How to use student work effectively in the classroom

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 26 Oct 2021

When students submit work of the highest standards, it can often create a sense of satisfaction in educators.

Students can surprise us in wonderful ways, and seeing them take pleasure in a particular topic is enriching for all those involved.

Examples of good student work also provide great opportunities for teachable moments.

This week, we think about how that work might be used in the classroom to greatest effect.

It is important to note that students should be given a choice over whether their work is used in future classes. They should be able to anonymously opt out without fear of penalty.

For those in tertiary education, there may be legal ramifications, depending on how an institution chooses to navigate data protection agreements.

However, even younger students should feel they have agency over their learning journey. Asking a young student if they'd be happy if their work was shared with the class - or even displayed - takes little time and can bolster confidence in the learner, particularly if that learner is not used to coming top of the class.

When it comes to assessment, consider prefacing each assignment with a list of mistakes made by former students. Naturally, this information needs to be anonymized, but it should provide clear teachable moments with direct examples of what to avoid.

For example, warning students not to include information that is "tangential to the question posed" is not as impactful as giving examples of such information. A handout of corrected errors might also be useful.

You might want to do this thematically over several weeks (for example, referencing, depth of knowledge, engagement with the question, structure etc).

This is particularly the case when it comes to citations, something undergraduates can struggle with for years. Showing them where something is missing, while also giving them something to copy, helps them and can save you a lot of time, as you then don't have to correct every single problematic paper.

It also allows more rigorous marking. If you have explained an issue while showing examples and students still make mistakes, be firm.

There is some debate over what kinds of written examples best help students improve their own style.

Academic writing guides help some students as the style is aspirational, but other students might respond better to examples produced by peers as they seem more accessible.

Lastly, students should be encouraged to read constantly, going beyond the prescribed reading. While the adoption of a certain professional nomenclature is useful, academic writing can be dry, formulaic and awkward. Its main function is to share new research and summarize information - elegance can be a secondary concern.

Academics that write with true style, in a compelling manner, are rare. Students should be encouraged to learn to imitate great writers in the construction and "feel" of prose, if not the precise style.

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