Designing Assignments to Support the Writing Process

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DESIGNING ASSIGNMENTS
TO SUPPORT THE
WRITING PROCESS
Suzanne Withem
UNO Writing Center
ASH 150
DAVID BARTHOLOMAE’S
“INVENTING THE UNIVERSITY”
“The student has to “invent the university by assembling and mimicking its
language, finding some compromise
between idiosyncrasy a personal history, and the requirements of convention,
the history of a discipline. They must
learn to speak our language. Or they
must dare to speak it, or to carry off
the bluff, since speaking and writing
will most certainly be required long
before the skill is ‘learned.’ And this,
under-standably, causes problems.”
WHY WORRY SO MUCH ABOUT EFFECTIVE
ASSIGNMENT CREATION?
Students can’t mind read
 Overly prescriptive assignment can be incredibly
difficult non-linear thinkers who need freedom
 Overly broad topics can paralyze a student who
needs specific instructions or parameters in
which to explore
 With a carefully designed assignment,
instructors can guide students toward
predetermined learning objectives

WHY WORRY SO MUCH ABOUT EFFECTIVE
ASSIGNMENT CREATION?
Shouldn’t the bulk of the
work in a writing
assignment be on the
students’ shoulders?
WHY WORRY SO MUCH ABOUT EFFECTIVE
ASSIGNMENT CREATION?
Yes, but consider thinking
of assignment design
as your writing assignment
for the course.
PROVIDE A PRINTED ASSIGNMENT SHEET

Distributed a the beginning of the writing project
 Helps students stick to the assignment and
meet criteria set forth
 Helps you identify and address potential
problems in the assignment
 Helps anyone who may assist the student, e.g.
Writing Center Consultants, understand
where they should focus the consultation
session.
CLARIFY YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Allow time in class or make yourself available to
answer the questions about the assignment.
 Offer examples of A papers from previous classes.
 If time allows, give several examples and have
students discuss the structure, strengths, and
weaknesses of each.
 Talk about how you would (or did) grade each.

GROUP ACTIVITY
FIVE MAJOR ELEMENTS PRESENT IN
EFFECTIVE WRITING ASSIGNMENTS
Format requirements
 Expectations about the process to be followed
 Criteria for evaluation
 Task
 Role and audience

LESS EFFECTIVELY DESIGNED
ASSIGNMENTS

Write a paper about some aspect of the political
situation in the Middle East
LESS EFFECTIVELY DESIGNED
ASSIGNMENTS

Begin with one of the five attention getting
strategies outlined in the textbook. End the first
paragraph with your thesis statement. Compose
three paragraphs that each support the thesis.
Each paragraph should begin with a topic
sentence supported by three sentences of
information concluding with an explanation of
how that information supports the topic sentence.
Finally, write a concluding paragraph which
summarizes all of the main points in your paper
and restates your thesis.
LESS EFFECTIVELY DESIGNED
ASSIGNMENTS


Explicate Christina Rosetti’s “The Goblin
Market”
Discuss the benefits of students engaging in
Writing Across the Curriculum
LESS EFFECTIVELY DESIGNED
ASSIGNMENTS

In the graveyard scene of Hamlet, Shakespeare
alters his sources by adding the clownish
gravediggers. How does the presence of the
gravediggers influence your interpretation of the
scene? Do you think they are funny? Absurd?
Blasphemous? How does Hamlet’s attitude
toward the gravediggers affect the scene? Do you
think it is appropriate to sing while digging a
grave? What about the jokes they tell? Do you
think that Yorick was more like the gravediggers
or more like Hamlet? Do you think it is
appropriate to have a lighthearted moment like
this in the middle of a tragedy? Is the scene
really lighthearted?
THESIS DRIVEN WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

Offer a thesis statement for students to refute or
defend.



The proposed accounting recommendation is/is not
the best solution to the client’s question.
Homeschooling is/is not the best solution for students
with (ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, Asperger's
Syndrome, fill in the disability).
Electric cars are/are not currently the best solution to
limit carbon emissions created by transportation.
THESIS DRIVEN WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

Give students a problem/research question, the
answer to which will be a thesis statement.

In the graveyard scene of Hamlet, Shakespeare alters
his sources by adding the clownish gravediggers.
How does the presence of the gravediggers influence
your interpretation of the scene?

What are the similarities and differences between the
biochemical pathways of aerobic respiration and
photosynthesis in eukaryotic cells?
THESIS DRIVEN WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

Have students develop a thesis on their own
providing a specific structure you want your students
to follow.

Use the structure outlined in the APA Manual for a formal
scientific research report including the following sections:
introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Use an introduction to explain the significance of your
issue. Your thesis should clarify your position on the issue.
In the body of your paper, give and defend using evidence
three to five reasons why your position is correct. The
conclusion should reiterate your thesis in light of the new
information you’ve presented.
MORE PERSONAL FORMS OF FORMAL WRITING
AND ALTERNATIVES TO THESIS DRIVEN ESSAYS

Exploratory essays – thesis seeking essays

Reflection papers – reader response papers

Con Argument – write from the opposite POV

Dialogue – consider issue from two perspectives

Subject Specific Autobiography – student
considers and explores a subject from a personal
perspective
STUDENTS PEER REVIEW,
SO WHY DON’T YOU?








Is it clear? What might a student misunderstand?
Is it interesting and challenging? How difficult will
the average student find the assignment to be?
What kinds of students will enjoy the assignment?
Who will dread it?
Is the suggested audience clear?
Are the grading criteria clear?
Are the mechanics of the assignment clear?
Is the process expected of the students clear?
How easy or difficult will the assignment be to coach
and grade?
QUICK WRAP-UP
Students are learning to participate in the
conversation.
 A well-designed assignment can help them be
more successful in joining the conversation.
 Think of the creation of the assignment as your
writing assignment for the course.
 Provide a written assignment sheet.
 Clarify your expectations on that sheet or in class
discussion
 Include the five elements of effectively designed
assignments
 Ask a colleague to help you review/revise.

WORKS CONSULTED


Bean, John. Engaging Ideas. Place of publication:
Publisher, Year of publication. Print.
Gottschalk, Katherine and Keith Hjortshoj. The
Elements of Teaching Writing. New York:
Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2004. Print.

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