Faculty Tips: Creating Meaningful and Culturally Relevant Assignments and Assessments

“By being purposeful and thoughtful from the beginning, you can ensure that your assignments will not only serve as effective assessment methods, but also engage and delight your students”

-Boyd, 2020

Meaningful assignments and assessments provide vital feedback to learners on their performance and instructors on their teaching (Nilson, 2016; Boyd 2020). If an instructor puts in the time to develop valid assignments and assessments, students should be able to achieve challenging tasks. An indicator Nilson (2016) argues, “indicates that your test or assignment was a worthwhile learning experience as well as a fair evaluation” (p. 289). According to Gay (2002), culturally responsive teaching is defined as using “the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively” (p. 106). Therefore, an assignment is meaningful and culturally affirming if it appropriately supports and measures student learning while leaning upon their own cultural backgrounds. As instructors it is imperative that we become experts, not only in our content area, but also in our delivery of that content and in the multicultural backgrounds of our students (Harrington, 2020; Gay, 2002). The following three strategies can help you develop meaningful and culturally affirming assignments and assessments.


  1. Engage in backward design
  2. Ensure cultural relevance
  3. Provide explicit instructions

Backward Design

First employ the strategy of backward design. Here you begin with the outcomes, develop appropriate assessments, and then identify activities and content that will help students engage with the material and practice the appropriate skills. Start with your course or unit level learning outcomes. To construct a quality learning outcome ask: how will students be different after they have completed the assignment? Once you have a solid outcome, using Bloom’s taxonomy, identify the level of learning that is most appropriate for the desired outcome. Next identify the appropriate teaching methods for that level learning. Finally use Fink and Fink’s three-column tool for developing a well aligned course and identify the most appropriate assignment(S). Nilson (2016) argues that “the most appropriate means of instruction will afford your students practice, plus feedback, in the performances specified in your learning outcomes” (p. 130).

Fink & Fink’s Three Column Tool
Learning Objective→ Assessment Activities→ Learning Activities

Cultural Relevance

Culture, according to Ford and Kea (2009), is “the beliefs, attitudes, values, habits, customs, and traditions shared by a group of people” (p. 3). Therefore, to be culturally responsive means “that teachers work proactively and assertively to understand, respect, and meet the needs of students from cultural backgrounds that are different from their own” (Ford, Kea, 2009, p. 1). Instructors must acknowledge that students are also different from each other. The cultural relevance of assignments and assessments is incredibly important. As Ford & Kea argue, “A student-centered classroom does not exist if culture is ignored or disregarded in any way” (2009, p. 5).


To create culturally affirming assignments, Nilson (2016) suggest that instructors should “suggest prior knowledge to which students can link new and future information and knowledge” (p. 135). Culturally affirming assignments tap into each student’s individual cultural context, making important links between what they already know or do and what the assignment is helping them practice. As Boyd (2020) suggests, consider “a way for students to make the assignment their own”. Perhaps you could, “Provide opportunities and resources for students to visit professional or cultural sites where they can contextualize their learning” (Teaching Commons). “Effective cross-cultural communication” is an important aspect of culturally affirming assignments (Gay, 2002, p.110). To ensure your assignment is culturally affirming, ask “Have all students had opportunities to be evaluated in ways that are comparable with how they learn and communicate?” (Ford & Kea, 2009, p. 6).


Provide Clear & Explicit Instructions

Provide clear and detailed instructions and consider having a colleague review them for clarity (Nilson, 2016). As Boyd notes, “ultimately, the connection between the assignment and its purpose should be clear to both you and your students to ensure that it is fulfilling the desired goals and doesn’t seem like ‘busy work’” (2020; Harrington, 2020). The instructions should also be checked for cultural relevance and clarity for multicultural students. 

When drafting your instructions consider including:

  1. The purpose of the assignment
  2. Rhetorical or cognitive mode(s)
  3. The audience
  4. Logistics of the assignment
  5. Evaluation criteria

Remember to direct students to the appropriate resources they may need to complete the assignment in the instructions (Boyd, 2020). Having the resources that are needed most, where they are needed most can minimize student frustration and increase success. In addition, consider providing examples (Boyd, 2020). Examples are a great way to demonstrate excellence and support learners with a variety of learning styles and preferences. You can also inspire creativity and innovation with examples. 



Boyd, A. (2020). How Do I Create Meaningful and Effective Assessments? Texas Tech University, Teaching, Learning, & Professional Development Center. https://www.depts.ttu.edu/tlpdc/Resources/Teaching_resources/TLPDC_teaching_resources/CreatingEffectiveAssignments.php

Ford, D., and Kea, C. D. (2009). Creating Culturally Responsive Instruction: For Students’ and Teachers’ Sakes. Focus on Exceptional Children, 41(9), 1-16.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116.

Harrington, Christine. (July 7, 2020). Backward Design by Connie Schroeder Summer 2020. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBmyDjN4KJA

Nilson, L. (2016). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Pedagogy in Action. (n.d.). Designing Assignments. Pedagogy in Action the SERC Portal for Educators. https://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/qr/designing_assignments.html.

Teaching Commons. (n.d.), Integrative Learning. Teaching Commons. https://resources.depaul.edu/teaching-commons/teaching-guides/assignment-design/Pages/integrative-learning.aspx