Scaffolded Revision Assignments-Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Instructor: Dan Baumgardt
Course: Style, Department of English
Assessment: Scaffolded Revision Assignments: Revision Assignment 1, Revision Assignment 2, Revision Assignment 3, Performance Criteria


I wanted students to use the vocabulary of style to help a real client revise a text with which they (or their readers) were experiencing problems. To accomplish this goal, I created three, scaffolded assignments in which students analyze language in use, locate possibilities for revision, and explain these possibilities first to fictional clients, and then in the third and final revision assignment, to real clients. (Students begin by analyzing and revising a local gas company’s notice of rate changes to its customers. Then they analyze and revise a public notice posted by New York City’s Board of Health. In the third revision, they examine the employee handbook of Direct Advantage Marketing (DAM), a company based in Pittsburgh. In this assignment, they write to DAM employees Andy Ziegler and Mark D’Accione, explaining important style problems they have found in the handbook.)


The first two assignments (Revisions 1 and 2) provide lower-stakes dry runs that help students develop all of the needed skills for Revision 3. By using the same performance criteria for each assignment, I was able to provide feedback to students that they could use to improve their performance on the subsequent assignment.


Students overwhelmingly found these assignments exciting learning experiences. They appreciated the fact that they could work on improving the same set of skills with every assignment. For me, the hardest part was finding texts for students to analyze that displayed the particular style problems they had studied at that point in the semester. Also, finding real clients was difficult, and students appreciated some more than others.


I have discovered the importance of teaching with consistency, reinforcing key concepts through class activities and assignments and employing a consistent vocabulary. I’ve realized that if I want students to use disciplinary vocabulary in class discussion, I must present them with many opportunities to do so, and as deftly as possible, steer the conversation back to the vocabulary and important points whenever possible.

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