice of genres based on the research of self-selected social issues with the ultimate goal for public performance/presentation/publication.

This course will run for the entire year, beginning with immersion in genre study. We will discover and evaluate the effectiveness of words and images in their many forms and come to understand that meaningful expression rarely shows itself in a five-paragraph format. Later, we will consider how genres bring notice to environmental and human justice issues. The students will then choose one issue they want to impact, at what level (i. e., local, state, or national), and the genres of texts they will create to achieve this impact.

During the second semester, they will create multi-media projects that include a cross section of texts from the genres we studied. By the end of the school year, I envision a Social Justice gala where they display and/or perform their projects for parents, students, teachers, administration, and the general public. This is a great opportunity for them to show their activism and involvement in and beyond the community.

I will also encourage and help them to actively network to complete research from primary resources in the community and deliver their messages to others directly through letter writing, billboards, public service announcements, council meetings, whichever outlet is best matched for the social issue. I want to see them complete as much research and create influence outside the classroom as they do within the classroom because it is outside those cinder block walls that their words will effect the greatest change.

Currently, we are implementing the use of portfolios in our English courses. I imagine this yearlong experience will build a telling portfolio of engaging and empowering instruction that will house evidence of several common core state standards in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards. The artifacts in the portfolios will illustrate the process of learning, researching, creating, revising, and reflecting. Tierney, Carter, and Desai (1991) discuss portfolios in the Arts PROPEL project, arguing that “portfolios become evidence of growth and change over time in terms of reflection, involvement in long-term projects, self-concept, and visual awareness” (p.164), which epitomizes the outcome of this course. They also cite Norman Brown, an arts PROPEL teacher who lists the components of the portfolio: 1) the portfolio review, which is ongoing and allows students to discuss ideas and be part of the evaluation process; 2) pivotal pieces, which provide them with new insight and sense of direction; 3) companion pieces, which involve the same idea constructed in different ways; and 4) footprints, which are the pieces they will refine (p. 164). The artifacts may also be digital evidence of audio and/or visual texts. They could possibly be the culmination of both paper and digital portfolios. I see the portfolio review, pivotal pieces, and companion pieces as formative grades and the footprints in their finality to be summative along with quarterly portfolio reviews and conferences and narrative reflections following these conferences. This process will engage and empower the students in their own learning, growth, and assessment in their quest to effect change.

While teaching different genres will present a challenge, this particular class is for juniors and seniors. I know they are capable navigators of technology, and I can offer guidance for what they don’t know or what we can learn together. The teaching of writing is the backbone of the course; morphing that writing into an appropriate genre that maintains the voice, the message, and the effectiveness to instigate change is the nuance of the course with the real distinction being the choice and voice given to students who can address the injustices of the world.

Was it approved?
The course proposal was approved for the 2018–2019 school year. However, only seven students registered for the course at my building while the cross-town high school registered thirty students, so my students took the course via teleconference. While my teaching intuition tells me that teleconferencing will not do this class justice (no pun intended), I learned that I’ll teach my first section in the 2019-2020 school year. My mind is flooded with ideas and excitement and impatience for the time to arrive. My next step is to consider how to incorporate the ideas of this course into the core courses that have a dictated curriculum in content and time frames, which also means getting other educators, administrators, curriculum coordinators, and learning support specialists on board to bring engaging and purposeful content to our classes.

Additional Course Resources
I do not plan to have a course text but rather a collection of texts. If I were to have an anchor text, it would definitely be Pipher’s Writing to Change the World. I prefer, however, to offer my students a library of resources. And, of course, we will access the world wide web, documentaries, news sources, video and audio sources, and a plethora of print sources to study genres of writing and social justice issues which will lead to choosing their own issues to effect change through multiple genres of writing.

Bernard, Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen
Coval, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop
Cushway, Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin
Eleveld, The Spoken Word Revolution
Fadiman and Lavelle, Producing with Passion: Making Films that Change the World
Forche, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness
Glasner, Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry
Hampe, Making Documentary Films and Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries
Smith and Kraynak, Take the Mic: The Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, the Spoken Word
Somers-Willett, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America
Romano, Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multgenre Papers
Romano, Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire

Of course, there’s no need for a new course to engage and empower our students to effect change in their communities: we can give them choice and voice across ages and content areas in order to develop their critical and creative thinking skills. This should matter to every teacher who hopes to inspire students to feel engaged and empowered when they walk across the graduation stage.

Janis Joplin sings “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and we truly have nothing left to lose in our classrooms or our world that we haven’t already, so let’s grant our students the freedom to have that power of choice and voice in their education so they can instigate the kinds of change our world needs!



