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What Happens When an Assignment Is Unclear?

This installment of our continuing series on assignments is devoted to assignment clarity. We believe that many good assignments fall short of achieving what faculty expect because students struggle to understand what they are to do and why they are doing it. The assignment description is read differently by students who have come to believe that success on an assignment depends on figuring out what the professor wants. Deliver what the professor wants and get the good grade; assignment goals and potential learning opportunities are not often student priorities. The situation is further complicated when professors think they have been perfectly clear. They know what they want and have spent time crafting the description. Why are students confused? We’d like to try an answer that question by contrasting a couple of assignment descriptions.

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