“He just dreams up writing nightmares,” is a comment that I honestly hope students in my classes never utter.
When drafting and developing a writing assignment for students in my gen-ed and honors classes, I take a step back and ask myself 2 questions: (a) Would I want to do this if I were one of my students? And (b) Does the assignment relate practically to student realities and course content?
As an undergrad and a graduate student, my best writing involved assignments that were engaging (some topic I could wrap my head around) and related to my major/specialty areas (social sciences in general and sociology in particular). Sadly, some of those assignments were little more than busy work and seemingly poorly conceived. Those indeed required creative writing! I promised myself that if ever in the position of directing or facilitating student writing, the effort and product would be worth not only the student’s time and effort in its production, but also my time and effort to read it -- in short, making it a learning opportunity and experience for both of us: writer and reader!
Okay, so what if you have one of those dreaded whacked writing assignments?
- Be certain you got it right. Often, assignments are based on readings, lecture notes, class discussions, or outside materials.
- Ask for clarification from the prof. They are getting paid to impart knowledge, not befuddle. Make them earn their money!
- If the expectation is still murky, “make it your own.” Draft what you think is asked for. Ask the prof (or teaching assistant, who is the likely grader anyway) to see if you are on track. At the very least, it will show that you not only care about the assignment but are also proactive about your grade. Don’t be afraid to shatter the prof’s notion that you are just another one of those students who attempts to manage only minimal work in the hope of a maximum grade.
These 3 common sense steps (in order of increasing recourse) ought to help take you out of the nebulous cloud of an ambiguous writing assignment and provide the opportunity to polish your writing skill, pull an optimal grade, and impress a prof with your motivation to excel.