Equally, if the assignments are designed well, students’ skills in analysis, inference, and evaluation critical thinking can be improved. When writing is used as a tool to restructure knowledge, it improves higher-order thinking.
If you want your students to meaningfully process what you are teaching, there is no better way than to assign writing prompts that ask them to read assigned materials carefully, find information that will help them think through ideas, and then write about what they have learned or what they think about a particular topic. The results of such assignments need not be perfectly polished papers or even long assignments; such short writing assignments are the stuff of learning itself. The primary function of writing to learn is to order and represent the content of the learning experience to one’s own understanding.
As this page will emphasize, using writing to teach criminal justice topics is not the same thing as teaching grammar or syntax. Think of your coursework as “using” writing, not teaching it. Students will improve their writing skills in various ways, but primarily from practice reading and writing. The more you ask them to do, the better they will become. As opposed to sitting and listening to a lecture, having to write about ideas forces students to process information actively. Active processing of information forces the brain to translate between mental processing domains, which in turn leads to the formation of distinctive memories and hence to better retention.
It is important to share your goals for what you want students to get out of the activity before they begin. Unless the writing is used for in-class or group discussions, it is probably best to give them credit for having completed the assignment, but not for the quality of the writing itself. The goal is to create new neural networks in your students’ brains. Improved writing is only a side effect. Neuroscience confirms that repeating an activity, retrieving a memory, and reviewing material in a variety of ways helps build thicker, stronger, more hard-wired connections in the brain. Unless we ask students to write repeatedly, we cannot expect them (a) to be able to write well, and (b) to understand what they are writing about.
Put simply: practice matters. In order to be able to do anything well, we must do it repeatedly. This is no less true in the complicated act of writing. Repetition, trial and error, and dogged commitment are what change habits, build skills, and develop new ways of thinking and writing. This, of course, is the work of the college. For students whose writing manifests serious and repeated grammatical issues, the best thing is to send them to the Writing Center for one-on-one tutoring. Students will take such a suggestion more seriously if their course grade is tied to attending writing center appointments. Further, internal John Jay College studies have proven that student writing and grades improve by at least 1/3 of a grade if they attend four or more sessions in one semester. This is likely true on any campus, and is just affirmation of point #4 above: practice is the surest way to improve performance.