I encourage my students to reach out for help whenever they need it. I end F2F classes with this reminder, end emails with this reminder, and lately, end my Twitch streams with it. I absolutely love it when they come for help. I find that 9 times out of 10, just talking to students about an assignment is enough to clarify most questions. Lately though, it seems like I’ve been communicating quite a bit more than usual with my students about their assignments. Seems reasonable, given the switch to remote learning, but the interesting thing has been that the questions are not about assignments for my class, but other assignments students have for other classes, taught by my colleagues.

I don’t mind helping students with work from other classes, but I do worry about instructing them to do something that differs from what my colleague may have told them. I wish students were comfortable with going to the professor who assigned the work, but I’m aware that they aren’t always receiving feedback that they find helpful. I think that’s a topic for another day though, as it isn’t the reason I set out to write this post. Recently, I jotted down a set of instructions I’ve found myself repeating to students as I counsel them through someone else’s assignment. I thought I’d share.


Read the instructions and rubric through one time without taking a break. Do not take notes. Do not highlight. Do not listen to music or watch a video. Just read. Read it through one time with your undivided attention.


On a piece of paper, a Google Doc or other preferred canvas, write down in your own words what you are expected to do to show mastery on the specific assignment. What is it that you need to do to earn the grade you desire? Spell it out.


Use a planning template to create a list/order/plan for how you will go about completing the assignment to earn the grade you desire and meet the goal you just identified. Make it a comprehensive list. Think about all the little details. Include them. Consider time, if it makes sense.


Go back to the assignment instructions again. Also pull out the scoring rubric, if one has been required. Review the items in the instructions and/or rubric again. Match the items in the instructions and/or rubric that must be met to earn your points with the steps/items in your plan.


Use a color coding method to help visualize where your gaps are. I love GDocs because it is simple to highlight and change the color of font, but you can do this manually as well. Are you including all the scoring items in your plan? If not, revise your plan to include them. Conversely, if you have items in your plan that are not part of the instructions or rubric, remove them.

Now, I know this may seem excessive for all assignments, but I find it especially useful for large assignments and projects that have complex rubrics. It seems like when I ask students if they have reviewed the rubric, they will always say they have, however, I don’t think they’ve taken the time to really try to understand each part of the rubric. That’s something as a teacher I am trying to be aware of. Sure, it’s great we spend all this time developing complex rubrics to help “evaluate” student work, but I think we need to understand how intimidating those rubrics are for students. Beyond initial intimidation, they are also a barrier to getting students to start on the work.

The five steps above seem to help student battle the rubric hate and rage they often feel. I find that the first time I need to lead students through the process, but the next time they come back for help, I can just say, “remember the strategy we used last time? Did you try that approach before you asked me for help?” Most of the time, they will at least remember the 5 step process describe above. Not every time though.