Because best practices and FIU’s Gordon Rule implementation guidelines suggest that writing assignments be sequenced in increasing order of complexity, to encourage the writer’s growth in idea development and in writing strategy, sequencing writing assignments is a crucial element of Gordon Rule course design.
Benefits of Sequencing Assignments
- Provides coherence within a course
- Ensures progression and continued effort on assignments
- Allows students to build upon and recycle previously learned skills/concepts
- Builds up complexity without overwhelming students
- Allows students to see progress during the course and keep students motivated
- Prepares students for sequential professional writing in any discipline
Planning an Assignment Sequence
When planning a series of writing assignments, instructors must ask themselves, “How should assignments change and build on each other over the course of the semester?” Incremental increase in the following aspects should be considered when sequencing writing assignments in any discipline:
- Content knowledge: Do later assignments require more content knowledge than earlier ones?
- Cognitive load: Are later assignments more cognitively complex? (for the different complexity levels of cognitive skills, please refer to Bloom’s taxonomy in the reference)
- Writing skills: Do later assignments require more writing skills and complexity of writing?
- Course learning outcomes: Do later assignments allow students to display more course learning outcomes?
Common Patterns for Sequencing Assignments and Examples
Iterative assignments: Students repeat the same assignment, but the assignments are varied by subject matter, and the subject matters in later assignments are more complex than those in earlier assignment. For example, a physics or chemistry professor may ask students to write several lab reports over a semester, and the lab experiments are increasingly complex throughout the course.
Increasingly complex assignments with the same subject matter: A series of assignments may be linked by the same subject matter or topic. As students know more about the subject matter in the course, the assignments become increasingly complex by requiring new perspectives or demonstration of more course knowledge. For instance, in a sociology class, writing assignments move from familiar personal topics investigating personal history to more abstract impersonal issues on sociology theories discussed throughout the course.
Assignments that require student to write in different genres: Have students’ assignments move from less complex to more complex modes of discourse. For instance, the writing can go from expressive to analytic to argumentative and the genre change can range from lab report to position paper to research article. Another example, in an international relations course, students can be assigned to write an article summary, a letter to the editor and finally a policy critique.
Assignments with changed audience: Have students create drafts for different audiences, moving from personal to public. Personal writing is needed before writing for more distanced or diversified audiences. When writing goes from a self-reflection to a piece written for an audience of peers to a piece for an audience of specialists, the complexity generally enhances; each change would require more extensive knowledge and skills.
Assignments with logical stages: Another approach to sequencing is to create a series of assignments that culminate in a final writing project. For example, in a social science class, students could write a proposal requesting approval of doing research on a particular topic. The next assignment might be a progress report (or a series of progress reports), and the final assignment could be the research report itself.
Assignments that are sections for a major final project: A variation of the previous approach is to have students submit various sections of their final document throughout the semester, for instance, bibliography, review of the literature, methods section, etc. At the end of the semester, students compile all previous assignments into one, single document.
Helping Students to Understand the Pedagogical Reasoning Behind the Sequence
In addition to carefully designing the sequence of assignments, it is helpful to explain to students the rationale behind the sequence. When students understand the rationale of sequencing, they are more likely to value the benefits of sequencing.
Other helpful resources
This section is on how to sequence major writing assignments within a whole course; for information on how to sequence smaller writing tasks within a major, complex writing task, please see Scaffolding.
Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive levels: http://tep.uoregon.edu/resources/assessment/multiplechoicequestions/blooms.html