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The Six Academic Writing Assignments (Print eBook Bundle)

Designing the User's Journey

By Jim Burke

Jim Burke identifies six major categories of writing assignments that help students become better writers, readers, and thinkers.

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Writing assignments are road maps—or they should be. They guide the writer on a journey. They lay out a process, envision a destination.  They are designed. As Jim Burke explains it:  “What we are really doing when we create a year’s worth of writing assignments, of experiences, is designing a story.  Each day’s class a sentence, each week a paragraph, each unit a chapter in the story of the year students spend in our classes. And as with any good story, there needs to be tension and transformation by the time one arrives at the end, or what I have called ‘the user’s journey.’”

These maps are crucially important for engaging students with academic writing, which is often unfamiliar territory. Drawing on his extensive review of academic writing assignments across the country, Jim identifies six major categories of writing assignments that help students become better writers, readers, and thinkers:

• Writing to learn
• Short answer
• Writing on demand
• Process paper (which goes through multiple drafts)
• Research paper/report
• Alternate forms (multimedia presentations, etc.).

For each assignment type, Jim invites us into his own practice. He shows how he composes the assignment, how he creates gateway activities to help prepare students, how he troubleshoots common problems, how he gives response, how he clarifies the criteria on which students will be judged.  He also shows how these assignments are related—how the earlier assignments build to later more complex ones

So please join a master teacher at work.  Take this journey with him.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


Introduction: Designing the User’s Journey

Ch. 1: Writing to Learn: Practicing Some Mental Moves
Ch. 2: The Short Answer: Fostering the Art of Paying Attention and Close Reading
Ch. 3: Writing on Demand: Finding an Authentic Pathway for Learning
Ch. 4: The Process Paper: Designing the Stages of Composing
Ch. 5: The Research Paper: The Challenge of Complexity
Ch. 6: Alternative Forms of Academic Writing: New Forms, Features, and Functions
Conclusion: Teaching Writing Better by Design



“Jim Burke is among the finest writing educators we have today. He keeps up with research, instruction, students and society and mines them for ideas to try out, refine and formulate as instructional principles and activities that support students' writing, thinking and learning. The Six Academic Writing Assignments is a ground-breaking amalgam of his work with his own students and the efforts of so many teachers with whom he has worked. It is phenomenal. Read it!”—Judith A. Langer, Vincent O’Leary Distinguished Research Professor, University at Albany

“A new generation of high school teachers now write books as once only college professors did, and they write better ones--and with greater relevance to teaching--than most of those professors.  To me Jim Burke is the leading figure in this emerging trend, and in this valuable new book he applies "the principles of design thinking" to writing assignments, "the secret operating systems of our classes," as he calls them, that, for better or worse, affect whether students ‘learn to write well for academic purposes.’”—Gerald Graff, Professor of English and Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, former President of the Modern Language Association, and author of They Say, I Say

“In this impressive book, Jim Burke offers a deep and thoughtful look at why we do what we do in designing academic writing assignments, inspiring us to be mindful of the mental moves we want our students to engage in and intentional in creating intellectual experiences to teach and transform them.  At once theoretical and practical, this book is filled with a rich array of user-friendly classroom-tested practices teachers can use to map out a year-long writing journey for their students.”—Carol Booth Olson, Professor of Education, University of California, Irvine, and author of The Reading/Writing Connection

"This book demystifies the complexities of what we ask students to write.  Creating assignments for our students is one of the most important moves in our teaching repertoires, and Jim Burke shines a light on what to consider, more than most students would probably ever imagine.  Leave it to Burke to help us all improve our teaching craft, sharing concrete ways to gauge abstract processes." —Gretchen Bernabei, author of The Story of My Thinking


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