Skip to content

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:

  1. Clarify purpose and expectations
    1. Provide examples
    2. Demonstrate
    3. Demystify
    4. Write with them — Do the assignment yourself
    5. Model every step, every aspect — for all levels.
  2. Make it meaningful and challenging
    1. Connect the assignment to students’ lives and interests
    2. Create authentic opportunities to write
    3. Incorporate new skills they can learn in the context of the assignment.
  3. Place it within a larger context of your curriculum.
    1. Consider cognitive demands
    2. Arrange steps of the assignment
    3. Embed within each assignment the skills and knowledge your students need.
  4. Align assignments with your state and district standards
    1. Consult the state and/or district standards
    2. Use the academic language appropriate to these standards to ensure students learn it
    3. Integrate standards into your assessment criteria
  5. Convey criteria for success

My Thoughts:

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.

  1. Clearly list the criteria for success on the handout
  2. Provide examples (use text book; past students; yourself)

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

4 thoughts on “More from NCTE: Jim Burke + Assignments Leave a comment

  1. Perhaps the most powerful yet most overlooked advantage of a computer in developing writing skills is as a glorified typewriter. It allows an approach to teaching writing that is impossible with a pencil and paper, and may have its greatest impact in the earlier years of school.This is the first of a series of articles to explore the introduction of laptop computers in a kindergarten class.


  2. Hello Ruth,

    Your recap and notes couldn’t come at a better time.
    I recently went back to work after being on maternity leave but instead of being with my sixth graders I am setting up lab classes and conducting lessons in them until after the new year.
    Well, today, I sat at lunch making overheads, charts and writing samples to share with a 7th grade class on memoir writing. One teacher came over and asked,”Why all of the work, aren’t the students the ones doing the writing?”
    Needless to say, I had to wax philosophical about why students need examples, demonstrations and models so that they can be successful in their writing.
    She probably doesn’t want to hear more on the matter, but just in case, I left her a copy of your notes and assessment.

    Thanks again,


%d bloggers like this: