A sorta neat assignment and recipe you could try

By Rebekah Sinclair, OSU College of Liberal Arts

Resilient Teaching Voices Series

I want to share two things I think could be of value to you: a very cool assignment, and the cookie recipe that goes with it.  One of those is going to change your life, and it’s probably the cookies, but the assignment is also pretty great, can be used in a lot of disciplines, and is consistently one of my students’ (and certainly my) favorite assignments.

I call it The Magazine Spread assignment, and it involves students generating a two-page magazine article AND participating in an in-class magazine Salon, in which students read and give feedback on each other’s work (and eat cookies). It has a few components that make it successful, and I’ll explain each in turn:

  • The magazine spread is a visually rich and intellectually engaging way to bring class issues to life
  •  students build on class material in original ways to explore problems/topics from outside class
  •  students practice narrating complex course ideas for a public, non-college audience (something I think academics in general tend to under-emphasize and our students desperately need in the age of politically polarized, 140-character conversations)
  • we co-generate the criteria for what makes a good one (twice)
  • students get to both give and receive peer feedback
  • they get to submit a low stakes draft initially and then improve it before the final submission (which makes them more confident and makes grading way easier)
  • at the end, I generate a digital magazine of their collected work, which is stunning and makes everyone very proud
  • It’s fun and not very labor intensive for the professors. The most labor-intensive part is making the cookies … which are also good to eat while grading
  • and most importantly: cookies!

For each class in which I have this assignment (which is, ahem, a lot of them), I pretend there is a public-facing, course-related magazine or journal to which students are going to submit their work. It’s more fun if the Magazine has an edgy, punk, or humorous title. 😉 

The ONLY content requirement (in addition to “add cool images” and “make it enticing”) is that students use some of the philosophical methods, key concepts, authors, and ideas we’ve addressed in class to analyze, challenge, unpack, or clarify certain problems or issues or topics students find outside of class. The point is obviously for students to demonstrate mastery of course content by showing that they can use it as a framework for analyzing content “in the real world.” And they get to do it in playful, individualized, creative, yet substantive and advanced ways. Every time I host one of these salons, I have student magazine spreads blow me away and I learn a good deal. I’ve done these in classes within multiple disciplines, and they never disappoint.

Students will then print off their two colorful pages and bring them into class on the day of the Salon. On this day, I bring tape, a ton of colorful post-it notes, and a lot of homemade vegan cookies. Students tape their magazine spreads on classroom walls, grab some cookies and a handful of post-it notes, and go around reading and giving feedback on these.

But before students go around the room, we take some time to co-create the criteria for what makes a good one. This co-creation of criteria is really important as a way to show students how we come up with grading criteria and why it’s not totally random. But it also gives them agency in and ownership of their own educational and assignment outcomes. They usually start off slow, saying things about style, form, etc. But we eventually get into things like: how to use quotes properly, why you need definitions, what makes a good definition, how to communicate difficult concepts succinctly, the need for thesis statements/hooks/and signposting sentences, and so on. I also usually add that students should feel free to suggest to their peers complimentary readings, concepts, or methods to include. Like, a gentle, “I think X’s point/concept Y would help you explain Z” can go a long way. With these criteria in mind, and with some nice low-key music in the background, I release them into the wild lands of peer feedback, where they spend about forty-five minutes to an hour reading and giving feedback. Students genuinely enjoy this time!

In addition to reading the magazine spreads, I also check out the comments students leave one another. And I’ll tell you what, I’m consistently quite proud and impressed at how well they demonstrate their knowledge of the material in their thoughtful, sophisticated guiding comments to peers.

Just before we re-unite for our closing discussion, the students collect their magazines and get to read their many post-it notes full of feedback. At this point, they’re usually brimming with ideas on how to improve their own, they’re impressed by their classmates, and they’ve usually learned quite a bit about new topics and about their peers. Since they’re now connoisseurs of quality magazine spreads, we usually add quite a few more things to the grading criteria or the “what makes a really good Magazine spread” list on the board. They then leave to go edit them further, before the final deadline, taking all the extra cookies on their way out.

This assignment is so fun, has so much movement, and really brings students out of their shells while showing them that what we’re doing really does matter. I want to note that I am privileged to teach small classes, so I’ve only ever tried this in classes with between 9 and 30 students. But I’d bet there are still ways to group students and achieve a similar outcome in larger classes.

To accompany this assignment, I usually make one of my two favorite cookie recipes: an amazing, animal-friendly (veganized) ube crinkle cookie, or I bring a recipe very near and dear to my heart: my great grandma’s butter spritz cookies, complete with an assortment or fun icings (anise, ube, lavender, matcha, mint chocolate, etc). For smaller classes (and when I have time), I sometimes even use cookie cutters.

Gran’s recipe:

1 lb earth balance butter

2 cups sugar

2 “eggs” worth of Ener-g egg replacer (an ideal sub that has literally never failed me, plus the box lasts forever)

5-1/2 cups flour

1 tsp vanilla

Mix in order given. Roll into a log and cut into circles or roll out and use cookie cutters. Cut thicker for softer cookies, thin for crispy. Bake 375 for 7-10 mins.

About the author: Dr. Rebekah Sinclair is faculty in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, and also teaches in Integrative Biology. Her transdisciplinary research and teaching focus on environmental and animal ethics, Native American philosophies and Traditional Ecological Knowledges, values in science, scientific epistemology, and philosophy of biology.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of guest posts about resilience and teaching strategies by members of the Winter ’24 Resilient Teaching Faculty Learning Community facilitated by the Center for Teaching and Learning. The opinions expressed in guest posts are solely those of the authors.

Top image generated with Microsoft Copilot

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