News Articles
Aadland, C. (2018, December 5). Baraboo School District lays out changes in aftermath of Nazi salute photo controversy. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved from

Moritz-Rabson, D. (2019, January 19). Students condemned for Hitler-themed dance invitation, Nazi salutes. Newsweek. Retrieved from

Nelson, J. B. (2018, November 12). Male students at an (almost) all-white high school gave a Nazi salute. Now officials want to figure out why. USA Today. Retrieved from

Pinsker, J. (2018, November 27). Why Wisconsin high schoolers aren’t being punished for mimicking a Nazi salute. Atlantic. Retrieved from

Wootson, C. R., Jr, Olivo, A., & Heim, J. (2019, January 22). “It was getting ugly”: Native American drummer speaks out on his encounter with MAGA-hat-wearing teens. Washington Post. Retrieved from

Annotated Bibliography
The following sources are all very useful in defending our need to give students the power of choice and voice to affect change — the really crazy part is we have to defend providing our students with a “real” education:

Berdan, K., Boulton, I., Eidman-Aadahl, E., Fleming, J., Gardner, L., Rogers, I., & Solomon, A. (Eds.). (2006). Writing for a change: Boosting literacy and learning through social action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This text provides the link between reading and writing to build literacy skills that will affect change. It provides “real” examples of how students can become engaged and empowered if we can incorporate the power of social action, and it provides clear activities that are usable. This text is useful because it shows the reader how to approach literacy and learning through social action (just like the title suggests). It discusses different genres of text, how we give to our students a voice, and what is social action. The information in this text can be applied across content areas and grade levels!

Garcia, A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally proactive approach to literacy instruction. New York: Teachers College Press. This book discusses literacy instruction, discussing the reading and writing connections and incorporating culturally proactive approaches to literacy. The authors acknowledge teachers’ needs to try new approaches to literacy while reminding us that it may take us out of our comfort zone. It’s an interesting and inspiring read that makes me think about what I model as a teacher to my students. It makes me think about who I am as a reader and writer and what I expect from students. It provides to me the ammunition I need to take to our next PLC to explain why a lot of what we are trying to do is not the best practice! The information in this text can be applied across content areas and grade levels!

Pipher, M. B. (2007). Writing to change the world. New York: Riverhead Books. Pipher’s text discusses the importance of connectedness and how writers can achieve that through their own experiences and the different texts writers can employ to share those experiences. She also talks about the writing process and offers reader-friendly discussion from getting started to the revision process. Pipher suggests and discusses the different ways our voices “call to action,” such as letters, speeches, personal essay, music, and poetry. I was introduced to this text through the Greater Madison Writing Project. It is an incredibly reader-friendly text that successfully convinces the reader how important one’s own stories are and the power these stories have to affect change. I am considering proposing her book as the anchor text for a new course at our high school Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice. It is a text that I think will inspire any writer to keep writing for change. The information in this text can be applied across content areas and grade levels!

Additional Resources
Christensen, L. (2000). Reading, writing, and rising up: Teaching about social justice and the power of the written word. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.

Christensen, L. (2009). Teaching for joy and justice: Re-imagining the language arts classroom. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.

Christensen, L., & Watson, D. (2015). Rhythm and resistance: Teaching poetry for social justice. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.

Singer, J. (2006). Stirring up justice: Writing and reading to change the world. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Tierney, R. J., Carter, M. A., & Desai, L. E. (1991). Portfolio assessment in the reading-writing classroom. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Weber, C. (2006). Nurturing the peacemakers in our students: A guide to writing and speaking out about issues of war and of peace. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

I also recommend the periodical Rethinking Schools, “dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education through social justice teaching and education activism.” Readers can go online and purchase single copies or full subscriptions. This resource is useful across grade levels and content areas.

Teaching Tolerance is another publication free to educators. This publication addresses social justice issues, how to teach to the issues, and what other schools and their students have done to affect change. Teachers can also receive FREE resources for their classrooms! This resource is useful across grade levels and content areas.

English Journal is a useful resource published through the National Council of Teachers of English. While it is a content specific publication, materials could also be applicable to other content areas, especially social studies. There are issues that address social justice issues, reading and writing to achieve social justice, empathy, genres of writing, so much applicable to giving students choice and voice to affect change! Articles address different grade levels.



Continuing the Conversation: Socrative’s Impact on Student Emotions, Student Comfort Levels, and Classroom Interactions

Adam Sprague, Assistant Professor and Student Success Coordinator, Bellin College, adam.sprague @

Socrative is a free, cloud-based, online student response system (SRS) available via any Smartphone or tablet with a Wi-Fi connection (Awdeh, Mueen, Zafar, & Manzoor, 2014; Dervan, 2014; Pham, 2016; Steed, 2013; Sprague, 2016). In fact, over the last decade, many studies have highlighted how Socrative increases both student achievement and complex cognitive processes (see, for example, McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). Indeed, this SRS differs from its competitors because 1) it is designed specifically for formative assessment purposes and 2) it allows instructors to create tests, peer reviews, and exit tickets quickly and easily by registering an e-mail address and password at (see Figure 1). Such assessments play a crucial role because it is vital to regularly and quickly inform students of their academic progress (Richards, 2015; Sprague, 2016).


