Eliminate Complaints about Your Assignments – Let Students Propose Alternatives

graphic - woman mature writing notes lecture asianOne part of teaching that can be overwhelming is student complaints about assignments.  After the first few years of being a professor, I finally created something that eliminated complaints about my assignments (or at least complaints within my earshot).

In my course syllabus, students were given a form (you may download it below) that invited them to propose an alternative assignment to the one they had been given as part of the syllabus.  The form was set up to give them the option of making a clear case for doing something other than what I had assigned, including a justification, how it would relate to the concepts my assignment was intended to build, and how they proposed I grade it.

Three things happened:

  1. The minute a student would start to moan and groan (or whatever you call it) about one of my assignments, I could just say, “Remember, you have the option of proposing an alternative.  Just go to page __ of the syllabus.”  At that point, there was nothing else the student could say and I could just go on.
  2. The form was set up in such a way that it required some real thinking on the student’s part to propose an alternative and most students weren’t willing to go to the trouble of thinking and writing down their ideas.  So, very few alternatives were ever proposed.
  3. Sometimes, a student turned in a great proposal and indeed, I approved it and every once in a while, it became a regular part of future courses.

You may be right in the time of the semester when you’re overwhelmed by student complaints and this tool will help with at least one source.  I hope you find it useful.  Let me know if you have questions!

Download the Word document:  Assignment Alternative Proposal

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