One thousand five hundred and ninety six...*
My provost occasionally reminds faculty that we put the assignments in the course; we can just as easily take them out. This is technically true, but I have to assign a lot of writing if I really want the students to engage the texts, ideas and subjects I teach. Nothing else holds them as accountable as having to wrestle their understanding into words.
And the students secretly know this. In my first-year courses, for example, I often have the students design a mock quiz during the first few weeks of class. I divide them up into groups of four and assign each group to come up with quiz questions for the material we covered at our last meeting. One group creates true/false statements, another multiple choice questions, and still another a series of terms to be matched to examples in a corresponding column. And one lucky group is assigned the task of developing take-home essay questions. I tell the class to make these quizzes as tough as possible. And each group places its quiz on a large piece of poster paper, which I affix to the four walls of the classroom.
Then I ask the students to stand next to the quiz that would prove most challenging. Hands down, the wall with the take-home essay questions has 80 to 90 percent of the class standing in front of it. So I ask the class why they chose this one (and they always do). The response never varies: "This one means you really have to think."
"Um, yes. And that's why there's so much writing in this course."
I just don't see the same results unless I make students write and write a lot. I also think I need to respond to what they tell me. Writing is an act of communication. If there is not someone at the other end listening and responding, what's the point? It's a lot of work. It eats up hours and hours of my life. I wish there were another way to get the same result.
Now back to the stack.
* Ye'p, that's the number I shouldn't have calculated this semester (and it doesn't count revisions).