Figure 1. Socrative’s welcome screen

These conversations are now moving beyond simply looking at the impact that SRS’s have on academic achievement. Now, researchers are investigating how they impact students’ feelings toward their instructors and peers and how such technology impacts their overall emotional state (McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). Building on my study that analyzed multilingual students’ perceptions about the use of Socrative in an English as a Second Language (ESL) writing classroom (Sprague, 2016), this study addresses a new call for research by investigating the how the 44 students enrolled in my two sections of English Composition II at Dalton State College felt about my use of Socrative to create exit tickets. Specifically, I wanted to discover how the technology impacted their relationship with their peers and me, and how the technology changed their overall emotional state.

I began by creating two anonymous surveys. I distributed the first (Appendix A) to each student after the first eight weeks of class, at which time I had yet to use Socrative. This survey asked them to use a Likert scale to rank whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed with 17 statements regarding their own feelings about the course, and to explain their answers in a more detailed paragraph at the end. Key responses at this time included:

I feel a lot of pressure to do well in this course because I am a bad writer.

[The teacher] goes really fast.

Writing [essays] makes me anxious.

There’s a lot of pressure to write really good in this class.

I am very anxious in this class.

I hate reviewing lectures online.

At this half-way point and for the remainder of the semester, I incorporated exit ticket prompts through Socrative as a technique to assess what my students were thinking and what they learned immediately following a lesson. For example:

  1. What are the three ways to count syllables that we covered in class today? Which of the 3 was most confusing and why?

  2. How do importance-level marking transitions differ from guiding transitions at the paragraph level? What still does not make sense about these types of transitions?

  3. We discussed numerous reasons today why we must consider the rhetorical triangle for the upcoming essay. What were some of those reasons? Additionally, what is most confusing about the rhetorical triangle?

  4. What, if anything, would you like to review again about the rhetorical situation?

  5. Describe the reverse triangle and how writers can use it to write an introduction.

  6. Please write 1 in-text citation from the article you read for today’s class in correct MLA format. Also, what about citing sources in MLA format would you like to review once more that is giving you trouble?

  7. What is the most difficult part of MLA format so far?

  8. What knowledge do you still need from Adam before you turn in your essay to feel as though you will get an A on the project?

  9. What literary terms are currently the most difficult for you to remember?

At week 15, I distributed the second survey (Appendix B) to the same students, which allowed me to measure changes in their feelings about the course and instructor. Key responses at this time included:

Seems like the professor cares more now.

Adam takes a lot of time reviewing compared to before.

I feel in control because of [Socrative]. I say what I want to review and Adam does it. It’s awesome.

My anxiety about writing is a lot less.

My professor takes more time to review [course materials].

Seems like he cares more about us [than] before.

Our opinion matters now.

I feel less stressed out now when I come to class.

Based on these responses, I discovered that their feelings were drastically impacted by the implementation of Socrative. First, they felt as though they had more control over the course material. This student-perceived increase in control likely led to the second most significant finding, that they had decreased anxiety levels in regard to writing in class. It seems logical to conclude, then, that the use of Socrative positively impacted students in that they felt as though they had more control over the course material, and that increased feeling of control likely led to their feeling less anxious about the essay assignments.

Moreover, it was not only a reduction in anxiety related to essay writing. In fact, they also reported that they felt less test anxiety. These findings show that while Socrative may have direct benefits for students in writing courses, the use of this particular software may also help reduce test anxiety in other courses as well.

Another significant finding was that Socrative led to an increased feeling of meaningfulness for students when engaging in peer-to-peer interactions. This finding is likely due to the collaborative nature of Socrative. Students inputted their answers to the exit ticket questions in class, but the results of those answers were viewed and discussed collaboratively and led to collaborative review work the next class period. Because Socrative allowed for easy, quick collaboration in regard to reviewing course concepts, these findings are significant but not altogether surprising.

Consequently, students also reported feeling as though they had more frequent interactions with their peers. This means they felt that peer-to-peer interactions were more meaningful and that they were occurring much more frequently even though the first half and the second half of the semester had the exact same number of group work days, highlighting how the technology promoted more frequent interaction within the classroom despite being a digital tool. They also felt themselves growing and developing in a positive manner more so during the second half of the semester than the first. It can be argued that Socrative may have played a significant role in allowing them to feel more positively about themselves as a result of my change in pedagogy via the implementation of Socrative.

This is a truly monumental finding, as it points to the widespread positive impact Socrative had on the students in this study. Thus, it can be safely argued that Socrative was a major affordance as it played a major role in improving the students’ happiness, feelings toward me as their instructor, feelings toward their peers, feelings toward the course materials and course structure, sense of self-worth, sense of maturation, and feelings of anxiety. In other words, Socrative had a major impact on the students’ emotional domain in a wide variety of ways, which was what this study was determined to investigate.

