OWI Principle 3: Appropriate composition teaching/learning strategies should be developed for the unique features of the online instructional environment.
Effective Practice 3.1: When text is the primary medium, OWI teachers should use written language that is readable and comprehensible. OWI often uses text alone—through syllabi, instructions, readings, and peer and teacher responses to student writing—to teach writing contexts, skills, and genres. Specifically, written instruction should use straightforward, plain, and linguistically direct rather than indirect language. It should avoid ambiguous rhetorical questions, phrasal verbs, idioms, and metaphorical/figurative language as much as possible (see plainlanguage.gov, 2012; Hewett, 2010).
Effective Practice 3.2: Text-based instruction should be supplemented with oral and/or video instruction in keeping with the need for presenting instruction in different and redundant modalities (see OWI Principle 1). Similarly, when oral and/or video instruction is used primarily, comprehensible text should supplement the instruction.
Effective Practice 3.3: Online written instruction should take advantage of the opportunities of the word processing system, text editor, html creator, and the LMS to mirror the types of online writing students most often read. These include:
- Writing shorter, chunky paragraphs
- Using formatting tools wisely to highlight information with adequate white space, colors, and readable fonts
- Providing captioned graphics where useful
- Drawing (when tools allow)
- Striking out words and substituting others to provide clear examples of revision strategies
- Using highlighting strategically
Effective Practice 3.4: Teaching in the text-centric OWI environment should be explicit and problem-centered. An example strategy for problem-centered, text-based teaching that uses explicit language is a “four-step intervention process”:
A. Identify the problem
B. Explain why it is a problem
C. Demonstrate how to address (revise) and avoid the problem
D. Give the student something to do in revision—a way to change the writing and an instruction to try a revision action. (Hewett, 2011, pp. 12-¬13)
Effective Practice 3.5: Text-based teacher response to student writing should be explicit in how to improve the writing, if that is the goal of the response. When there is no face-to-face explanatory opportunity and text is the primary means of teaching the writing, example strategies for intervening in a clearly written, problem-centered manner include:
- Asking open-ended (e.g., wh- [i.e., what, when, where, why, who] and how) questions
- Demonstrating how to do something
- Illustrating by examples, anecdotes, and numbers
- Modeling by writing at the level that is being required of the student
- Providing doable tasks with instructions to try them out
- Explaining terms and actions that might be unclear otherwise (Hewett, 2011, p. 12)
Effective Practice 3.6: Online text-based lessons should be supported through redundancy and repetition using the electronic tools and software that are available.
Effective Practice 3.7: Teachers should provide students with additional and supportive course materials through hyperlinks, electronic documents, and access to databases.
Effective Practice 3.8: From a classroom management perspective, teachers should maximize their use of the online environment for explaining assignments and answering questions, holding small group or whole class meetings, showing examples, responding to student texts, and encouraging student writing in as many forms as may be pertinent to course goals. Students and faculty often use writing to connect for guiding tasks, sharing and critiquing assigned texts or student writing, and evaluative commenting.
Effective Practice 3.9: From a writing instructional perspective, teachers should take full advantage of the flexibility of electronic communications in the planning and guiding of projects and activities. The concept of the “classroom” can be expanded productively to include time when students and teacher are not physically present in a room. For example, discussions, collaborative work, research, invention activities, and individual and group instruction and guidance begun in class can continue beyond that point using both asynchronous and synchronous modalities.
Effective Practice 3.10: Teachers should moderate online class discussions to develop a collaborative OWC and to ensure participation of all students, the free and productive exchange of ideas, and a constant habit of written expression with a genuine audience. Discussion board facilities in LMSs, blogs, and some social media can host discussions that are integrally part of assigned projects.
Effective Practice 3.11: The inherently archival nature of the online environment should be used for learning. To this end, teachers should use the digital setting to encourage students to rhetorically and metacognitively analyze their own learning/writing processes and progress. Such strategies can identify growth areas and points for further assistance. These opportunities make OWI ideal for multiple drafting opportunities and portfolio-based assessment.
Effective Practice 3.12: The feedback loop both for essay response and question/issue response as well as the expected timing for these processes should be well-defined in any OWC. Feedback timing is a critical issue in the success of OWI. For example, teachers should indicate to students the timeframe (i.e., number of hours) within which they should expect response to an essay or an email and by when any problem resolution might be expected. Doing so builds appropriate boundaries, trust, and a sense of relationship. Such timeframes might be set by Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) or by teachers as appropriate to the institutional context.