Clear and Effective Assignments
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Clear and Effective Assignments: Three Activities

After observing a teacher introduce a new assignment, a supervisor heard befuddled students ask questions like… “Did we just get an assignment?” and “Why are we doing this?” and “What are we supposed to do?”

Vague instructions and poor assignments will leave students confused and irritated. It is essential that students understand why they are doing the assignment, what the objective is, and exactly what is expected of them.  In short, assignments must have a high level of clarity.  When teachers are asked to identify key words to characterize assignment clarity, they often give the following descriptors: distinctness, step-by-step, concise, logical, fitting, reasonable, explicitness, unambiguous, detailed, and intelligible. 

Effective teachers work to develop clear, meaningful assignments and activities.

  Objectives

  • To identify the elements of assignment clarity

  • To appraise one’s assignment design skills

  • To write clear assignment objectives

  • To discover barriers to meaningful assignments 

Activity One: Reflections Write a short answer or response to the following questions and statements. Note: You may want to probe these questions with your mentor or a discussion group.

  1. Do your assignments have clear and distinct objectives?

  2. Are your assignments designed step-by-step so students know what to do and when to do it?

  3. What are the key components of efficient and workable student instructions?

  4. When designing student handouts, what absolutely must be included?

  5. Discuss the connection between clarity and successful teaching.

Activity Two: Assignment Clarity

Examine five assignments that you have designed and analyze them by answering the questions below.  Use the following scale to assess each: 5=very strong, 4=somewhat strong, 3=average, 2=somewhat weak, 1=weak.

5  4  3  2  1

1. Are the assignments clearly organized?

5  4  3  2  1

2. Are the assignments correctly written?

5  4  3  2  1

3. Do the assignments support your lessons or student reading?

5  4  3  2  1

4. Do you specify necessary or helpful resources?

5  4  3  2  1

5. Are the working arrangements clear: solo, groups, pairs, etc?

5  4  3  2  1

6. Are the assignments in a familiar and understand format?

5  4  3  2  1

7. Do the assignments fit the stamina level of the students?

5  4  3  2  1

8. Are your expectations clear?

5  4  3  2  1

9. Do the assignments fit the competency level of your students?

5  4  3  2  1

10. Is the due date clearly posted?

5  4  3  2  1

11. Do you clearly specify the amount of work time they have?

5  4  3  2  1

12. Do you state clearly your homework expectations?

5  4  3  2  1

13. Do you clarify how you will assess the assignments?

5  4  3  2  1

14. Are the procedures clear?

5  4  3  2  1

15. Do the students know precisely what they are to accomplish?

5  4  3  2  1

16. Are the assignments focused on student success?

5  4  3  2  1

18. Do your assignments support your subject matter?

5  4  3  2  1

19. Does each assignment have a clearly stated objective?

Draw some conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses or your assignments.

Activity Two: Clear Assignment Objectives Objectives Objectives

The lessons and assignments that you present must have clearly stated objectives.  Research repeatedly indicates that students who work toward clear objectives are more likely to be successful.  Objectives distinctly state what the students are to master.  Each objective begins with a verb and precisely delineates the student’s learning responsibility.  

Go back over your last ten student assignments.  Make a master list of objectives.  If you did not write or state an objective for a particular assignment, clarify the assignment by writing an objective for it.  Based on this list of objectives appraise your objective writing skills by answering the questions below.  Use the following scale: 5=very strong, 4=somewhat strong, 3=average, 2=somewhat weak, 1=weak

5  4  3  2  1

Do your objectives begin with functional verbs?

5  4  3  2  1

Are your objectives clearly written?

5  4  3  2  1

Are your objectives written so students can easily understand them?

5  4  3  2  1

Do your objectives clarify what the students need to master?

5  4  3  2  1

Are your objectives realistic?

5  4  3  2  1

Do your assignment instructions clarify the stated objectives?

5  4  3  2  1

Do your objectives support a variety of learning skills?

5  4  3  2  1

Do your objectives support your teaching expectations?

5  4  3  2  1

Do you teach to the objectives?

5  4  3  2  1

Are your objectives achievable given the available resources and time?

  Activity Three: Assignment Sins

Interview five quality teachers.  Ask them the four questions below.  Synthesize their responses and develop a list of Assignment Sins---things to avoid or not to do when developing or presenting student assignments or activities.  Keep the list visible when you design student work.

  Questions

  • What is the number one cause for failure of an assignment?

  • What are the biggest mistakes that teachers make when giving instructions?

  • Identify those elements that cause students to be confused?

  • What are one to three “don’ts” that you keep in mind when designing or presenting student assignments or activities?


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