How To Smash Any Assignment!

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Dealing with assessments is tricky for students as the term finishes and things become due all around the same time. It can be as stressful for parents as it is for those doing the assignments too!

Once the thing is due tomorrow there isn’t that much that you can do but if you learn from the stress and setup better systems, you have a chance of a more relaxed term next time.  As our kids get older they begin to get more assignments and we expect them to start to take responsibility for getting it all done. In the early years though you can still model some of the steps but in a very limited way. In Years 7-9 there is a rapid transition as the bar gets raised on assessment and it can be a very stressful time for families as the navigate that period so we have developed a simple process that you can adapt or use.

I have found with my kids that having a simple checklist of steps lets them monitor where they are up to and helps avoid the last minute panic. It will also almost certainly improve the grades too.

  1. Read the task
  2. Write a plan
  3. Show a parent
  4. Do your draft
  5. Show a parent
  6. Show the teacher for feedback
  7. Make your good copy
  8. Show a parent
  9. Hand it in

Here is what that all means and why it is important:

1. Read the task

Most if not all assignments should be given with a tasksheet that explains what you have to do and how you will be assessed. The first step is to make sure you understand this exactly to avoid wasting valuable time on things that won’t matter. The class teacher is the best person to ask about any questions that you may have but parents can help too.

Teachers should be explaining or showing students what a model submission that would get an ‘A’ would look like but if they don’t you could ask them for examples. At the very least sit down and think for 5 minutes about what your assignment will look like when you submit it.  For example, is it 500 words on A4 paper or is it a digital copy as well? Is it a Powerpoint or a painting etc. This will help a great deal and if you are not sure … ASK!

2. Write a plan

Another crucial step is to NOT BEGIN YET on writing or making anything. Start with making a PLAN. Brainstorm ideas and start to think about what you will need to do if you are going to make something like the best response. At first write down headings and then just brainstorm everything that you think will need to be done in each section. You could write down things that you already know or things that you need to find out. Sometimes it might involve buying supplies from the store or interviewing an expert … just write down anything that comes to mind.

Then go through and refine your crazy notes into a series of really important steps or points that you will make. At this point its important to guess how long this will take and maybe make up some mini due-dates for yourself. Eg Interview my Netball coach about how they train us for endurance – 15 mins – complete by next Tuesday the 15th June 

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3. Show a parent (or other adult)

Before you begin, take 5 mins to run your plan by a parent or other adult. Ask if they have any other ideas or if they think you are on the right track. This is a good chance for the parent to read the tasksheet too and then tell them if you think they are approaching it correctly. If you pick up on an error here you can save yourself wasting hours of time. If you are unsure or the adult disagrees you have time to check with your teacher now.

4. Do your draft

Now go to work … draft up your work as best as you can. Its OK to get rough notes and research in there at first but then refine your draft until you would be almost happy to hand it in on the final date. Follow some simple paragraph structures if its a writing task to make it easier and clearer. Make sure that you are covering everything that was in your plan dot-points and finally run over your work for any silly grammar or spelling mistakes.

Remember at this point that you may have to include some references if you have borrowed ideas or want to show evidence of something so write those down as you go. It saves a lot of time later on and will give you better marks too. Definitely do not leave someone else’s words in your rough draft … change those to your own words at this stage.

5. Show a parent

Once you have your draft ready, run it by the same adult as before if you can. They understand the task and your plan so they can now help you check your draft and also might have some good improvements for you.

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6. Show the teacher for feedback

Most schools will ask you to submit a draft for feedback now but even if they don’t go ahead and do it anyway. A great tip is not to wait for a draft deadline … put it in early and show that you are on top of the game. Most teachers actually want to help you get better grades and this may literally be the most enjoyable part for their week when students ask for help and show some initiative.

The added bonus is that the teacher should be able to give you an idea of what sort of grade you are up to now and what you could do to improve that. In a way it transfers some responsibility back to the teacher to teach and fill in the gaps and they are usually happy for this.

7. Make your good copy

The last main step is to take the feedback that the teacher has provided and make the changes to your draft. Double check your spelling, grammar and references if relevant or do any final improvements to your project.

If you have extra time you could always use a thesaurus to look for some better words and avoid repeating words etc.

8. Show a parent

Run the final copy past an adult again to show them how awesome you are haha … and just to pick up any errors that you haven’t noticed. When you are working on something closely it becomes easy to skip over mistakes that someone with fresh eyes sees.

9. Hand it in

Finally the last step is to hand in the assessment remembering to complete any cover sheet and make sure you name is on everything … every page, item, poster, and file. Yes, I recommend literally naming your computer files with the subject, title and your name to avoid any problems. Eg English-Poetry-Jessie-Brown.docx 

Every assignment will be different but its common to have to hand in an electronic copy (usually uploaded through a website or emailed), a printed copy and sometimes a physical poster or artwork etc

Know the exact time that the assignment has to be in and what to do if you are away for any reason. Being absent doesn’t always mean you won’t have to submit the work so just check your school’s policy. My son’s school for example requires a 9AM submission if you are away where students at school may get until the class that day.

One Last Master Step!

Assessment is supposed to show you how well you are learning and achieving at school yet so many students (and teachers) forget that the feedback from that assessment is the key information that you need for improving next time. Spend 5-10 minutes looking back over your projects marking sheets to see where you are going right and what you could do to improve. Once again if you are not sure or don’t know how you could have received a better mark then go and ASK the teacher.

Doing this final step is something that will really move a student forward.

Isn’t That A Lot of Work?

Yep … sort of. My experience is that having a repeatable process like this actually reduces the overall work a little and takes it from last minute panic to a more manageable part of life. It also avoids a lot of wasted time wondering what to do and doing the wrong thing … and breaks a big task down into smaller achievable chunks.

Its not perfect because school is a fluid process and there will be times that students can;t fully start a project until they are shown particular things in class. Schools are generally focused a lot at the moment on improving these processes from a teaching and learning perspective so why not get onto it and make the most of it. In 95% of cases it will lift your grades drastically.

 

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