You aren’t there to remind students, provide instructions, or spot check assignment notebooks. You can’t staple materials together for your kids. You aren’t there to coach the weaker performers. All this is missing. Now it must be supplanted by concise, clear, self-contained assignments.
Here are 7 best practices for “Assignments that teach”:
School-wide consistency REALLY helps.
Students are suddenly managing everything on their own – and they’re not used to this. It really helps if a school provides one common platform (Google Classroom, Schoology, onCampus) where all teachers must post. Even if that’s not possible, the more consistency across all teachers in the way assignments are posted – titled, instructions, start / end times, etc. – the easier for students to manage it all.
If your school hasn’t adopted common procedures and platforms, you can still implement the following to good effect for your own students.
Assignment title really matters.
Students will plan their day and week by looking only at the assignment title. They’re not going to open the instructions of the assignment till they actually start an assignment. Three keys for assignment titles
- Descriptive: It should be clear what the work is.
- Action verb. Start the title with the “action” verb.
- How much time? Include time required to complete: [~30 mins], [2 – 4 hours]
Here are some examples:
Assignments must be self-contained. Posted assignments should have everything a student needs in one place (e.g., instructions, downloads, links, rubrics, due dates, etc.). Any time a student has to move from one web page to another to get information or materials, even within the same academic portal, we risk confusion and misunderstanding. This also helps teachers to not have to hunt for things.
Complete the first time.
Assignment instructions must be crystal clear and posted completely the first time. Ambiguity or subsequent changes risk derailing the entire assignment since students may begin heading in the wrong direction before you correct it. Emailing your corrections to students often fails (they may miss it or delay reading the email). Less-than-complete-posting has repercussions for the equity and validity of your grading, not to mention the extra time wasted in merely sorting out which student did what.
Plan for “make-up” work.
When designing your unit plan, add times or days dedicated exclusively to “make-up work.” This way, if students need it, either to solidify their learning or as a grade boost, you can “assign” the makeup work without overloading their work schedule or your grading time. Consider this a pressure release valve for both you and the students.
Break down large assignments (research projects) into multiple separate assignments, each with its own time slot and due date. In order not to violate the One-Stop Shop principle, make sure the overall assignment structure and goals are available in summary form within each sub-assignment.
Lay out a whole week (or more).
Assignments for the whole week (or even better: the whole unit) should be planned and posted for students to see, all at once, rather than bit by bit. This helps students and their families make a plan they can schedule around. Also, it helps you think through the total days dedicated to a topic, and apportion adequate time for grading and preparing.