Workshop Recap: Effective Assignment Design

Last Thursday WAC kicked off the fall semester with our first workshop, Effective Assignment Design. For those who couldn’t make it, or those who want to refresh their memories, here’s a quick recap:

Writing Fellows Claire Hoogendoorn and Drew Fleming began by explaining the difference between formal and informal writing. Many of us are familiar with formal student writing, end-of semester term papers are a classic example, which can be categorized as writing to communicate. Informal writing is writing to learn and it can take any number of forms, including:

  • Notetaking
  • Paraphrase or summary
  • Generating questions
  • Reflection or response

What informal writing tasks have in common is that they are not focused on grammar or organization, and they are low-stakes (they are ungraded or have a minimal impact on the course grade).

An effectively designed formal assignment should include a number of smaller informal or semi-formal assignments that help students develop the required skills to achieve the grade they want. This is called scaffolding, and all high-stakes assignments can benefit from it.

Scaffolding will look different for each assignment and each instructor, the point is to put steps in place so that students practice the skills they will need to succeed before the final assignment comes due. This may mean giving informal assignments in which they defend a thesis, write out methodology, explain a key concept, or paraphrase a source. Again, the number and type will vary.

The workshop wrapped up with a reminder of how important it is to give students typed assignment handouts. Handouts minimize student confusion by providing all of the details of the assignment, such as:

  • The specific task(s)
  • The assignment requirements (such as formatting and citation)
  • The audience for the assignment
  • Grading criteria
  • How many required drafts

The workshop PowerPoint and handout can be found here:

PowerPoint Slides


Remember that this is workshop one of four offered this semester. Workshops are open to all faculty, regardless of whether they are going through the WAC certification process. If you are interested in hearing more about the WAC certification process (there are still some open spots in the program this semester) or if you have further questions about WAC, feel free to email a WAC Fellow or leave a comment below!