Ultimately, these responses mirror much of what I felt as the instructor. To me, the primary affordance of using Socrative was that I had the ability to cater to problem areas visible as a result of my students’ exit ticket responses. It is my belief that this built a stronger community of students who better understood why I chose the materials for the next lesson, as they were the materials students showed they had the most trouble with overall. In other words, Socrative provided an increased level of transparency to the course, which led to students feeling a greater sense of control. By doing this, I felt more assured that I was providing the information that they needed, which visibly reduced their anxiety levels about the work asked of them for the course and significantly lowered the number of students asking for help during office hours likely because they received a review of concepts at the beginning of each class session.

This study answered the current call for more robust research in regard to whether or not SRS have a significant impact on students’ emotional domain (McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). Although this remains somewhat of a modestly sized investigation, the study is unique because it focuses primarily on the impact Socrative had on student emotion. The results of this study continue to push the conversation forward in regard to how teachers may best use Socrative in the classroom.

Specifically, the findings of this study suggest that Socrative allows instructors rather easily to enhance their students’ feelings about the overall course, course content, their peers, and their instructor while reducing their students’ anxiety levels. The software was particularly useful as Socrative allowed me to quickly make sure everyone in the class understood the day’s lesson and were keeping up with the materials covered. Still, this study does not provide enough data to draw definitive conclusions. Therefore, further studies could examine the use of Socrative across a wider variety of courses or over a number of years to determine if the findings in this study are generalizable or isolated to my specific writing course.

In closing, Socrative may be a good choice for teachers working in classrooms where technological resources are rare and where computer labs may be unavailable. In a time when mobile phone usage is ubiquitous in today’s youth culture, more campuses may want to consider delivering online formative assessment using mobile devices given the overwhelmingly positive reaction students had to its use in this study.

Awdeh, M., Mueen, A., Zafar, B., & Manzoor, U. (2014). Using Socrative and Smartphones for the support of collaborative learning. International Journal on Integration Technology in Education, 3(4), 17-24. Retrieved from


Dervan, P. (2014). Enhancing in-class student engagement using Socrative (an online student response system). All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 6(3), 1801-1813. Retrieved from

McLaughlin, T., & Yan, Z. (2017). Diverse delivery methods and strong psychological benefits: A review of online formative assessment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33(6), 562-574.

Pham, H. (2016). Integrating Quizlet and Socrative into teaching vocabulary. Issues in Language Instruction, 5(1), 27-28.

Richards, J. C. (2015). Key issues in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sprague, A. (2016). Improving the ESL graduate writing classroom using Socrative: (Re) considering exit tickets. TESOL Journal, 7(4), 989-998.

Steed, A. (2013). Technology in the classroom. Teaching Business & Economics, 17(3), 7-9. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database. (Accession No. 93286186)


Fostering Persistence Through Relevant Writing Assignments

Jeff Bergin, Macmillan Learning, jeff_bergin @


According to the most recent data provided by the American Association of Community Colleges, which draws from the U. S. Department of Education (USDE) and the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), the country is seeing a continued decline in enrollment in two-year institutions, particularly among older students. Furthermore, the NSC completion rate for full-time students is only 55% (Juszkiewicz, 2016, p. 3). While first-year writing instructors are among the professionals with whom departing students come into contact routinely, there has been scant scholarship on what these instructors can do to help students persist; yet, composition instructors are increasingly being held accountable for the “drop rates” in their courses–in particular their online courses.

Composition programs are in an opportune position to contribute to student retention efforts. There is little research, however, on how composition pedagogy and content might affect persistence in actual practice, but it is clear that certain pedagogies may actually do more harm than good in terms of student persistence. In “Teaching About Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year’ Composition as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies,’” Downs and Wardle (2007) examine the deleterious effects that disconnected writing assignments can have on first-term students. They describe a returning student who had failed to persist due largely to his experience in a first-semester writing class, despite having “spent every day writing papers for my last job [I] never really took the time to think about what I was writing” (p. 565).

What provokes anxiety in composition students? The answer to that question is speculative, but Downs and Wardle cite numerous pedagogical problems including a lack of instructor training in writing studies, lack of textbooks that reflect current scholarship, and ongoing practices of using composition courses to weed out seemingly underprepared students (p. 574). Is first-year composition, a course well suited to help students persist, doing the opposite? When Hobson-Horton and Owens (2004) examined persistence data on two focus groups of underrepresented students, they concluded that making student assignments personally relevant and personally meaningful increases persistence (p. 101).

