A Simple Assignment

Here’s a simple in-class assignment that would test an important competence in your students. It will work best in a class of around 20 students. If your class is bigger than that, simply divide them (randomly!) into groups of about that size.

At least one week before doing this, assign a text to the students that you think is of reasonable quality and which has substantial knowledge content (a book chapter or journal article you like will do fine). Let the students know that there will be an in-class assignment on this text and that it will count towards their grade. (I’ll let you decide whether to explain the assignment to them in advance after you’ve seen my idea.)

The assignment begins by giving them a key sentence: a simple declarative sentence that they should know is true after reading the assigned text. It should be substantial enough that it can be supported, elaborated or defended in a paragraph of at least six sentences and at most two-hundred words. Give them 27 minutes to compose such a paragraph. This must be done on some sort of digital platform for this assignment to work. Once they have submitted, distribute all the paragraphs to all the students anonymously. (If you have a class of much more than 20 students, distribute them within the groups you randomly assigned people to.)

Now give them  half an hour to rank the paragraphs from best to worst.

That’s it. Here’s how you grade the result: 50% of the grade is given for the paragraph itself. It is graded on a curve after you have ranked all the submissions (in a class of 20 students, for example, you might give 4 As, 6 Bs, 8 Cs and 2 Ds or Fs; or set the curve as you choose).* 50% of the grade is given based on how accurately they predicted your grade with their ranking of the paragraphs (here you just convert their rank ordering into grades and count how many they got right; this grade should not be curved since, in principle, the students can perform equally well or equally badly). You can choose to work out the final, combined grade on a class curve, or simply average the two grades.

I firmly believe that this assignment doesn’t just incentivize learning, but also constitutes a learning experience in its own right. I’m happy to discuss it.


*Update: Though this is my preference, and does make it easier, you don’t actually need to do this on a curve. So long as you have a reasonably normal distribution of grades this assignment will make sense.

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