Friday, July 25, 2008

Achieving (Some) Clarity

In the last couple of weeks, when I've been able to force myself to work, I have been getting lots of work done for my fall courses. I've been teaching these fall courses for the last six years and getting excellent teaching evaluations overall. There is, however, a clear pattern in the comments every fall of a couple of students saying that my assignments aren't clear. In the past, I've always written assignment descriptions in my course syllabi -- assuming that having everything in one document would be simplest for my students -- and handed out rubrics or other grading scales in class. Last year I started making samples of big assignments available to my students (with names removed, of course). I've tinkered around with the assignment descriptions over the years, trying to make them more clear, but this year I've decided to make a drastic change.

I'm creating an assignment sheet for each assignment, in a separate document. In the process of doing this (I'm almost finished) I realized that there was a lot of ambiguity in my syllabi. Lots. Because I had to make all kinds of decisions as I was writing them.

I don't know if anyone is interested in the structure of the thing, but I set each information sheet up in this format:

Assignment Description:

When I told Slogger what I was doing, he said, "Sounds like hand-holding to me." Well, this is true. However, in defense of my hand-holding, this is the kind of thing I ask my students to prepare for their (future) junior high and high school students. So I can think of it as a) making my life easier, b) modeling good teaching practice for preservice teachers, and c) having something concrete to point to when complaints arise.

But anyway, I've been so focused on getting this job done that I've neglected to blog. Sorry about that.

P.S. I found out last week that my proposal for a small conference in my field was accepted. This makes me so happy! I attended this conference when I was in grad school, and I am looking forward to getting back into it.


Brigindo said...

It may be hand-holding but it works. I prefer to call it "scaffolding" and I think it is an important part of teaching people how to organize themselves.

Belle said...

Hand-holding, scaffolding, guiding... it's what we do. I realized this several years ago, when a dear friend noted 'but Belle, we're geeks. Of course we know how to do X, Y & Z.' I realized then that I'd never been taught to do those things, but had internalized them somehow.

My students, however, have not internalized any of that. So, while my stuff isn't as clearly labeled as yours... it will be now. Thanks for sharing.