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Teaching Guide for Graduate Student Instructors
GSI Teaching & Resource Center

Grading Student Work

Before You Grade:
Assignment Design

As a GSI, you may or may not have input into the course assignments you will grade. Some faculty members prefer to design the course assignments themselves; others ask for substantial input from GSIs. Course assignments can be very particular: They depend on the content and objectives of the course, the teaching methods and style of the instructor, the level and background of the students, and the given discipline.

If you are designing assignments, however, you should take several questions into account:

  • What do you want the students to learn? This question involves the fit of the assignment activities with the goals and objectives of the course. How does the assignment contribute to the course goals and objectives?
  • What skills do you want students to employ: to solve, to argue, to create, to analyze, to explain, to demonstrate, to apply, etc.? (For more on learning objectives, see and Creating Writing Assignments: Taxonomy of Objectives.)
  • How well focused is the assignment from the students’ perspective? Does the assignment give the students a clearly defined, unambiguous task? Are the instructions clear and concise? Is the rationale (how it relates to course learning objectives) clear?
  • Are practical matters clearly addressed? For instance: How long is the assignment going to be? What should the assignment format be? When will the assignment be due? How will this assignment count toward the students’ final course grade? Will you allow students to rewrite the assignment if necessary? (This last question you may want to answer after you’ve seen the students’ work.)
  • Do you want students to engage in research that goes beyond the course content, or do you want them to stick to the course materials? If the research goes beyond the course content, are the research materials needed to complete the assignment available in sufficient quantity for everyone to access them within a reasonable time frame?
  • Can this assignment be realistically completed given the knowledge, abilities, and time constraints of the students?
  • Is it possible for you to grade this assignment effectively, given your workload and other commitments?
  • How much time will you need to grade the assignment? When will you return it to students?
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