Can writing instructors craft course content in ways that help promote persistence? What would such content look like, and how would it be received by a discipline in which there is already little agreement around what should be taught, how it should be taught, and what comprises composition content in general? What should students in writing courses be writing about? Certainly, many students fall back on hackneyed topics (e. g., abortion, capital punishment, the legal drinking age) while others work on projects perhaps seemingly less opinion-oriented and more inquiry-based but still pulled from a list of topics provided by the instructor or the textbook. These topics form the tacit content of composition courses and are arguably of more interest to learners than the assigned readings, textbook chapters, and discussions of rhetorical conventions because these are the topics about which students conduct their research, reading, writing, and revision. Could these very topics enhance student persistence? Here, I situate the debate around content in relation to persistence, examine alternative approaches to traditional writing assignments, and suggest three types of writing assignment content that may help learners persist.


The Debate over Content
Donahue (2005) asserts that,

Given the paucity of articles and books about “content” in composition studies these days, it would seem that it is something that we either do not want to talk about or believe should not be talked about, or feel has been talked about to death. (p. 30)

However, the debate over the role of content in writing studies continues and is relevant to persistence. In 1957, Bowen penned “The Purpose and Content of Freshman English Composition,” which spurred a series of similar articles focusing on what exactly should be taught in first-year composition. Bowen hints at many of the problems that still plague composition programs today: uninterested learners, untrained instructors, and haphazard content selections ranging from personal narratives and grammatical exercises to popular culture projects and literary criticism. The debate continued the following year, when Bailey (1958) expressed disdain for the relegation of composition studies to a “service course” and proposed that “we must assert that we are teachers of a subject matter and we must … take care to limit that subject matter rigidly” (p. 233).

This question was taken up again in 1965 at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) when participants asked, “Is Freshmen English a liberal arts course or a service course?” (Workshop Reports, p. 196). This desire for disciplinarity is well contrasted against the more diffused, interdisciplinary content-focus espoused in the 1980s by scholars such as Scheffler (1980), who described courses organized around thematic concepts, such as “creativity,” with content instruction provided by experts from other fields and writing instruction taking a secondary place as a mere skill (p. 52).

The debate over content continues into the 21st century. In 2000 the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) adopted an outcomes statement that formally delineates learning outcomes without specifically directing the subject matter of writing assignments, and in 2011 the CWPA collaborated with National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Writing Project (NWP) to develop the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing that describes habits of mind and experiences with reading, writing, and critical thinking that are foundational to success. Thus, if these outcomes and habits of mind are of primary emphasis in instruction, essay topics, which may be at the epicenter of learning, are secondary and may be determined by the institution, program, instructor, or student. This provides an opportunity to shape writing assignments in ways conducive to student persistence.

While certain aspects of content are fixed (WPA outcomes, an emphasis on writing studies, rhetorical conventions, form, and content); others are flexible, including the topics students write about. This presents a golden opportunity: to help students select topics that will help them persist. Downs and Wardle argue for re-envisioning first-year composition in a way that “shifts the central goal from teaching academic writing to teaching realistic and useful conceptions of writing–perhaps the most significant of which would be that writing is neither basic nor universal but content- and context-contingent” (p. 558). Arguably the most context-dependent content for first-year composition is the transition into academic writing, research, and inquiry. Downs and Wardle recommend that course readings be focused on issues with which students have direct experience. They recommend texts focusing on purpose, process, and procedure and that may be supplemented with other texts that focus on students’ overall first-year academic experiences and the topics of change, transition, and persistence itself.

In general, then, there are two types of content in writing courses. First, there is rhetorical content, described here as the writing studies approach. Second, there is writing assignment content, which is often student selected, thematic, or connected to other courses. The remainder of this article focuses on writing assignment content: the content about which students are researching, discussing, writing, and reviewing in their writing projects. Furthermore, as elaborated in the sections ahead, I assert that this content should help students not only with their writing, but also with their persistence through their postsecondary studies.


Alternative Writing Assignment Content
In his work on adult learning theory, Knowles (1984) emphasizes the importance of focusing adult learning experiences on learners’ needs, interests, and lives (pp. 23-25). This is directly in line with what Downs and Wardle suggest when they write, “students learn to recognize the need for expert opinion and cite it where necessary, but they also learn to claim their own situational expertise and write from it as expert writers do” (p. 560). It is also consistent with designing first-year writing courses that address students’ lived experiences. As Davis and Shadle (2000) note, alternative writing replaces student apathy toward mode-based writing topics with “excitement in research and theory directed toward projects that linked their academic and personal lives” (pp. 432-433).

Davis and Shadle explore what they call alternative research writing, which draws on students’ lived experiences; connects the personal, public, and academic; and crosses and combines genres. Davis and Shadle describe alternative research writing as “reaching beyond the disciplinary thinking, logos-dominated arguing, and nonexpressive writing we have come to call academic” by mixing “the personal and the public” (p. 422). Alternative research writing asks writers to use research to “explore and mediate personal conflicts, contradictions, and questions” related to “an issue or theme of collective concern” (p. 440). In this way, students are extending familiar topics, related to their personal experiences, into topics that may be of concern to their peers, community, or society at large, and conducting research to make these connections and answer critical questions. The final product that Davis and Shadle describe often requires students to “compose with a large range of strategies, genres, and media” such as “lab reports, case studies, news stories, position papers, take-home exams, and research proposals” (p. 418, p. 420). The relevant nature of alternative research, connected to students’ lived experiences, may contribute to their persistence.

