Students' Perceptions of the Value of a Self-Study Writing Assignment

By Meyer, James A.; Fisher, Bradley J. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Students' Perceptions of the Value of a Self-Study Writing Assignment


Meyer, James A., Fisher, Bradley J., Pearl, Peggy S., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The purpose of this study was to examine students' perceptions of a self-study assignment, a requirement for a life-span human development course. A survey assessing attitudes regarding the value of the writing assignment was completed by 278 students. Results suggested that students had an overall positive evaluation of the assignment. The majority of students indicated that the assignment increased their self understanding, understanding of course concepts, and their ability to apply those concepts. Students believed the assignment made the course more meaningful.

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For over 30 years the movement commonly referred to as "writing across the curriculum" has emphasized the importance of writing--not only for the benefit of improving writing skills, but also for the enhancement of learning. The movement spans a wide range of disciplines including human development and family studies, psychology, sociology, education, business, engineering, and mathematics. The types of writing assignments incorporated into the various curricula are equally varied; they include different forms of journaling, case studies, portfolios, research papers, and short in-class writing assignments. In addition to the self-study writing assignment being examined here, other writing assignments have been used such as journals, observations, interviews, professional journal summaries, case studies, and reflective writings on specific course topics. This study examined students' beliefs about how a reflective writing assignment contributed to their learning experience.

For learning to be meaningful and useful, students must understand the key principles and concepts related to a given field of study. Learning requires processing and internalizing the information presented. Writing appears to facilitate this mental process (Buehl, 1996; Hayes, 1987; Reinertsen & Wells, 1993; Wagenaar, 1984). Fulwiler (1987) suggested that writing encourages students to not merely be passive receivers of information, but to become active learners by thinking and communicating about the subject matter of a class. Early advocates for writing, such as Emig (1977), suggested that writing encourages the learners to become more actively engaged in the material being studied as they personally interact and integrate ideas into their ways of thinking.

Paul and Elder (2005) suggested that writing is critical to the learning process. For an individual to communicate ideas to someone else in a written form, the person must use higher order critical thinking skills by mentally processing concepts and then applying those ideas into a context related to the content being communicated. Writing has been shown to be a useful tool in promoting greater critical thinking and problem solving skills (Hylton & Allen, 1993; Karcher, 1988; Mayo, 2001, 2003; Rickabaugh, 1993; Smith & Jack, 2005). Faculty claim that writing helps students to more effectively learn course material (Boyles, Killian, & Rileigh, 1994; Fisher, 1996; Hylton & Allen, 1993; Riedmann, 1991). Further, students reflect on the content covered to then be better at relating that information to their own lives, and apply new knowledge to their personal lives or field of inquiry (Beers, 1985; Connor-Green, 2000; Fisher, 1996; Junn, 1989; Mayo, 2001, 2003; Rickabaugh, 1993; Riedmann, 1991; Snodgrass, 1985; Wagenaar, 1984).

Several studies have found students also view writing assignments as valuable in helping them learn the subject matter covered (Fisher, 1996; Hilgers, Hussey, & Stitt-Bergh, 1999; Mayo, 2001, 2003; Procidano, 1991; Rickabaugh, 1993; Wagenaar, 1984) and to better apply that information to their own personal lives and field of study (Fisher, 1996; Mayo, 2001; Rickabaugh, 1993; Wagenaar, 1984).

There is value in writing as it pertains to higher order thinking processes that may affect the learning process beyond mere recollection of factual knowledge.

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