Last week my students completed an assignment that asked them to critique a peer review program we have used this semester. There are a lot of ideas about the purposes and benefits of the peer reviews, and there are benefits that I see that they don't necessarily pick up on. I think that this happens frequently--students complete assignments without really understanding, much less believing in, the purpose of the assignment. They don't know what they are supposed to be learning; they just go through the motions and do what they're told.
This has me thinking--I know that students can learn a lot without being told what they are "supposed to" learn and even without consciously realizing what they have gained along the way. But I wonder if there is a pedagogical benefit to spelling it out for them. What would happen if I gave them not just instructions for completing an assignment but also listed for them the learning objectives of the assignment. What I would like them, ideally, to get out of the whole thing. Why I think that this particular assignment is useful for our purposes.
As I plan my class for next semester I have been thinking critically about the assignments I want and why I think each one is useful. Why should I assign a research paper? Just because that's what we have always done? Or is there something specific that makes that the best assignment for accomplishing particular educational goals. As I'm thinking about these questions, I have begun to wonder if I should keep the reasons for my decisions to myself or if my students might benefit if I share some of my thought processes with them.
This means some work and writing on my part to prepare, and I realize that many students will not read what I hand them. But the good ones will. The ones who really want to become better writers will. And those are the ones I want to teach.