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Explicit descriptions of assignments on the syllabus or on an “assignment sheet” tend to produce the best results.These instructions might make explicit the process or steps necessary to complete the assignment.This page contains four specific areas: Creating Effective Assignments Checking the Assignment Sequencing Writing Assignments Selecting an Effective Writing Assignment Format Creating Effective Assignments Research has shown that the more detailed a writing assignment is, the better the student papers are in response to that assignment.
This check might be something as informal as having students work on their prewriting or draft for a few minutes at the end of class.
Or it might be something more formal such as collecting the prewriting and giving a few suggestions and comments. You might ask students to submit a first draft in order to receive your quick responses to its content, or have them submit written questions about the content and scope of their projects after they have completed their first draft. Set up small writing groups of three-five students from the class.
Other questions might suggest a procedure to follow. To learn and demonstrate the procedures, practices, and tools of your field of study? Is the assignment sequenced so that students: (1) write a draft, (2) receive feedback (from you, fellow students, or staff members at the Writing and Communication Center), and (3) then revise it?
The questions posed should require that students assert a thesis. Such a procedure has been proven to accomplish at least two goals: it improves the student’s writing and it discourages plagiarism. Does the assignment include so many sub-questions that students will be confused about the major issue they should examine? What is the purpose of the assignment (e.g., review knowledge already learned, find additional information, synthesize research, examine a new hypothesis)?
The following areas should help you create effective writing assignments. How exactly does this assignment fit with the objectives of your course? Should this assignment relate only to the class and the texts for the class, or should it also relate to the world beyond the classroom? What do you want the students to learn or experience from this writing assignment? Should this assignment be an individual or a collaborative effort? What do you want students to show you in this assignment? Can you give more guidance about what the paper’s main focus should be? Making the purpose(s) of the assignment explicit helps students write the kind of paper you want. What is the required form (e.g., expository essay, lab report, memo, business report)? What mode is required for the assignment (e.g., description, narration, analysis, persuasion, a combination of two or more of these)? Can you define a hypothetical audience to help students determine which concepts to define and explain? What is the probable educational and economic background of the intended readers? Can you make explicit what persona you wish the students to assume?
When students write only to the instructor, they may assume that little, if anything, requires explanation. For example, a very effective role for student writers is that of a “professional in training” who uses the assumptions, the perspective, and the conceptual tools of the discipline. If possible, explain the relative weight in grading assigned to the quality of writing and the assignment’s content: Checking the Assignment Here’s a checklist for writing assignments: 1. Have you presented the assignment in a manageable form?This approach allows you to give students guidance and also discourages plagiarism. It mirrors the approach to written work in many professions.The concept of sequencing writing assignments also allows for a wide range of options in creating the assignment.Although journals may seem to add a huge burden for instructors to correct, in fact many instructors either spot-check journals (looking at a few particular key entries) or grade them based on the number of entries completed. Students can define and defend a position on an issue in a letter written to someone in authority.Journals are usually not graded for their prose style. They can also explain a concept or a process to someone in need of that particular information.The Center has yellow forms that we can give to students to inform you that such a visit was made. A series of reading and writing assignments may be linked by the same subject matter or topic.Students encounter new perspectives and competing ideas with each new reading, and thus must evaluate and balance various views and adopt a position that considers the various points of view. In this approach, students’ assignments move from less complex to more complex modes of discourse (e.g., from expressive to analytic to argumentative; or from lab report to position paper to research article). In this approach, students create drafts for different audiences, moving from personal to public (e.g., from self-reflection to an audience of peers to an audience of specialists).Defining the whole class as the intended audience will clarify this issue for students. What is the probable attitude of the intended readers toward the topic itself? Have you used explicit command words in your instructions (e.g., “compare and contrast” and “explain” are more explicit than “explore” or “consider”)? Have you told students the kind of audience they are addressing — the level of knowledge they can assume the readers have and your particular preferences (e.g., “avoid slang, use the first-person sparingly”)? If the assignment has several stages of completion, have you made the various deadlines clear? For instance, a 5-page assignment sheet for a 1-page paper may overwhelm students.The more explicit the command words, the better chance the students will write the type of paper you wish. Does the assignment suggest a topic, thesis, and format? Similarly, a 1-sentence assignment for a 25-page paper may offer insufficient guidance.Allow them to meet for a few minutes in class or have them arrange a meeting outside of class to comment constructively on each other’s drafts.The students do not need to be writing on the same topic. Have students consult with someone in the Writing and Communication Center about their prewriting and/or drafts.