The following recommendation on class size of Writing Flagged Courses was approved by the Undergraduate Studies Faculty Writing Committee in April 2020.
To ensure that Writing Flag classes provide the high-quality instructor feedback required by the Faculty Council’s criteria, the UGS Faculty Writing Committee recommends that, whenever possible, departments staff Writing Flag classes at no more than a 25:1 student-instructor ratio (including TAs).
In addition to the 25:1 ratio for single classes, no full-time instructor (meaning a 100% FTE appointment) should be responsible for providing feedback for more than 60 Writing Flag students in a given semester. TA support may be used to increase this load, within reason. For every 20 hours of TA Writing Flag support, an instructor’s student load could be increased by up to 25 students.
Various staffing structures may be used to meet the Writing Flag requirements, while also meeting these guidelines for class size and instructor load in a semester. Here are a few structures that would meet both guidelines:
- An instructor appointed 100% for the semester could teach two Writing Flag sections of 25 students each, along with additional sections of non-Writing Flagged classes.
- An instructor appointed 100% for the semester could teach up to four Writing Flag sections of 27 students each, provided they have an additional 40 hours/week of TA support.
- An instructor appointed 100% for the semester could teach two Writing Flag sections of up to 35 students each, with an additional 10 hours/week of TA support per section. This instructor could then also teach up to two sections of non-Writing Flagged courses.
- An instructor appointed 67% for the semester could teach two Writing Flag sections of 30 students each, provided they have an additional 20 hours/week of TA support.
The Writing Flag Coordinator is available to consult with departments on possible staffing structures for Writing Flag classes that utilize TA support.
Professional organizations dedicated to writing instruction, such as the Modern Language Association and Conference on College Composition and Communication, agree that writing classes should be small, enrolling no more than 20 students, with 15 preferred. Once the student/instructor ratio exceeds this level, teaching processes and student outcomes change substantially. The UGS Faculty Writing Committee understands that resource limitations sometimes push writing-intensive class sizes past the ideal. These guidelines are intended to help departments keep instructional loads within the range of established best practices, while still addressing resource limits.
MLA sets an upper threshold of 60 writing students per semester per instructor. If teachers are forced to respond to the writing of more than sixty students weekly, they will necessarily oversimplify their responses.
The Conference on College Composition and Communication, Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing —“No more than 20 students should be permitted in any writing class. Ideally, classes should be limited to 15. Remedial or developmental sections should be limited to a maximum of 15 students. No English faculty members should teach more than 60 writing students a term.”
Monks and Schmidt report that class size and total instructor load negatively affect student assessments of courses and instructors. Increased total student loads reduce the amount of critical and analytical thinking required, and negatively affect the adequacy of comments on student work and the timeliness of feedback.
Emeritus Professor Rich Haswell of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi estimates that a writing instructor spends 40 minutes commenting on and grading each student paper. He estimates an additional 70 minutes per student for individual assistance during the semester. For a course requiring three papers, adding five students to that course will add a minimum of about 16 hours to the teacher’s workload, or two full workdays.
Monks, James, and Robert Schmidt. “The Impact of Class Size and Number of Students on Outcomes in Higher Education.” Robins School of Business, University of Richmond Sept. 2010.
Haswell, Rich Average Time-on-Course of a Writing Teacher.
Please contact the Center for the Skills & Experience Flags with any questions.