Informal Writing Assignments

Sketch for a one-act play

 

Characters

Professor Smith

Jean-Paul, student

Marianne, student

 

Professor Smith hands back a writing assignment to students.  Jean-Paul raises his hand.

 

Professor Smith: Jean-Paul, you have a question?

Jean-Paul: Professor, you forgot to give me a grade for my work.

Marianne (frowning): I didn’t get a grade either.

Professor Smith: Are the comments that I wrote in response to your work clear or helpful?  Or fair?

Jean-Paul: Um, wait a second—let me see . . . .  Yes, they are—kind of, sort of—but . . .

Professor Smith: How important are grades that might make you feel stressed or too elated?

Jean-Paul or Marianne: ___________________________________ .

 

 

Drafting the above sketch is how I was able to find a way into writing this blog entry.  How much writing and deleting did I do before settling on that opening?  A fair amount.  Did anyone grade me on those attempts to talk about the importance of informal writing assignments?  Of course not.  Why not extend some version of this approach to college students as way to help them step into unfamiliar course content?  Informal writing assignments that need not be graded redirect students to truer learning.  It is unsettling to see students automatically search for a grade on the page when they get back their work, skimming through the professor’s comments or even skipping over them in the search.  Yes, I give ungraded writing assignments.  An early concern was the following: “If I tell my students that they will not be graded for a writing assignment, would they still be serious about engaging with the topic?”  I discovered the answer to be yes—students submitted good work overall.  In fact, the learning atmosphere became less stressful.  Ungraded writing assignments can also make students rethink why they are taking classes: am I here just for a grade, or do I really want to understand the course content?

 

Informal writing assignments is but one of the topics that will be discussed at the upcoming faculty workshop “Effective Assignment Design” on Thursday, September 27, 2018 in room N704 from 1pm to 2pm.