Assignment Design Teaching Writing

Designing Writing Assignments by Traci Gardner


This semester, WAC Mason has been thinking about and studying the ways in which faculty design writing assignments.  While it seems common for instructors to think about the content of writing assignments, we sometimes forget to talk about the process of writing assignments: how do we develop them?  What should we consider as we develop them? 

Traci Gardner’s (2008) Designing Writing Assignments offers practical advice that can help address these questions.  Chapter one describes four research-based criteria that instructors should include in their designs, but chapter three attempts to describe the process of actually developing an assignment, which Gardner divides into three main stages: “Define the writing task, Explore the expectations, and Provide supporting materials and activities” (p. 35).  Each of these three stages has its own set of considerations that Gardner first describes generally and then a little more specifically through three assignment illustrations.  When defining the task, for example, Gardner suggests that writing instructors should generally “position students as experts” and prompt them “to interact with (rather than restate) texts and knowledge” (p. 36).    Gardner’s advice that instructors should “unpack the meaning of the assignment” (p. 36) with their students aligns with the research on high-impact practices conducted by Anderson, Anson, Gonyea, and Paine who suggest that instructors should make the writing process interactive by giving students the opportunity to communicate about the assignment after first reading it and before submitting it.

To learn more about how and why Gardner designs her assignments, you can access Designing Writing Assignments (and other resources about writing instruction) for free through the WAC Clearinghouse.