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Explanation for an Assignment

I did something a little different in my class on Tuesday. I walked in and gave them what I felt was a good explanation for an assignment. I distributed the guidelines and reviewed them with the students. But, what I did differently was explaining WHY they had to do this assignment. I don’t think we do this enough. Our syllabi notes how the students will be evaluated.

But, do we explain why each assignment is important or why it is necessary? These are not cheeky, deep questions that I pose here. I do think that there are times when you need to put your cards on the table and explain to them:

This assignment will make your next assignment easier. I know that some of you get uncomfortable that I am evaluating your writing, but this evaluation is not about you as a person. I know that I walked in to the classroom wanting to do this based on a few difficult office hour meetings during the last two days. A few students shed tears and were not completely able to separate their marks from who they are as a person. Their mark is not them, but for some students (especially the first year students) it is really hard to separate the mark from their identity.

Perhaps some of the third and fourth year students in my afternoon class found my explanation tedious? I don’t know, but I wanted to remind them about the why for the next assignment. And, I also wanted them to realize that I know that they feel vulnerable when they submit their written work for review. How many of us has shuddered when we’ve opened up the email that includes reviewers’ comments? I know that for some of them my purple pen is like a weapon of personal destruction and I don’t want them to feel like that. Their grade and my comments is not a rant. It’s an assessment of following directions, critical thinking, and overall presentation.

Do you give your students the why explanation?

2 thoughts on “Explanation for an Assignment

  1. I always try to explain the reasoning behind assignments–primarily because I hate as a student feeling as though class assignments are arbitrary. I try to work as much transparency into my teaching as possible!

    • I do think it’s important to remind them or inform them about the reasoning for an assignment. No matter what I do, one to two will complain about presentations. But, I stand firmly behind the fact that I want them to get more public speaking experience. They need to articulate ideas on paper and on their feet. Thanks for commenting, Monica.

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