Writing an effective assignment requires clearly defined goals and expectations. Confusing or frustrating students is not the goal of an assignment. Rather, the goal of any assignment is solidifying themes taught in class while giving students the opportunity to showcase their knowledge on a topic. Assignments are tools used to enhance the learning process. Ask specific questions that direct students while giving them the freedom of expressing their own ideas. It may be a tricky balance at first, but with practice writing effective assignments becomes second nature.
Develop assignment goals by working backward from a perfect response. Writing@CSU (Colorado State University) suggests asking a series of questions that help narrow down the assignment description. Ask yourself what should students take away after completing this assignment and if students have been equipped with the skills needed to complete the assignment. The more specific the description, the greater chance of success for your students.
Coordinate assignment goals with course objectives. Consider if each assignment enhances or works toward the course objectives outlined on the syllabus. If the course objectives seem lost within a complex assignment, try breaking it down into several smaller assignments. For example, writing a research paper requires multiple steps which can easily be broken down into research, writing and editing assignments.
Prepare an assignment sheet. An assignment sheet should begin by stating clear goals at the top. The goals should be followed by a description of the assignment including potential topics (if not already assigned), number of pages and required amount of sources. Usually, the description is followed up with learning outcomes that tie the assignment to the course objectives.
Communicate assignment goals with students. Spend a fair amount of time in class articulating the assignment goals and requirements with students. Allow them opportunities for questions and greater clarification. Make notes of their questions and reference them when you next write and assignment, as they may reveal weaknesses in your assignment description.
Be cautious with jargon in assignment descriptions. Don't take for granted students know what you're talking about. Define words that are specific to the field being written for.
Completing complex assignments requires more time. Be sure to allow for drafting and editing when scheduling assignments.
Get feedback from students after the assignment is completed. Ask them to fill out an anonymous survey with questions rating the assignment's difficulty and what they learned. Answers can help in writing future assignments.
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