Asking students to select topics, as is common practice in first-year writing courses, poses a conundrum: complete student choice may foster individualized and isolated writing, limiting the social epistemic possibilities of invention, research, peer review, and revision. However, thematic courses may alienate those students uninterested in the topic, lacking in prior knowledge, or intimidated by writing about it. A balance can be struck. Writing instruction provides an opportune environment for students to produce individual projects while reflecting upon their common experiences as first-term students, such as transitioning into postsecondary studies; balancing work, family obligations, and studies; and finding or following a new path. As the writing course progresses, these dialogs about shared but unique experiences can morph into dialogs about topics progressively less focused on persistence and more focused on the nature of writing, such as locating and sharing resources, navigating new technologies, and collaborating on specific writing projects.

Participating in a dialog about their lived experiences, in particular their experiences as first-year students, allows them to reflect on how their experiences are similar or dissimilar to those of their peers, while co-constructing course content in authentic ways. Not only do students benefit from participating in an ongoing dialog and from collaborating on shared topics, they may also share research resources (Boynton, 2002, p. 302). For example, Reinheimer (2005) argues that students should move through their assignments together, and write about common topics, to fully leverage collaborative research, workshops, peer reviews, and revisions (p. 463).


Three Types of Alternate Assignment Content
What exactly should students write about? In this section, I offer three types of writing assignment content both accessible and relevant to first-year students, including writing about familiar topics, writing about digital literacy, and writing about transition and persistence.

Writing about the familiar. Writing about the familiar means more than writing a personal narrative; it means writing about family, community, and work–topics that, as Knowles suggests, are timely and relevant to students and help them approach scholarly inquiry based on their lived experience, not just their social or political views. Dubson (2006) notes that, by not encouraging familiar topics, we risk disenfranchising students: “Merely doing what they are told to do without any innate or internal interest in the work is going to prohibit or seriously compromise the kind of learning and growth that we want to encourage” (p. 101).

One of the most familiar topics, and potentially most beneficial to persistence, is family. Indeed, mattering, belonging, and support are critical to student success (Baker & Pomerantz, 2001; Corwin & Cintron, 2011; Maestas, Vaquera, & Muñoz-Zehr, 2007; Nora, 2004). Ideally, students should feel that they matter to their institutions, instructors, and peers, but learners may experience sufficient mattering if they sense emotional support from their family members and friends. Writing about these important relationships and the support that can be drawn from them can be a critical first step in helping students identify social support networks they may later leverage during difficult times.

Rankins-Robertson, Cahill, Roen, and Glau (2010) explore the implications of writing about familiar topics, in particular family history, especially in basic writing classes, in which students may feel disconnected from both the institution and expectations around academic writing. Here, instructors

can address students’ “disconnect” by providing writing assignments that enable students to simultaneously affirm what they already know (e. g., by allowing students to write about topics of personal, civic, professional, or academic importance to them); engage them with a real, rather than an artificial audience; and encourage them to learn new processes (e. g., rhetorical analysis or using primary versus secondary research), genres, and media. (p. 60)

Rankins-Robertson (2010), who taught family history writing courses, notes that writing about the familiar helps learners feel more comfortable by connecting them with an essay genre that they likely have encountered previously (p. 86); is easily integrated into a larger sequence of research-based writing assignments (pp. 86-87); can be aligned to the WPA Outcomes Statement (p. 88); and demonstrates the connection of an individual to a family, community, and socio-historical context (p. 104). Furthermore, Rankins-Robertson describes family history writing as “multiwriting,” stating, “Not only does family history writing engage students in multiple formats of research, but it is also multi-disciplinary, incorporates the use of multimodal composition, and spans multiple cultures” (p. 97).

Similarly, Davis and Shadle propose that students write about things that matter to their lives and incorporate research to understand the value of expert viewpoints, third-party research, and data, always within the context of their lived experience. Thus, students move from writing autobiographical pieces to “generative” ones that focus on “a new incarnation to grow into” (p. 434). This emphasis on things that matter can, in turn, allow students to feel that their experiences have value while simultaneously encouraging learning that, as Knowles notes, is rooted in past experience.

Downs and Wardle also stress that when students write about something that they and their instructor know about, the instructor is more effectively able to help them than if students “had been researching stem cell research or the death penalty” and can therefore encourage the student to dig deeper based on their collective knowledge (p. 566). Because students are revealing, researching, and writing about similar topics, they can identify with each other’s experiences and share research strategies and sources. Downs and Wardle write, “Developing a ‘community map’ of opinion helps students envision research and argument as community inquiry and identify gaps that their primary research can address” (p. 563). They recommend starting with questions (rather than topics), working through collaboration, and ending with presentations (the results of which may be very useful to other students also at risk of departure).

