Written Communication: Planning Assignments

I just attended a faculty development workshop by Michael Robinson called “Written Communication: Planning Assignments and Creating Rubrics”.

He advocated using backward design when planning written communication courses. Rather than starting by deciding what assignments you want to give (e.g., should I have students write journals?), start by identifying the learning objective you want students to have achieved by the end of the course. Then identify how you will measure students’ mastery of the objectives.  The third step is to “identify the skills necessary for students to achieve the objectives.”  This is the step I am most likely to forget to do, thus I want to focus on it in this blog.

Michael offered the following end-of-term assignment: “Write an essay of about 1,000 words in which you make an argument to an audience that disagrees with you about a controversy we have explored in this course.  You must support your argument with primary and/or secondary sources that your audience will consider credible.  You must use APA citation style to cite your sources.”

What skills do students need to do this assignment? They need to be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources are, cite in APA style, write a thesis statement, construct an argument, identify what counts as credible evidence, etc. Try to be exhaustive when listing the skills, but don’t expect you are going to be perfect.  Your ability to create this list improves over time.  Talking to another faculty member who has used a similar assignment can also be helpful at generating a comprehensive list of skills.

Then figure out which of these skills students are likely to already have and which they will need to learn.  Based on that analysis, create tasks to help them learn and practice the skills they need to gain.  That helps you sequence the assignments.

Michael Robinson is happy to meet with instructors to help them work through this process of backward design to create effective writing assignments and accompanying rubrics.

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