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Writing Across the Curriculum

Designing Problem-Posing Assignments

1. Consider your teaching goals of the assignment & entire course as the first step to designing assignments. Consider main units/modules, learning objectives, thinking skills required, most difficult aspects, change in student habits, & making a difference in their lives.

Some Teaching Goals

(from Marty Patton @ http://www.missouri.edu/~pattonmd//assgdesign.html)

    • Explore (Write-to-Learn) - Privileges discovery over organization or communication. Might be thesis-seeking, rather than thesis-supporting. Might call for reflection or reader-response. Sometimes exploratory writing is used as "pre-writing" for more formal assignments.
    • Focus on Thesis - Presents a proposition (a focused thesis, not a topic) that students are supposed to defend or refute. Encourages students to use explicitly-stated criteria in coming to a measured conclusion.
    • Solve Problem - Gives students a problem or question (not a topic) that demands a thesis answer and supporting evidence.
    • Utilize Data - Presents students with a data set or graph and asks them to discover a thesis or general statement that gives meaning to it. For science courses, these essays offer practice in inductive reasoning.
    • Apply Theory - Presents a theory, model, aesthetic movement, or philosophy (not just a topic). Then asks students to use the defining features of the theory to analyze another text, work of fiction, or data set.
    • Write in Disciplinary Format - The principles of a given format are usually tied closely to the purpose and audience for the paper. One format might be prescribed or several formats might be described. In the latter case, the formats may function as a heuristic for students to rethink a given problem through different lenses (different purposes, different audiences).

2. Communicate expectations clearly. Formal assignments should usually include the following elements.

         Task - Explain what the student is supposed to write about, often presented as a problem/question to address, a thesis to support, or a mode or form to follow.

         Role & Audience - To place students in a "natural" rhetorical position, ask them to address an audience who knows less about the topic or whose views differ.

         Format - Specify length, manuscript form & other organizational details.

         Expectations about the process to be followed - Specify time schedule for drafts & revisions. [NOTE: To encourage students to follow the recommended process & effectively discourage plagiarism, ask students to submit all doodles, notes, outlines & drafts with the final product.]

         Criteria for evaluation - Explain how the final product will be graded-holistically or analytically.

3. Use handouts to explain the assignment. Putting assignments on handouts has several advantages:

    1. It meets the needs of 'sensing' or 'concrete' learners (Myers-Briggs);
    2. It gives all students a late-night reference;
    3. It assists WC tutors in focusing their sessions;
    4. It helps the instructor to identify problems with assignment & to clarify its purpose & focus

(Be sure to leave time for questions.)

4. Make the assignment concise. Don't overload with confusing language.

5. Consider class size

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