Assigning Writing: Give your students a "RAFT" and a "TIP"

Sailboat 

In an assignment handout, explain:

Role (or Purpose):

  • Helps student understand the purpose for writing (inform? analyze? persuade?)
  • Helps student understand the impact the piece of writing is supposed to have on the audience (change the audience's view of something? teach the audience something?)

Audience:

  • Helps student ask rhetorical questions about intended readers
    • How much does my audience already know or care about my subject?
    • What constitutes old information and new information for this audience?
    • What is my audience's starting view of my subject? What alternative views must I address?
    • Am I addressing an insider or outsider audience? Are my readers more or less expert than me?
  • Helps students learn to write effective titles and introductions

Format (or Genre):

  • Helps students know what the document is supposed to look like (length, font, margins, spacing, documentation style)
  • Helps students learn concept of genre (scholarly article, experimental report, op-ed piece, proposal)
  • Helps students see format and style as features of genres rather than quirks of individual teachers.

Task as an Ill-Stuctured Problem:

  • Models the thinking processes of experienced academic writers
  • Leads to greater transference of writing skills from discipline to discipline
  • Teaches disciplinary thinking—requires high level of critical thought
  • Helps students understand the problem-thesis structure of academic introductions

Questions for Peer-Reviewing an Assignment Handout

  • Is the assignment clear? How might a student misread the assignment and do something not anticipated?
  • Does the assignment specify an audience and a role or purpose for the writer?
  • Are my grading criteria clear? Have I adequately explained them to students?
  • If you were a student, would you find the assignment interesting and challenging?
  • If you were a student, how difficult would this assignment be? How long do you think it would take?
  • If the assignment is quite difficult, could it be preceded by a simpler "skill-building assignment" that would serve as scaffolding?
  • To what extent does this assignment stimulate critical thinking? Does it cause students to wrestle with key concepts or key thinking skills in the course?
  • Is the purpose of the assignment clear? Does it seem to tie into my course goals? Would it seem like busy work to some students?
  • Are the mechanics of the assignment clear (due dates, expected length, single versus double spacing, typed versus handwritten, manuscript form, etc.?)
  • Is the process students should go through as explicit as possible?
  • Should I build any checkpoints built into the assignment to verify that students are on track? (e.g., submission of a thesis, title, and introduction? Mandatory conference? Annotated bibliography?)