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Writing As An Assessment And Learning Tool

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.636.1 - 3.636.8

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Teresa L. Hein

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3280

Session 3280

Writing as an Assessment and Learning Tool

Teresa L. Hein American University Washington, DC

Abstract - Writing has long been established as a valuable strategy for learning within many disciplines. A unique writing strategy, called a “folder activity,” has been developed for use with introductory physics students at American University. The folder activity has proven to be a successful and effective learning tool for students for many reasons. For example, students are often able to uncover their misconceptions through this writing activity very early in the course. This early uncovering challenges students to confront and deal with their misconceptions. Unfortunately, many learning strategies do not give students an opportunity for early detection of potential problems in their understanding. The folder activities, however, provide students with a non-threatening vehicle through which they can deal with their misconceptions, before they take a major quiz or exam. This paper will focus on the utility and function of the folder activity as a learning tool. In addition, the specific elements of the folder activity will be described and samples of students’ writings will be shared. Finally, role of the folder activity as an assessment tool will be outlined.

Introduction Writing has long been established to be an effective means of expressing one’s ideas, thoughts, and understanding. In recent years, attention has been placed on various writing-to- learn strategies in mathematics and science (Connolly & Vilardi, 1989; Countryman, 1992; Hein, 1998). Emphasis here is placed on using writing as a vehicle for students to develop their critical thinking skills and ultimately learn more. In addition, Mullin (1989) contends that writing “... is an especially valuable tool for encouraging heuristic thinking and learning” (p. 347).

Science classes, in general, are seen by many students to be threatening and intimidating places to attempt to learn. Tobias (1990) has been critical of introductory college science courses and has argued that typical classrooms are “... competitive, selective, intimidating, and designed to winnow out all but the ‘top tier’ ... there is little attempt to create a sense of ‘community’ among average students of science” (p. 9). Hence, a traditional science classroom may present potential barriers that could inhibit learning for some students. I contend that writing can provide a non-threatening vehicle through which students can achieve deeper, more meaningful learning of the concepts presented. In addition, writing can provide an excellent mechanism to allow students to confront and deal with their often deep-seated misconceptions. Tobias (1989, p. 50) contends that writing can serve as a means to help students relieve their anxiety and help them unlearn models and techniques that are no longer useful to them. In addition, Tobias suggests that eventually students would be able to approach new concepts and problems with confidence. This paper describes a unique writing activity (simply called a “folder activity”) I have developed for use by students in my introductory physics class for non-science majors at

Hein, T. L. (1998, June), Writing As An Assessment And Learning Tool Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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