Post navigation

Designing Assignments that Help Students Overcome Bottlenecks of Understanding


October 16, 2014 – October 16, 2014

Rouss & Robertson Hall Room 403


Matching good writing pedagogies with disciplinary teaching is often a challenge. One starting point for addressing this challenge is to focus on disciplinary “bottlenecks”, recurrent difficulties students have in acquiring specific concepts or skills. When faculty do the difficult work of articulating the ways they themselves navigate these bottlenecks, they become able to make disciplinary ways of doing, knowing, and writing (Carter 2007) transparent. Through this process of making the implicit explicit, faculty understand learners’ struggles and develop strategies for modeling expert thinking to aid their students’ learning. At the Bielefeld University’s Writing Center, the workshop facilitators developed a method that combines the Decoding the Disciplines approach – a model developed by David Pace and Joan Middendorf (Pace, Middendorf 2004) – with a writing process activity inspired by Sondra Perl (2004).

In this workshop, participants will explore this method designed to help faculty identify and describe disciplinary bottlenecks and develop writing assignments that help students learn how experts deal with them. After a brief introduction of our own approach, participants will engage in an individual writing activity, a peer feedback process and a group discussion.

Co-sponsored by the Teaching Resource Center, the Director of Academic and Professional Writing, and the Writing Center


Michael Carter (2007): “Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines”. CCC 58.3: 385-418.

David Pace, Joan Middendorf (eds.) (2004): Decoding the Disciplines: Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 98. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Sondra Perl (2004): Felt Sense. Writing with the Body. Portsmouth, Boynton/Cook.


swantjeSwantje Lahm initiated the first Writing in the Disciplines Program at a German University. She works at the Bielefeld University’s Schreiblabor (writing center), which in 2013 celebrated its 20th anniversary. She coordinates the project “Literacy Competencies for First-Year-Students,” which aims to support students in successfully entering their studies by integrating writing into core introductory courses. Supported by a large government grant for educational innovation, the Schreiblabor hired and trained faculty members who serve as disciplinary writing experts in ten disciplines. These specialists implement writing-to-learn, writing-process, and assessment strategies in their own courses, and share this new pedagogy with their departmental colleagues.

Swantje Lahm has served as a keynote speaker at national and international conferences and co-authored “Schreiben in Studium und Beruf” (Metzler Verlag, 2. ed. 2013), a widely used textbook for students.

Comments are closed.