Course Preparation Assignments

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Heidi Bonner discusses the use of course preparation assignments, "CPAs" to help her students better prepare for class.


I am Heidi Bonner from the Department of Criminal Justice at East Carolina University and something that I have struggled with since flipping my undergraduate courses is student preparation. It's not that my students come to class completely unprepared but they're not as prepared as I'd like them to be for the activities I have planned for the day.  So one strategy that I’ve learned about that I've started employing in my undergraduate classes is CPAs, or course preparation assignments.

CPAs are reading assignments that are accompanied by informal writing assignments that consist of six to ten questions and the questions serve as a guide to the students for the reading so they know what really to focus in on and what material is most important, then, as a basis for class discussion and activities in the face-to-face meeting that follows. They're great as a pass/fail, so basically, did the student make a good-faith effort to address the questions in class. I use CPAs as a starting point for for our time together just reviewing what students have answered, is there any additional clarification that is needed, and then I tell them how it relates to what were we doing in class that day.

I also pulled information from CPAs into exams just to show students again and highlight the importance of using this as a preparation too, not just for the class activities but the rest of the course assignments as well. Now, the trick with CPAs is to use it with a definitional grading system; a definitional grading system provides two categories of work and students must meet or exceed the standards for both separately. So, in my class, one category would be CPAs and the other would be exams and assignments and whatever else might contribute to the course grade. These two categories are not added together for final grades again they're independent of one another. Whatever category, whatever the lowest grade is, in the categories and that is the grade that the student earns for the course. So, as an example, if a student earns a B in the category for exams and assignment but does not do very many of the CPAs and there's a D for that category, then he or she is gonna earn a D for the course.

I found that using both the CPA and the definitional grading system means that students are more prepared for class because they take the preparation seriously and they have an incentive to do so. This strategy really does support the UDL principle of engagement, particularly sustaining effort and persistence and self-regulation. It requires students to take ownership of their own learning and I have found that it really does, the majority my students really give rise to the occasion both in and out of class.