A new study has found that writing assignments boost critical thinking skills in students.
Ann Marie VanDerZanden, a Iowa State University professor designed a curriculum that integrates reflective writing into a landscape design course and discovered that students' quiz scores increased significantly after they completed the writing exercises.
"Providing opportunities for students to develop these skills is an essential part of their undergraduate education", said VanDerZanden.
"Research suggests that reflective writing can be an effective teaching method in agriculture-related fields," he said.
In the study, VanDerZanden evaluated the effectiveness of using reflective writing assignments in her Beginning Garden Composition class, a two-credit course at Iowa State that covers the basics of landscape design.
For the first assignment, students were asked to describe a selected landscape image using as much detail as possible. The second assignment required students to describe how the seven principles of design, which were previously discussed in class, were evidenced in the landscape image, and for the third assignment students described how historical garden eras influenced the selected image.
The assignments were designed to encourage students to write about technical content covered in the course while drawing from their background and experiences.
To evaluate the impact of the writing assignments, VanDerZanden compared students' scores on an 18-point quiz question from two years of classes when the reflective writing assignments were not part of the course and three years when the assignments were used (for a total of 110 students enrolled from 2005?).
She found that scores on the quiz question increased significantly for the students who completed the reflective writing assignments compared with students who did not complete the assignments as part of the course.anDerZanden noted that the use of reflective writing assignments can be incorporated into any technical course.
The study was published in HortTechnology.