Recommended for early to mid-semester
Adapted from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas.
Students support the positive or negative side of an instructor-provided thesis, which should involve key course concepts:
If you wish, you can frame this assignment as a letter, dialogue, editorial, or other written form with a specific audience:
Average length: 3-7 pages, depending on complexity of topic and depth of analysis
Students will perform better on this assignment if you have them submit a draft of the essay for you to read and comment on. Either orally or in writing, alert students to the weak and strong areas of their drafts:
You can create a short checklist covering the main areas of the assignment to speed up your response time. After returning the drafts, give students another week or so to revise the papers before they submit them for a final grade.
In addition to clarity of writing, grading criteria should address the degree to which students consider opposing views and weigh evidence on all sides. Better responses will generally provide
Grading criteria for the bridge design example above might look like this:
I will be asking the following questions as I read and grade your essay:
I will be looking for the detail with which your essay examines each of the seven criteria in the request, discussing any elements that are open to interpretation. It will analyze the proposal’s technical and aesthetic aspects, and clearly show how the proposal meets or fails to meet each criterion. Strong essays will use language and data directly from the proposal to show how the proposed design meets or does not meet the criteria in the request. The best essays will organize discussion to highlight the most important matches or discrepancies. Readers of the best essays who initially disagreed with the writer’s position would feely strongly inclined, after reading, to re-think their own conclusions about the bridge design.