Recipe for Effective Assignments

ˈresəˌpē/

“a set of instructions . . . , including a list of the ingredients required; something that is likely to lead to a particular outcome.”

baking

Effective assignments are an integral part of the educational process.  Astute educators design assignments to achieve particular educational outcomes.  If assignments are to be effective in achieving this desired outcome, a recipe should guide the process.

Now I must confess that I enjoy being creative in the kitchen.  After all, who doesn’t enjoy experimenting with new taste combinations.  And while this may make for an enjoyable time for the cook (and sometimes for those eating the meal as well), following a recipe is a good idea.  Even if the cook tweaks the recipe a bit, the guidelines provided by a recipe make for effective (and safe) meal preparation.

So what goes into the development of effective assignments?  I recently read an article that discussed the qualities of effective learning assignments.  The author offered criteria to “provide a universal recipe” for educators to follow in developing effective assignments.  It got me to thinking!

What are the ingredients for developing effective assignments?

  • Focus on learning goals

Make sure that the assignment is designed to accomplish the educational goal for the students.  For example, if the learning goal is to contrast plants and animals, the assignment should require the student to produce two sets of artifacts.  If in the same unit of study, the learning goal is to identify the characteristics of mammals, a different set of criteria will be needed.

  • Align learning goals with the lesson

Effective educators begin with learning goals that can be described in terms of student outcomes.  Learning goals are written in terms of “the student will . . .“ or “the student will be able to . . .“  In other words, the educator defines what the outcomes will be before developing the lesson or the assignment.  Effective assignments then become tools to achieve the learning goals.

  • Require higher-order thinking

Effective assignments should require students to do more than simply memorize and apply information.  Do assignments students to analyze and synthesize?  Ultimately, assignments must teach students to evaluate.  Assignments may include low-order thinking skills; however, the recipe for effective assignments must also include some higher-order thinking as well.

  • Include writing

The recipe for effective assignments includes the integration of writing.  Whether science or language arts, history or bible, effective assignments include various methods to help students compile and articulate their thoughts.  Effective assignments “lead to more frequent and higher-quality writing” (Varlas, 2016).

  • Identify expectations

Clearly communicate to students in advance the performance criteria for assignments.  Rubrics are a great tool for letting students know how their performance will be assessed.  A good rubric will include criteria for content, critical thinking, and writing.

This list of ingredients is part of a good recipe for developing effective learning assignments.  As an educator, we must constantly check to make sure that we are including all necessary ingredients in our development of learning assignments.  Perhaps we need to include a pinch more of some ingredient and a smidge less on another.

 

Does your classroom recipe card include these ingredients?  What adjustments have you made to improve learning assignments?

 

 

Varlas, L.  October, 2016.  Assignments that measure up.  Education Update.  ASCD:  Alexandria, VA.

Edward is the founder and managing editor of Focus on Christian Education. He also serves as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.