More from NCTE: Jim Burke + Assignments
For the last session of the conference, I attended a session with Jim Burke, Jeff Wilhelm, and Alan Sitomer geared toward secondary teachers. It was excellent, so excellent that I took 13 pages of notes! Over the next few days, I plan to process some of what I heard.
Burke shared his guiding principles for designing effective writing assignments:
- Clarify purpose and expectations
- Provide examples
- Write with them — Do the assignment yourself
- Model every step, every aspect — for all levels.
- Make it meaningful and challenging
- Connect the assignment to students’ lives and interests
- Create authentic opportunities to write
- Incorporate new skills they can learn in the context of the assignment.
- Place it within a larger context of your curriculum.
- Consider cognitive demands
- Arrange steps of the assignment
- Embed within each assignment the skills and knowledge your students need.
- Align assignments with your state and district standards
- Consult the state and/or district standards
- Use the academic language appropriate to these standards to ensure students learn it
- Integrate standards into your assessment criteria
- Convey criteria for success
This is aligned very neatly with what I currently do when designing writing experiences for students. Still, the thing that struck me the most and is sticking with me is the idea that assignments should be challenging. I think we worry about making things too difficult. Often I hear teachers say something along these lines: I just don’t understand why they don’t do this — it’s so easy! Perhaps that’s the problem.
There is a fine line between making assignments too difficult and too much and making them too easy. It is an art to develop experiences that are challenging and meaningful. This is something I have resolved to commit too — creating challenging and meaningful assignments.
- Clearly list the criteria for success on the handout
- Provide examples (use text book; past students; yourself)