Great article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed by Dan Berrett about removing road-blocks from student learning. It really struck a nerve for me and reminded me of that old journalistic tool – who, what. where, when, how, and why. The content of all classes is only accessible if students know how to get to it. What are we really asking them to do in an assignment? How is that assignment attached to our intended outcomes for the class?
Berrett suggests we make learning clear, make teaching relevant – by considering three questions when creating assignments: what, exactly, you’re asking students to do (the “task”); why students have to do it (the “purpose”); and how the work will be evaluated (the “criteria”).
How Professors Can Make Assignments Transparent
Some exercises can become old favorites that faculty members assign out of habit. To make assignments more explicit to students, or “transparent,” instructors ask themselves the following:
Task: What, exactly, do they want students to do?
A task can be clear without accomplishing a professor’s goal for a lesson. One example: A psychology professor wanted students to develop metacognition, or a sense of how they think and how that changes. The first version of his assignment asked them to pick a psychological topic and describe in an essay how their thinking about it had evolved. The revised assignment involved two new tasks: first, asking students at the beginning of the semester to answer a series of questions about different psychological topics (like “Why do people dream?”) and to rate their confidence in their answers; then repeating the exercise at the end of the course and having them analyze the differences.
Purpose: Why are they asking students to do it?
Many traditional assignments come with no explanation at all; students complete them because their professors tell them to. More-explicit reasons can include monitoring how their views change; describing how language and institutions produce culture; and making an informed decision about a major or a career.
Criteria: How will they evaluate the work?
The most explicit evaluation criteria are often the easiest to give — and the least important, like spacing, type size, and margins. Or they’re vague: Follow directions, answer the question, write well, cite outside sources. Transparent criteria might include understanding the essential parts of a scientific paper and how to evaluate the use of evidence; employing data that are realistic and consistent with expectations; or demonstrating knowledge of the role of the media in creating standards of beauty. Some professors even ask students to suggest criteria.
Teach a person to learn and feed them for a lifetime!
from the collection of Cecilia Thompson