Modelling Assignments Early
Kris Kim, PhD, Learning Strategist, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering
Course: CHM379, Biomolecular Chemistry
Class Size: 20 students
Duration of Class: Half-year
Class Style: Lab
Kris completed his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Toronto. During his graduate studies, he was involved in several teaching and learning initiatives, such as serving as the Lead Writing TA, TATP Science Trainer, and Chemistry Teaching Fellow.
In a class with a large final lab report based on a semester long experiment, it can be easy for students to feel overwhelmed and anxious come time to start writing. To help students feel more confident and familiar with how to approach their final reports, Kris introduces modelling exercises early in the semester.
Students are first asked to reflect and discuss components that make for a strong lab report. After a take-up discussion, a summary of the discussion is provided, as well as a sample report from a previous year. Students are encouraged to read and provide feedback on this report. More specifically, students are asked what they would have done differently. As a take-away assignment, students are given another sample report and are asked to read and provide feedback, just like they would have done during the workshop.
Modelling can be used for almost any type of assignment. Here’s how:
- Find a student example to use as a model. Be sure to get approval from the student to circulate their work and remove their name from the assignment so they remain anonymous.
- Start the activity by asking students to brainstorm all the elements of the assignment. This can be done as a class or in small groups. The point is to get students to start thinking about various aspects of the assignment and also to break the assignment down into “chunkable” pieces.
- Distribute the example you want to discuss with students and give them time to read and take notes on what they are observing.
- Facilitate a group discussion about the example. Ask students:
- how the assignment has been organized
- to identify strengths and weaknesses of the assignment
- to identify the most important piece of feedback they would give to the author and why they think it’s important.
- Provide a rubric and/or handout on effective feedback.
- Find a student example to use as a model (just make sure that it’s not the same as the one you are using for your in-class activity).
- Provide students with clear assignment instructions:
- Read the example provided
- What are the assignment’s strengths and weaknesses? (give them a number to aim for)
- What is the most important piece of feedback you would provide the author?
- This type of assignment should be low stakes. It could count towards the students’ participation mark or pass if the assignment is completed.