A better assignment

I thought a thought today.

I was thinking along the lines of “What is the best way of finding out whether a student has read a particular chapter or not?”

Before jumping to an answer, I’d like to remind you the biggest constraint that a typical educator faces – lack of time, more specifically lack of time per student. As more and more students are jampacked into classes, this is going to become a greater problem.

Assignments in which a teacher gives a student a set of questions as homework are the currently used solution in most schools. As the time a teacher can give to each student in class diminishes more and more, the dependency on these assignments is only going to be greater.

Since we can’t run from assignments and taxes, it got me thinking, could there be a better way to know whether a student has understood a particular topic, chapter or book.

The solution had to make it very easy for the educator to check the solutions of the students. One of the solutions is using MCQs with automated checking. Another could be online tests which students can give from home at their convenience. These are, in Operations Management terms, efficient solutions, but are they also as effective??

So here’s the deal, I’ve challenged my little ol’ mind to come up with different kinds of assignments that deviate from the standard but are more effective in their own ways. As an example, here’s an assignment I thought of:

The idea of the assignment comes from the question “How does an English teacher know whether a student has actually read a chapter or not??”

As to any problem, there are a myriad of solutions – a quiz or an assignment will probably do the job. The teacher can check the answers and have a good idea of which students performed well and which didn’t.

Here is my solution: After a chapter has been taught in class, ask each student to read the chapter at home and underline the 3 most important lines in that chapter. The number of lines can be increased or decreased based on the chapter’s complexity. The sentences can be questions, statements or exclamations, short or long.

I think this approach has the following advantages:

1. There is no wrong answer.

2. The students will have to read the whole thing so that they don’t miss out on any important lines .

3. What they find important will provide themselves with an insight about themselves.

4. Comparisons with friends and colleagues will be a more interesting exercise. Imagine asking your friend which lines they found most interesting as opposed to asking him/her what the answer to question number 2 was.

5. Its OK if you didn’t find 3 lines worth noting down.

6. They’ll understand the crunch of the chapter or book.

7. They’ll not avoid parts which are not answers to any of the specific questions but are there to raise interest.(Most will find the most important lines in these parts)

8. They will have a collection of wonderful lines which they can reference in a conversation and which they will probably remember because they spend quite a lot of time finding them.

9. The educator can always ask ‘Why?’ in class and find out immediately pinpoint cheaters.

What better way to check whether something works than taking it out for a run. I decided to check the method on my own article and find the three most important lines in it. And as I scrolled up and looked for these three lines, I found none. Immediately a lesson was learnt, I have to become a better writer. And while this is a sad reality, I am also happy that my method has some value.

When I asked my brother’s opinion about the idea, he mentioned that his English teacher actually used this method very successfully. Incidentally, she had taught me English too and she was the most awesome teacher you could find in middle school.

I will keep updating this post if I come up with other better assignments for different subjects. If you have any, do drop a line in the comments.


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