As instructors, how can we know what students have learned from our classes? Student evals tell us how they feel about us and our classes, but not about what they learned. Some of us might have students reflect on the course at the end of the semester, but can students really remember small, important details from week 3 during week 16? To find out what students have gained from my writing course projects, I have them complete a metacognitive writing activity for each unit. At ISU, we refer to this activity as completing an “uptake genre.” In today’s post, I explain this concept in more detail and provide examples of uptake genres I’ve had students complete during different sections of my ENG 101 courses. If you want to know more about what your students have learned from your classes, consider adding an uptake genre or two to your course design.Same class. Divergent uptake. Click To Tweet
What has your student learned by taking your course? How did they gain this new knowledge or skill(s)? Why do they need to know what you taught them? How can they use this new information once they leave your classroom? The answers to these questions all relate to the term “uptake.”
From my perspective, uptake is the knowledge and/or skills a student has gained from a course, to the degree that they can apply this knowledge/skill set outside the context of the classroom. If you want the ISU’s writing program definition, here’s our key terms list. Students will experience different levels of uptake, and they will also “take up” different types of knowledge and skills.
For example, my students have created their own blogs this semester. Each blog is about a topic of their choice. So, one student might end the semester stating that they learned a lot about their topic/niche. Another might focus instead on the new skills they have because they’ve been blogging. A third might focus on how they can better explain what they’ve learned because they have so much practice explaining their learning process in this class. A fourth might point out how they now have new steps they take when researching different subjects and writing genres.
Same class. Divergent uptake.*
To find out what students have “taken up” in my writing course, they are required to complete an “uptake genre” with each unit. In this way, I don’t just get a “big picture” reflective statement like the ones listed above. I also receive information on what they’ve learned during each class unit. This semester, when I have students wrap up their blogs with a final semester uptake post, they will have three other uptake posts to look back on, each with details on what they’ve learned during our time together.
So, what exactly is an uptake genre?While a student might not need to create an infographic or a newspaper article again (or an essay for that matter), they will know how to think critically about the genres they will be asked to write in the future. Click To Tweet
*A maxim said by our program director (Dr. Joyce Walker) that has really stuck with me.
Uptake Genres (or Metacognitive Writing Genres)
An uptake genre is a genre in which students articulate what they have learned from completing an activity. It includes information on how they gained their new knowledge and skills. It also often includes an explanation of how this new information can be applied outside the classroom (if you’re familiar with rhetorical/composition theory, the idea of “transfer” is what I’m talking about here). In ISU’s writing program, uptake genres are weighed more heavily than the genre they are researching and practicing creating.
For example, a student might not create the strongest example of a resume, but if they can articulate what they’ve learned about this genre’s conventions, purposes, limitations and advantages, etc., then they can do quite well on the unit as a whole. Student metacognitive skills are given more weight than completing a draft of a genre that they likely don’t immediately need (or potentially need at all). In this way, while a student might not need to create an infographic or a newspaper article again (or an essay for that matter), they will know how to think critically about the genres they will be asked to write in the future. Improving this metacognitive ability can help not only with their future writing, but also with presenting their work in future courses or in job-related situations.
Uptake Genre Examples
I’ve assigned a few different types of uptake genres through my four semesters of teaching ENG 101. I list a few of them below, but really, any genre can become an uptake genre. Once you know what genre(s) you want your students to practice throughout the semester, consider how you can make it/them your uptake genre(s). Of course, you can have students turn in more than one uptake genre. In this case, I suggest considering how you can demonstrate to students that the genres are working together to create a larger metacognitive whole, rather than just two (or more) completely separate activities.
So, what genres have I used?
Since my current ENG 101 design focuses specifically on blogging, my students are writing an uptake blog post for each major unit. So, for example, the first sub-genre we studied in relation to blog posts is the infographic. Students created a blog post with an infographic included in it. Then, they wrote a second blog post in which they answered seven questions about their uptake during that unit. In their current unit, they are writing a how-to guide blog post about a rhetorical genre connected to their blog’s niche. Then, they are writing an uptake post using a slightly different set of questions as a guideline.
In their uptake posts, they write about their research practices, they connect what they’ve learned to writing program concepts like CHAT, genre conventions, and trajectory, and they describe how they can transfer this new knowledge into situations outside the classroom.
This post isn’t just a list of answers, though. They are required to follow the genre conventions of a blog post when completing these uptake posts.
In prior semesters, I’ve had students keep field notes of all the work they did in relation to each unit. They used the same notebook for each project, so I could collect their notes quickly and easily. I had students track the times they worked outside the classroom, where they did their work, and what steps they took to complete the projects. With this information, we were able to talk about elements of CHAT like activity and ecology. If you want to know more about this approach, check out this post about the seven CHAT elements.
If you’re using Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) in your classroom, then CHAT maps can be a really great short activity for students to complete during each unit. You could have them map out how all 7 elements connect to their unit work. Or, you can assign them to connect a smaller number of elements to their project. For example, if you’re having students write a literary analysis paper, you could have them create a CHAT map that considers what tools they used to create their papers, how their audience might react to their analysis, what activities they did when researching and writing the paper, and more.
If you have your students write a genre that exists in the world outside of academia, you can also have them reflect on how the CHAT elements connect to examples of their work outside the classroom. For example, how should they approach representing themselves on a resume, how can they distribute their resume, and what people/institutions can affect whether or not their resume gets them a job interview?
Letters or Memos:
These genres have been very common among my fellow writing program instructors. If you teach business writing, then using the genre of the memo for uptake makes a lot of sense. Sure, memos will have different conventions depending on the company and on the purpose of the memo. Still, there are some standard conventions that business students should learn about and they can practice writing concisely by using this genre for their uptake genre.
The letter is another genre that tends to be quite short, though not always as short as the memo. Having students write to themselves or to you might help them have an easier time articulating their learning experience during each unit.
Videos or Podcasts:
During one semester, I gave students the option of picking their uptake genre. One student created a podcast in which they had their friend “interview” them about the genre they had studied for the unit. [Considering this student had chosen to research the genre of interviews, their project had an additional metacognitive layer that surprised even me.] I’ve had students create short videos as part of my writing courses, too. I was incredibly impressed by their editing skills. These examples are included in this list to show the potential of multimodal genres for uptake activities. However, keep in mind that requiring these types of genres for all students would likely require teaching them how to create the genres first.
Final [metacognitive?] Thoughts
Uptake genres (also referred to as “proof of learning documents”) are not a standard element of the writing classroom. But, I think including this type of metacognitive writing can really help students see the far-reaching effects of what they are learning in a required course. First year writing (FYW) courses are often filled with students who don’t want to be there or feel like they don’t need to be there. Having them write out what they’ve learned for each unit can help give them solid proof of the benefits of the course.
Other Writing Resources on This Blog:
Do you assign your own versions of metacognitive writing genres? If so, which genres have been most successful?
>>If you found these tips helpful and want to make sure you don’t miss any future content on my blog, here’s the link to subscribe to my blog’s email list. As a subscriber, you’ll receive access to my resource library, which includes all my blog-related PDFs.<<