Think Like Your Students
You’ll be able to anticipate major misconceptions about the assignment by thinking about it the ways your students do. Often, students are confused by the way an assignment is written. It may feature vague verbs, such as “discuss” or “consider.” Questions included to stimulate student thinking may not be clearly marked as such, and students may try to answer all of them in their essays, with tragic results. Also, the central question itself may be hard to grasp.
Some students may encounter difficulties if they can’t distinguish between primary and secondary sources; if the sources themselves are too dense or difficult; or if the assignment calls for more sophisticated knowledge of the subject than they’ve acquired because it has been assigned too early in the quarter.
To gain perspective on the challenges your students will face, sketch out how you would write the assignment:
- What questions emerge as you outline the process of writing this assignment?
- What immediately seems unclear?
- What would you do first?
- What information would you need to put together?
- How would you do it?
Anticipating where your student writers may encounter difficulty can help you trouble-shoot these misunderstandings, even if you have to create guidelines for your own section.
For example, if you were teaching Example #1 and didn’t receive further specification from the faculty instructor, you could help your students and yourself by advising students to choose just one or two passages from Marx, Durkheim, and Weber to compare.
If you were teaching Example #2, you could distill the central question implied in the first line—“What does racial identity and/or thinking of oneself as African ‘mean’ in the minds and daily lives of the people depicted”—by sorting out the confusing “and/or” construction and use of quotation marks around “mean.”