“So What?”: Student Ownership of the Semester’s End

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Senioritis blooms along with the forsythia, magnolias, and flip-flops, and is hardly restricted to seniors. This time of year, half the challenge of teaching seems to be convincing students to still give a … well, we’ll go with “hoot.” One remedy — and also a student-centered classroom ideal — is to structure the semester’s end so that students take increasing ownership of class time as the semester draws to a close. Students should be able to answer the “So, what?” question, not only for their own writing, but for their learning in the course, and for their time in the classroom. How have you structured the semester’s end to center student voices, and with what results?


Here, I’ll share some strategies I’ve used:


Task students with designing a final class teach-in, and invite friends and family

I often invite students to plan a final class day as a “teach in” that we open up to friends and family (to raise the stakes of a real audience). We think of it as an idea-engagement event, in which every student has to participate in some way. They might read aloud a short, provocative passage of their writing, share some resources on a course theme, offer civic action tools related to the course, or even provide a playlist of songs related to the course theme. This teaches students to engage with multiple ways of learning designed to explain their key insights to a fresh audience, and to offer specific action steps in response. For these “teach in” events, my students have designed bookmarks with key ideas as takeaways, set up photo “booths” with informational props and frames to share out on social media, created civic action kits for writing to representatives about topics, designed temporary tattoos and bumper stickers, printed out recipe cards with activist steps, provided course-themed coloring pages, and on and on. I often provide a bit of food and a bigger space for the final day, to make it feel like a celebration. Students can name the event, advertise on social media and with flyers, and in general turn the last class day — so often a let-down or a hurried final presentation day — into a celebration of intellect and engagement that they can look forward to and own.


Upping the Ante in Peer Writing Workshops

If a final-day celebration doesn’t fit into your writing classroom schedule, you might also be more mindful about handing over student ownership of peer writing workshops. In From Inquiry to Academic Writing, my co-author, Stuart Greene, and I offer specific guidelines for writers and readers of early, later, and final drafts. As students approach the final draft of an essay, I often require them to set the agenda for the peer-group discussions, so they can take ownership of what writers need in the final stage of the revision process. Handing students the chalk (or the marker) at the front of the room and having them crowd-source the questions that should drive the day’s workshops gives them ownership of the revision process (which is, after all, what we hope they’ll take from our classes), and gives you as the instructor some crucial insights about what they’ve gleaned about the writing process. Once they’ve set the agenda on the board, students can use their peers’ guidance for their writing groups, with each writer benefiting from the peer group’s focus on each draft, one at a time.


If your students need a bit of prompting, here are some guides for student peer-group discussions of later drafts:

Working with later drafts

  1. To what extent is it clear which questions and issues motivate the writer?
  2. What is the writer’s thesis?
  3. How effectively does the writer establish the conversation — identify a gap in people’s knowledge, attempt to modify an existing argument, or try to correct some misunderstanding?
  4. How effectively does the writer distinguish between their ideas and the ideas that are summarized, paraphrased, or quoted?
  5. How well does the writer help you follow the logic of the writer’s argument?
  6. To what extent are you persuaded by the writer’s argument?
  7. To what extent does the writer anticipate possible counterarguments?
  8. To what extent does the writer make clear how the writer wants readers to respond?
  9. What do you think is working best? Explain by pointing to specific passages in the writer’s draft.
  10. What specific aspect of the draft is least effective? Explain by pointing to a specific passage in the writer’s draft.

And heres what we suggest for final drafts:

Working with final drafts

For writers:

  1. What is your unique perspective on your issue?
  2. To what extent do the words and phrases you use reflect who you believe your readers are?
  3. Does your style of citation reflect accepted conventions for academic writing?
  4. What do you think is working best in this draft?
  5. What specific aspect of the essay are you least satisfied with at this time?


For readers:

  1. How does the writer go about contributing a unique perspective on the issue?
  2. To what extent does the writer use words and phrases that are appropriate for the intended audience?
  3. To what extent does the style of citation reflect accepted conventions for academic writing?
  4. What do you think is working best?
  5. What specific aspect of the essay are you least satisfied with at this time?


Ultimately, students will remember their ownership of ideas and their confidence in transferring ideas from your course into other classes and beyond. Like any effective piece of literature, our courses should offer our students a clear answer to the question, “So what?”


How do you do this in your own courses? What do you hear back from your students about the skills they leave with, and use?



Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.