CHSS Teaching Academy Advice Column

CHSS instructors: Submit your questions here to get answers from the CHSS Teaching Academy in the “Ask a Teacher” advice column.

Ask a Teacher

Q: How much choice in assignments do you give students?

A: This question is heartening and it reveals that its author is open to student-centered learning. Most teachers continue to hold onto the belief that they control all aspects of a course and that students should not play a role in determining the curriculum or have input into student assignments. Some philosophers of education from the progressive education camp have long believed that having students involved in determining their own assignments creates more buy-in and fosters intrinsic value of learning. It puts students in a more active role in their educational process.

Regarding how much choice students should be afforded in choosing their assignments, there is no formula for this. The other important point is that having students choose or develop their assignments is not an either/or proposition; for example, either students develop them or teachers do. Students can develop or choose their own assignments and teachers can facilitate revising, fine-tuning these assignments to be maximally meaningful and fit the anticipated outcomes of the class. The benefit of having students involved in creating/developing/choosing assignments is that the assignments are likely to be meaningful to students and relevant to their lives thereby enhancing the learning process.

Q: How do you determine the appropriate level of student workload?

A: There is no formula or ideal way of determining student workload. However, it is always best to think about quality over quantity. When considering reading schedules and student assignments, be attentive to the fact that most students—particularly first-generation, low-income and/or students of color—have multiple priorities and must often work to support themselves and their loved ones. If the maxim is still true that students should be devoting three hours of outside work for every one hour spent in class, then that is a good way of gauging how much work should be assigned. Remember, quality is much more important than quantity.