Writing about digital literacies. As every writing instructor knows, students enter their courses with varying levels of digital literacy. Therefore, it is beneficial for instructors to understand their students’ digital backgrounds and for students themselves to reflect on their own digital experiences. Selfe and Hawisher (2004) write extensively about digital literacy narratives. In Literate Lives in the Information Age: Narratives of Literacy from the United States, they examine how literary practices are shaped by race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, and access to technology. They define technological literacies as “the practices involved in reading, writing, and exchanging information in online environments, as well as the values associated with such practices–cultural, social, political, and educational” (p. 2). By writing digital literacy narratives, students evaluate their own personal histories and make connections from their earliest uses of technologies to their current feelings toward technologies, including their own affective response to their perceived self-efficacy.

Digital literacy narratives need not conclude in the past tense; rather, students may write about their future aspirations; mastery of courses; and advancement toward academic, workplace, and personal goals. Case studies conducted by Selfe and Hawisher indicate that students overvalue the technical skills that they have cultivated over time and undervalue those digital literacies taught on postsecondary campuses. They may, for instance, consider themselves proficient at editing videos, posting updates, and even producing websites, and feel that these skills are more pragmatic than the traditional essays required in courses. Here, instructors may find that they can leverage these skills to motivate digitally savvy learners to produce high quality digital artifacts and to motivate wary students to see the value in information and digital literacy. However, this starts by having students express their digital narratives and having instructors assess these to prescribe more useful instructional strategies. This approach is consistent with scholarship focused on digital literacy, multimodal writing, and digital historiography–all areas of innovation within rhetoric and composition (see Enoch & Gold, 2013; Ridolfo & Hart-Davidson, 2015).

Writing about transition and persistence. Nothing is more pertinent to first-term students than their transition to a new academic environment. As Corwin and Cintron (2011) write, “The freshman year is often deemed one of the greatest transition periods of a student’s life with minimal parental involvement” (p. 25). By providing writing assignments that allow first-year learners to understand that they are in a state of transition, reflect on how their experiences are matching their expectations, and relate to their peers’ similar circumstances, instructors can help students advance through their first year.

In his CCCC presentation First-Year Composition and Retention: The Neglected Goal, Griffith (1996) described a pedagogy in which he focused the content of assigned essays themselves on issues related to persistence. Griffith advanced a first-year composition curriculum in which writing assignments involved researching issues related to the transition from high school to college, the social history of college, and controversial college issues. His assignments are “designed with the idea that through them students would gradually feel that college experience was part of their identity, and that they had a stake as citizens in this new community” (p. 9). One intriguing part of Griffith’s work is his focus on the transition from high school to college, as recent high school graduates are among those students who researchers have identified as at risk of attrition.

Similarly, Downs and Wardle suggest that students should be researching graduation trends; unemployment trends; the role of race, class, and gender; student debt; university programs; and career outlooks. They may also conduct research on their institution and its requirements, transfer institutions, degree completion requirements, employment opportunities, professional qualifications, enrollment practices, student borrowing and source of student aid, and support services available to them, their peers, or their family members. Finally, they may write about student success measures, such as study skills, time management, and tutoring. These topics involve legitimate research, address student-oriented concerns, lend themselves to peer collaboration, and promote affiliation among students, faculty, and staff at institutions.

Horner (2010) advises having students coauthor writing about “growth and change” with dialogic responses to other students (p. 21). For example, students might work on transition action plans, persistence plans, academic plans, and career plans. While many students are still determining their majors in the first year, others are enrolling after years in the workplace and may have very specific goals in mind. Encouraging students to focus on these goals in concrete, actionable, research-based ways allows them to explore things directly relevant to their careers and academic investments, such as career prospects, degree requirements, internship opportunities, funding sources, transfer credits, and even advanced degree programs. Not only are these relevant, but they also help students begin to construct the scaffolding for academic persistence.


In Summary
These three types of alternate writing assignments are consistent with the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (CWPA, NCTE & NWP, 2010), which states that writing assignments should be aimed at “genuine” audiences, including “teachers and other students to community groups, local or national officials, commercial interests, students’ friends and relatives, and other potential readers” (p. 7). Writing about the familiar, writing about digital literacies, and writing about transition and persistence are all assignment topics that can be aimed at genuine audiences, whether those audiences include the instructor, fellow students, or the broader student body. The Framework continues, “Teachers can help writers develop rhetorical knowledge by providing opportunities and guidance for students to … write for real audiences and purposes, and analyze a writer’s choices in light of those audiences and purposes” (p. 10). Alternative writing assignments make this kind of writing and analysis much easier, both for students and for instructors, by fostering collaborative research and a shared dialog on topics relevant to learners.

