Assignments & Assessments

Assignments and assessments allow students to apply and demonstrate learning relevant to a course learning objective. Assessments, assignments or any task you assign can be individual or collaborative, brief or lengthy, or in any genre or format. Ideally assessments have two functions: they at once further student knowledge and skill through completion and they provide information about learning.

In designing assessments, use your learning objectives as a baseline and then review your assessments for variety, opportunities for feedback, and appropriateness to the student population. Consider these questions:

  • How well do the tasks relate to the learning objectives?
  • Are the tasks assessable? With criteria that students can understand?
  • Are the tasks realistic, tied to the real world?
  • Are the tasks varied in their nature, drawing on different learning styles and strengths that students may have?
  • Are the tasks well scaffolded – with steps, space for practice, and opportunities for feedback that will support success?

It’s easy to get in the habit of reusing the same assignment again and again. Instead innovate and try new strategies.

Assignment Strategies

Authentic Assessments for Real-World Relevance

Authentic assessment evaluates learning in real-world contexts. Often called applied learning, assessments that are authentic aim to be meaningful, practical, and connect course content with real-world problems or tasks.

Grant Wiggins, who first coined the term in 1989 (A True Test), states that an authentic assessment:

  • replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace or in civic or personal life.
  • requires judgment and innovation.
  • assesses students’ abilities to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to
  • negotiate a complex task.
  • allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products. (Indiana University)
Formative vs Summative Assessments

Formative assessments help both you and your students measure their development and should be offered frequently. Formative assessments are typically ungraded or low-stakes opportunities to advance and measure student knowledge and skills.

Summative assessments are used for evaluation and are typically assigned at the end of a unit or course.These are tied to a quantitative evaluation and are graded based on a set of criteria and standards. Summative assessments should be forward-looking, authentic, and well connected to the lessons taught.

Formative Assessments

typically ungraded or low-stakes opportunities to promote and measure student knowledge and skills



Summative Assessments

typically comes at the end of a unit/topic or semester, tied to a quantitative evaluation (grade) based on a set of criteria and standards of learning progress. Summative assessments should be forward-looking, authentic, and should the purpose of the learning (applied, real-world, relevant to the student’s path)

  • In-class and online discussions
  • Essay drafts
  • Peer review
  • One-minute summaries
  • Note-taking pairs
  • Mini-quizzes, polls, or surveys
  • Games
  • Confusion reports/Muddiest point
  • Conferencing with professor
  • Short quizzes
  • Exams
  • Projects – group and individual
  • Essays/Reports/Theses
  • Multimodal products (presentations, videos, podcasts)
  • Oral or Poster presentations
  • Live presentations (not pre-recorded)
  • Speeches
  • Oral reports
  • Frequent – feedback that shows students their progress and areas to where gaps exist or more practice are needed.
  • Timely – feedback should be given quickly so that students can revise and implement it in their ongoing course work.
  • Discriminating – establish clear standards for poor, acceptable, or exceptional work; provide models and exemplars, worked examples, and demonstrations. Students should learn from our feedback.
  • Caring – feedback is work-driven, not ego-driven. Feedback concentrates on the goal and the task, not the person.
  • Clear Criteria – what exactly do you expect to see? What exact knowledge, skills, or thinking should students be able to demonstrate?
  • Clear Standards – how did they meet the criteria – what is average, exceptional, below standards? Think of these along a scale.
  • Clear Rubrics – are there guides you can share with students that show how you will measure their work?
Scaffolding and Sequencing

Scaffolding and sequencing are very closely related assignment strategies that offer many benefits to both instructors and students. 

These strategies allow instructors to create and better align formative assignments with course goals, objectives, and content. Instructors can facilitate more efficient and engaged learning as they intervene frequently, in turn enabling quicker and more efficient grading. Using these strategies encourages student reflection on learning, learning during the assessment process, and implementation of feedback in “real time.”

The strategies provide students with an excellent “real-world” connection by showing them how professionals in their fields of interest approach and think about larger projects, writing assignments, and other work. They assist students with time-management–breaking assignments into smaller pieces means students cannot leave all the work until the night before! They master new skills or concepts through repetition and are asked to think critically as they are guided through completing discrete, manageable cognitive tasks

Scaffolding Sequencing
  • Breaks down larger writing assignments into smaller assignments/manageable tasks
  • Focuses on the skills or types of knowledge students require to successfully complete the larger (whole) assignment 
  • Arranges scaffolded assignments into specific order that builds towards the larger (whole) assignment.
  • Builds assignments on each other over time.
  • Adds to skills and knowledge (and even repeats those) learned in previous assignments

Ideas for Scaffolding Activities 

(adapted from Miami University Howe Center for Writing Excellence)

