Short, Frequent Assignments

Oct 11, 2017 | Posted by Jennifer


I am presently in an unusual position. My children have reached the age where one is in high school, one is dual-enrolled in college and high school, and one is enrolled full-time in college. As a lifelong homeschooler, I have been fascinated to see how other teachers address assignments and assessments. I have seen a very clear division line. In about half of the cases, the college professors assign very few gradable assignments. Most of these are very large in scope, consisting of large papers, huge tests, or mid-term/end-of-course exams. The other half take a different approach. Eschewing the large-scale point value assignments, they elect instead to assign more frequent, shorter assignments. The question is, which method produces the greatest amount of learning?

Each of my children have distinct personalities. One of them is a studier. When he faces a big assignment, he disappears into his room and studies for hours and days at a time. He tends to stop eating while he focuses his full attention on the upcoming assignment. All of that time and effort pays off with his grade, but he feels the stress and the pressure of it all. I’m never surprised when he comes down with a cold after these deadlines and needs to rest and recover for a long time afterwards. Sometimes the information sticks; sometimes it doesn’t.

One of my other children has an opposite response. When he sees a large assignment looming on the horizon, he immediately launches into approach/avoidance tactics and then plunges into cramming at the last minute for whichever exam or assessment he’s facing. It usually pays off for him, too, and he ends up with an A or a B. That’s why I believe he keeps this modus operandi in motion. If it didn’t work, he might try a different approach. The trouble is, after it’s all said and done, he can’t remember much about what he studied at all.

However, when either of my children are in classes with short, frequent assessments, they each experience success with less stress. My studier spends less time studying because the assignments have less overall impact on his grade, and my avoider no longer avoids because there are regular assignments that he can manage planning for well. No longer experiencing the “spikes” of intense, high-stakes assignments, the study load levels out.

From the perspective of mama, the choice is clear. In the courses where my older two children have had short, frequent assessments, they have not only received A grades, but they also asserted they felt like they had gained much more mastery over the material. Also, I noticed that when my children took these classes, they enjoyed them much more and were less stressed.

My anecdotal experience is bolstered by research, too. According to Scott Warnock, Ph.D., frequent, low-stakes (FLS) grading “provides grade transparency for students and creates a steady information flow” which, in turn, provides motivation. Dr. Warnock continues his assertion by stating an instructor “can remove unproductive grading pressure, encourage intellectual risk-taking, and discourage plagiarism/cheating” when she employs FLS grading strategies.

IEW also understands this. In fact, Andrew Pudewa mentions the benefits of short, frequent assignments in the instructor course, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. By including weekly writing assignments and regular practice exercises, students are growing their writing skills regularly. All of these assignments add up, too. Because checklists make the assignments very clear, each student has a focused objective and a 100% grade within his grasp. By the end of the year, students have a bevy of papers practiced and published to prove their growing competence in writing. The stakes are low. Satisfaction is high. Success is attainable. My boys aren’t likely to change their study methods any time soon, but they are both beginning to check out their prospective professors before they enroll to see how their classes are structured. I’m hoping more and more professors will approach their classes in a way that actually works for all students.


Works Cited

Warnock, Scott. “Frequent, Low-Stakes Grading: Assessment for Communication, Confidence.”
     Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching & Learning, April 18, 2013,


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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