Persistence is rarely discussed with those who are most at risk of departing: students. While institutions struggle to attract, place, and retain students, they do little to address the issue of persistence in a transparent manner. Learners may not realize that they are in a state of transition, that they can accomplish academic work, and that academic adjustment and integration takes sustained effort over time. If they realize that transition is a normal part of beginning postsecondary studies, they are more likely to understand their feelings, verbalize their concerns, and make persistence a personal goal. By understanding the debate around content, incorporating alternative approaches to research-driven content into writing courses, and encouraging students to write about topics that promote persistence, writing instructors can leverage disciplinary content with situated contexts and help students build successful persistence strategies.


Bailey, D. (1958). The obvious content of freshman English. College Composition and Communication, 9(4), 231-235. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 0000873827)

Baker, S., & Pomerantz, N. (2001). Impact of learning communities on retention at a metropolitan university. Journal of College Student Retention, 2(2), 115-126. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ613237)

Bowen, R. O. (1957). The purpose and content of freshman English composition. College Composition and Communication, 8(2), 109-111. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 0000873699)

Boynton, L. (2002). When the class bell stops ringing: The achievements and challenges of teaching online first-year composition. Teaching English in the Two Year College, 29(3), 298-312. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ644716)

Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, & National Writing Project. (2011). Framework for success in postsecondary writing. Retrieved from

Davis, R., & Shadle, M. (2000). Building a mystery: Alternative research writing and the academic act of seeking. College Composition and Communication, 51(3), 417-446. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ600983)

Donahue, P. (2005). Content (and discontent) in composition studies. Writing on the Edge, 15(2), 30-36. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 2005870565)

Downs, D., & Wardle, E. (2007). Teaching about writing, righting misconceptions: (Re)envisioning “First-Year Composition” as “Introduction to Writing Studies.” College Composition and Communication, 58(4), 552-585. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ776217)

Dubson, M. (2006). Whose paper is this, anyway? Why most students don’t embrace the writing they do for their writing classes. In P. Sullivan & H. Tinberg (Eds.), What is “college-level” writing? (pp. 92-109). Urbana: NCTE.

Enoch, J., & Gold, D. (2013). Seizing the methodological moment: The digital humanities and historiography in rhetoric and composition. College English, 76(2), 105-114. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database. (Accession No. 92034576)

Griffith, K. (1996, March). First-year composition and student retention: The neglected goal. Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Milwaukee, WI. Retrieved from

Hobson-Horton, L. D., & Owens, L. (2004). From freshman to graduate: Recruiting and retaining minority students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 3(1), 86-107. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ690312)

Juszkiewicz, J. (2016, March). Trends in community college enrollment and completion data, 2016. Retrieved from the American Association of Community Colleges website:

Knowles, M. S. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species. Houston: Gulf Publishing.

Maestas, R., Vaquera, G. S., & Munoz Zehr, L. (2007). Factors impacting sense of belonging at a Hispanic-serving institution. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 6(3), 237-256. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ767204)

Nora, A. (2004). The role of habitus and cultural capital in choosing a college, transitioning from high school to higher education, and persisting in college among minority and nonminority students. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 3(2), 180-208. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ690321)

Rankins-Robertson, S. (2010). An informed pedagogy: Using the writing program administrators outcomes statement to design first-year composition curriculum (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Arizona State University, Tempe.

Rankins-Robertson, S., Cahill, L., Roen, D., & Glau, G. R. (2010). Expanding definitions of academic writing: Family history writing in the basic writing classroom and beyond. Journal of Basic Writing, 29(1), 56-77. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ898358)

Reinheimer, D. A. (2005). Teaching composition online: Whose side is time on? Computers and Composition, 22(4), 459-470.

Scheffler, J. A. (1980). Composition with content: An interdisciplinary approach. College Composition and Communication, 31(1), 51-57. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ225202)

Selfe, C., & Hawisher, G. (2004). Literate lives in the information age: Narratives of literacy from the United States. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Workshop reports. (1965). College Composition and Communication, 16(3), pp. 190-210.

Practical Grammar Applications: Finding the Missing Link

Jill Gilson, Luxemburg-Casco High School, jgilson @

Abstract. Gilson explains her students’ journey from worksheets and grammar exercises to daily oral language sentences and to the ultimate goal of dissecting their own writing. Her simple suggestions of how to engage more students with a tactile strategy and by incorporating color-coded highlighting have helped visual learners “see” what elements make up their writing.

Continue reading

Shifting from Pro/Con to Conversation in Argument Writing

Michelle Streed, English Educator, Nicolet Union School District, michelle.streed @

Abstract. This paper, which uses research supported through a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and funded with a grant through the National Writing Project, explores best practices from five published texts to encourage students to talk and write about complex issues.

Continue reading