Sunday, December 10, 2006

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Well, the semester is nearly over. I have one exam next week, along with some grading to do. All in all, not a bad schedule. In my mind, I'm on break already.

It's been an . . . enlightening semester. I've learned a lot, both in my given field and in being a teacher. Should I ever become a professor, here are some things I am ready to apply:
  • All of your students are weasels.
Some of them are more weasily than others, but make no mistake, they are all weasels. If they can get out of work, they'll try their best. Extra points? They'll forfeit any notion of dignity to whine and beg for them. Any sign of weakness, and you'll hear accusations of incompetence and ill intent.

And they'll do anything they can to convince you they should have points for a grade they didn't turn in.
  • Your students are never prepared for class.
This is every teacher's bane, I suppose. Nobody reads the book. Then they complain when you expect them to come infused with, at the least, cursory knowledge of the topic at hand. I never realized how annoying this was until I actually was on the receiving end of it.

This goes beyond that, though. Students are never prepared for what class will require of them (tying into the weasel part). Your students will try to get as much credit as possible for as little work as possible. The problem will come when they suddenly realize that your idea of the "minimum" amount of work and their idea of the "minimum" are vastly different. They'll get angry (I did), they'll feel cheated (don't we all?), and they'll blame you (ah, memories). And they'll wonder why they received zero credit for turning in a lab report which reads, "This lab was too hard, so we couldn't do it."
  • Preparation is the key.
Always know how to do the problems you expect your students to do. They get cranky when you try to remember it in the middle of class.
  • Sometimes you have to have standards.
In some graduate courses, professors take a rather subjective view of grades. They base the letter assignments more around how much you comparatively learned as a group rather than look at a list of things they expected you to learn, since often times it can be hard to determine what it is you actually taught them. Yes, for some professors that is a problem.

However, this should not be the case for entry level courses. Putting the top 10% of students at an 'A' makes no sense if this is introductory material. It leads to awkward situations, like people with scores of 40% making B's and C's in a course, then moving on to the second part of the course and knowing nothing about the subject.

  • The internet is not the place to talk badly about people who control your grades. Especially if they can see it.
We covered this one already. Still, it doesn't hurt to restate the obvious.

So there you have it. Lessons learned.

  • If an exam is going to be all multiple choice, it is going to be scan-tron.
I'm not a happy grader at the moment.


Rachel said...

I think the grading standard you described is norm-referencing, which is both completely accepted and totally unacceptable. But how else are some people going to graduate high school, let alone college? And you have to have a college degree, now. Plus, if you earned a 40% for your final grade, wouldn't your self-esteem be severely wounded if you failed the class? I mean, come on, you already got a 40%, isn't that bad enough?

Dr. Church said...

Honestly I don't think the problem is with the grading - exactly. The actual problem is the gap between what students are expected to learn and what they actually reproduce. This is the professor's fault I believe. If students are scoring that poorly in his class, I believe it means one of two things.

1. He is expecting too much. The homeworks and exams and labs are too difficult relative to what he has taught.

2. He is not teaching well enough. If he is not expecting an unrealistic amount of effort from students and they are still struggling, this mean he is not being effective in getting the lessons across and making them stick.

Now, I realize this is a highly debatable theory on teaching, but basically my point is that you need to find that balance between what you are able to teach and what they are able to learn. I believe that an ideal situation would produce a proper grading "curve" naturally.

Hal said...

Churchy, you make a good point.

However, I don't think it applies in this situation. Here's why:

1) Assigned problems
The students are assigned problems from each chapter. The book gives samples on how to do these problems, and the assignments are in the syllabus, so they are known from the beginning of the year. Additionally, the students are given free online access to a solutions manual.

2) Exams
The exams come straight from the assigned problems. The students are told this. If they do the assigned problems, then they will have seen the exam before they take it.

3) Discussion and Tutoring
We hold 75 minute discussion period each week where we go over questions and show how to solve problems. Each TA is expected to keep office hours for his students, and to hold general tutoring hours where any student can come to him. About 6 hours of the day, there is a TA in the tutoring room.

Now, with all of this in mind, my students rarely, if ever, ask questions during discussion section. When I give a problem demonstration, they ask few questions. When I say, "Did you understand this solution?" I get a few head nods and impatient inquiries into whether or not that kind of problem will be on the quiz. My students rarely show up to tutoring hours, mine or anyone elses'. I offer to make appointments or answer questions via email. I can count on one hand the number of times I've done both.

So, you think the problem is with the professor. It very well could be. But my experience with these students tells me that is unlikely.

dr. church said...

yeah, they sound pretty dum

my statement was more just general theorizing anyhow

Hal said...

Case in point:

On the exam they just finished (exam 4, not their final), here was the range:

A: 100-65
B: 64-50
C: 49-25
D: 25-10
F: 9-0

Now, I'm not against curving. Lord knows that's saved my behind often enough. I just wonder, that person who got 25% . . . do they deserve a C? Does a 25% indicate they actually picked up on something in this course?

Jen said...

As one of the kids who actually studied and got high grades as a result, I have to admit I'd have been pretty pissed if I'd gotten a 92% and received the same letter grade as someone who got a 68%. I'm all for grading on a curve, but yeesh.