John Bean’s chapter 5 of “Engaging Ideas” provides some excellent guidelines for writing assignments in college-level courses. In particular, his “thesis-driven” guidelines are wonderful suggestions. As he aptly notes, too much freedom to write for many colleges students is actually debilitating: “these students are apt to produce wandering ‘all-about’ papers rather than arguments or quasi-plagiarized data dumps with long, pointless quotations…” In contrast, for students who are still learning to write, he advocates for a “thesis-governed argumentation” approach and for shorter “write-to-learn” assignments to prompt student writing before tackling larger projects.
I find Bean’s suggestions excellent. In particular, his check-list of critiquing the teacher’s writing assignment is very apropos: Is the assignment clear? How much time is required? Is the process explicit? Is it easy or difficult to grade? These are questions I need to ask myself when I put together writing assignments.