Best Teaching Practices: Course Preparation Assignments

Best Practices

Students Being Responsible for Learning

My idea of a great class is one in which the students ask questions, engage in discussion, challenge, argue with each other, and in which I use their insights, conversations to direct the learning. An ideal class for me may have some lecture, but I get very frustrated when I do not have the student input that helps me determine where students need to be guided in their understanding.

The student engagement needs to be substantial; it's not enough that they talk, they need to talk intelligently about the subject at hand, which necessitates sufficient preparation for the class. My problem is that fewer and fewer students are 1) doing the assigned readings or 2) doing the assigned readings in a way that is reflective.

Course preparation assignments are one way to increase the worthwhile prep students are doing and increase the learning dynamic in the classroom. The nice thing about CPA's is that you can have the students do the preparation fully online or not, whichever suits your style. Ultimately, the CPA's organize student effort into a pattern they can come to expect and rely on: Read - Think - Write - Discuss.

The Assignment

  1. An introduction: What is the issue?
  2. Objective: What do you want the students to understand or analyze or describe? This objective provides the students with essential clues about what they are to look for in the assignment.
  3. Background: Any additional information the students might need, from facts to graphs to timelines.
  4. Assignment: What they need to read and questions they must answer in a written piece. Those questions they will answer are the building blocks of the lecture/discussion. They will not only contain the basis of what has to be known in order to achieve sophistication in understanding the topic, but they will also be a springboard to more analytical and synthetic thinking.
  5. Students hand in the assignment at the beginning of class and keep a copy for reference in the discussion.
  6. These assignments can be graded in any way the instructor desires: pass/fail, points, or as a portfolio. They do not need to become a grading burden because the students will be receiving input on their answers in the class discussion.
  7. Conclusions or questions that arise in the class discussion can become the resource for the next assignment's objectives.

*David Yamane, "Course Preparation Assignments: A Strategy for Creating Discussion-Based Courses," Teaching Sociology 34, July, 2006,236-248.

Contact Information

For more information about the Center for Teaching Excellence, please contact:

Becky Kasper, Ph.D., Director
SUNY Plattsburgh
301 Feinberg Library, Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: (518) 564-3043
Fax: (518) 564-5100
Email: cte@plattsburgh.edu