How to raise attainment with a good assignment brief

Research shows that attainment levels can be associated with the quality of the assignment brief; students report that unclear and unwieldy briefs produce learner anxiety; students spend days trying to decode the brief rather than getting down to the assignment.

We have taken the following characteristics of a good assignment brief from a selection of well-written ones:

  • Fit for the level:  be clear that the tasks set align with the module level
  • Clarity:  unambiguous sentences  and direct communication.  This is especially important for international students
  • Option-economic:  if you are giving students choices, keep them at a minimum
  • Helpful, warm tone: avoid officious language and negative instructions (e.g. you may NOT…)
  • Task economic: make the assignment appropriately manageable; avoid asking for lots of different things
  • Logical structure: relate the brief to the aims and outcomes of the module
  • Brief briefs:  short and to the point
  • Timely:  give students as much time as possible to prepare for the assignment

It is very important to accompany the distribution of the assignment with classroom or online discussion so that students can raise any worries they have.

  • Colleagues have used the following steps to support this process:
  • Put students in pairs or small groups
  • Ask them to read the brief and to tell each other what they think they are being asked to do
  • From this exchange, ask students to identify what is clear to them and what needs to be clarified. Ask them to write these down on post-its (two different colours ideally)and to display them in the room.
  • Ask students to get up and look at post-its so that they can compare comments
  • On the basis of a reading of the  post-its, the teacher groups the concerns and offers comments accordingly
  • Teacher posts a FAQ on Wolf to deal with all points of clarification