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Creating Inclusive Assignments

All instructors want their students from every background to succeed and to feel comfortable and welcomed in their classrooms. Creating assignments that maximize all students’ chances for success is a key part of inclusive pedagogy which not only benefits international students but all students.

Students work in the newly renovated DH Hill Library on the first day of classes for the fall 2020 semester.

Define the Assignment

You can expect your classes at NC State to represent diversity, from regional diversity to linguistic diversity.  You may have first-generation college students in your classes as well as students from countries all over the world.  Given this heterogeneous context, it is helpful to create assignments that are accessible for all. What follows are best practices for creating inclusive written assignments.

With any formal written assignment, be sure to:

  1. Define the purpose and audience;
  2. Articulate to the students how the assignment supports a specific learning outcome, objective, or goal; 
  3. Make sure that all assignments use clear and precise language and that expectations for the assignment are clear. Clarify expectations with respect to assignment length and formatting, as applicable;
  4. Let students know of any specific conventions to which you expect them to conform (e.g. MLA format for citations);
  5. Provide a model, whenever possible;
  6. Explain how writing will be assessed and provide students with any assessment rubrics, if applicable;  
  7. Indicate if and how language usage (grammar, spelling, punctuation etc.) will factor into student grades;
  8. If you plan to allow for re-writes, let students know;
  9. Inform students of your policies for outside collaboration and assistance, if applicable;
  10. Be explicit regarding any deadlines and consequences for turning in late or incomplete work;
  11. Advise students on what they should do if extra help is needed.

Background Knowledge Consideration

It is helpful for instructors to become aware of their own assumptions about shared background knowledge as it is often generational and culture-specific.   

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea not to assume historical knowledge unless it forms the basis for a course and has been actively covered in class.

Here are some areas that may be problematic for students, especially international students. In each of these areas, it would be helpful to provide context for students, if appropriate and relevant to the course content.

International students may not have a frame of reference for:

  1. Key American historical periods of events especially times of conflict (e.g.. Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, slavery in the Americas)
  2. American politics, government, and religion (Richard Nixon, trickle-down economics, the 2nd amendment, Roe v. Wade, etc.)
  3. American media (New York Times, Time magazine, CNN, NPR, TV shows, movies, music)
  4. Sports including sports metaphors (e.g. “to be out in left field”)
  5. Idioms and idiomatic language (e.g. “to pull one’s leg”)