In-class activities*

  • Assignment Pre-Write – examination and reflection of assignment prompt
  • Brainstorming for topic generation
  • Freewriting about possible topic
  • Review of resources available
  • Reading a journal article together
  • Creation of project timeline
  • Practice of skills needed in assignment
  • Integrating sources workshop
  • Research question or thesis statement workshop – students introduce question or thesis to peers
  • Grading rubric discussion or generation
  • Review/analysis of example assignments
  • Peer review of outlines
  • Oral draft to share in small groups
  • Peer review of written draft

Short Assignments

  • Audience/stakeholder analysis
  • Research Question or Thesis
  • Proposal
  • Annotated Bibliography – potential sources
  • ¾ Drafts – After completing, students could create and deliver class presentations on their work in-progress, read their paper to a panel of peers, or share a poster about their work to date

Individual Interactions with Instructor

  • Assignment “check ins” with questions for instructor
  • One-on-one conferences with instructor
    • Review proposals
    • Provide feedback on drafts or any scaffolded assignment

* Peer-feedback steps can be used after all or any of the above scaffolded and sequenced assignments: students read, watch, or listen to the submissions made by their peers in the above activity and provide feedback while their own submissions are reviewed by their peers.

Example of scaffolded and segmented assignments

Research paper and scaffolded assignments collectively make up 40% of final grade.Choose your own topic and write a 4–6-page research paper. 

Research paper assignment prompt: What is a social problem that impacts children and families living in New Jersey. Your paper will follow this format:

  1. Introduction
  2. Who the social problem impacts, and what that impact is
  3. How the field of child advocacy has responded to this social problem
  4. How the field of child advocacy might more effectively respond to this social problem
  5. Your personal thoughts on the problem
  6. Conclusion


  • Explore and reflect on the assignment prompt – 250-500 words to submit by the end of the class (instructors could choose to use as either an individual and/or group activity) – 5%
  • Annotated bibliography – at least 4 scholarly sources – 5%
  • Research outline (1-2 pages) – 5%
  • 3/4 Draft Presentation- A 5-minute presentation on their work-to-date made by student to class with other students giving feedback – 10%
  • Final research paper – 15%
Assessment Add-ons to Accelerate Learning

One of the best things students can do is reflect on their learning – to see for themselves what it is they know and do not know. Strong learners do this all the time, reflexively, but less experienced learners need guidance in developing their learning muscles.

Here are some reflective assignments you can use right in class or as homework:

Problem-solving Log: Students record their steps or thinking in solving a problem or completing an assessment. You can require regular logs (or drafts) with progress reports and steps taken to complete the task. Have students identify challenges, gaps, knowledge they already had, or new knowledge learned.

Exam wrappers: Add a question to your exam to promote metacognitive thinking about the process of exam preparation. Direct students to report and reflect on how they prepared for an assessment and what they imagine doing differently next time. After the exam, or when you meet again next, conduct a short discussion asking students to share their reflections with classmates to support improvement in exam preparation activities. (Ambrose et al., 2010). For an example you can import and adapt for your course, log into Canvas, click on “Commons” (far left navigation) and search “Quiz and Exam Wrapper Survey.”

Short quizzes that test for understanding: A five-minute quiz once a week, perhaps even a one-question quiz, shows students immediately what their level of understanding is. Typically with low point value, short quizzes should be followed by brief discussion of questions missed and investigation of what led to these gaps.

Muddiest point: This technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing” (Angelo et al., 1993), and identifying it essentially helps students discover and zero in on the questions they need to address to conquer a lesson.

Minute papers: These provide an assessment of what students learned in a class, and help students inscribe learning into long-term memory. Minute papers are easy to do. Ask students to write for two minutes about the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?” Collect these papers as students leave for your own learning, returning them to students the next class session. Notes or evaluation or not necessary, though it may be useful to make general comments about what you observed about students’ understanding.

Resources and References

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass

Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd Ed. Wiley Indiana University. (n.d.). Authentic assessment. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

Kluger, A. & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 119, No 2: 254-284.

Mueller, J. (n.d.). Authentic Assessment Toolbox. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

Wiggins, Grant. (1998). Ensuring authentic performance. Chapter 2 in Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. Jossey-Bass, pp. 21 – 42 Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Pearson.

Scaffolding and Sequencing:

Scaffolding and Sequencing Writing Assignments. The Writing Center, University of Colorado, Denver. (includes a social psychology course assignment example)

Scaffolding and Sequencing Writing Assignments. University of Minnesota, Center for Writing (includes writing assignment examples)

Scaffolding and Assignments – How and Why. The University of Melbourne. 2021, September 15.

Sequencing and Scaffolding Assignments. University of Michigan, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Sweetland Center for Writing.

Scaffolding Writing Assignments. Miami University, How Center for Writing Excellence. (includes practical examples of activities and assignments)

For more information or help, please email the Office for Faculty Excellence or make an appointment with a consultant.

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