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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Half successful

The "brilliant" plan for today was to have students start brainstorming, noting ideas, working from their sources to simply churn out ideas, and I'd check in with them as they worked. I originally thought I'd pair them up so they could bounce ideas off each other, ask each other questions, but on my way to class I realized the idiocy of that idea: it presumes that they have a much better sense of how to question their way into an idea than they actually possess. Instead, I realized, they'd just reinforce each others' sense of "I don't know what I'm doing." I guess not terribly surprisingly, the plan was a complete dud in the first class and flew much better in the second. Perhaps the difference can be explained if I simply note that in the first class, there was not a single A on the first paper (I think the best grade may have been a B-), and in the second class there were three A's--in fact, two students got A+ grades. I don't think I've ever had that happen in a class before--especially a class that small.

On the other hand, one student in the second class plagiarized, but it was very clearly an instance in which he didn't understand how to avoid it: he attached the sources and highlighted the passages he used, but in the paper, his paraphrases were not only unattributed but were too close in language to the original, and in a few places, he even used exact wording, without quotation marks or citations. It's too bad, too: if he'd submitted his second version in time for me to evaluate it, I'd have been able to flag the problem in time for him to fix it, but as it is, he got two big zeroes: one for the revision grade, one for the final product grade.

I had a serious talk with the Bump on a Log from the first class, too--and she still doesn't get it. She says she'll spend the weekend getting caught up. I told her that if the work could all be done in a weekend, I wouldn't need a full semester to teach the course--but she wants to hang in there and keep trying, so, OK. I told her that I need to see her actually come through on her assertions that she's going to pull it together, but what I see now looks a lot more like a high school student who thinks she can skate by than a college student who knows that she needs to actually do the work. I pointed out that she's not coming through in class, either. She said, "I don't do anything in class," and I said, "Precisely. That's the problem: you don't do anything." She argued that she participates in the group discussions and I told her that's not good enough (largely because she doesn't seem to have done any of the reading, so her "participation" in the discussions is mostly just her riffing on the work others have done, not making any real contributions of her own). Finally, I said that I'd let her withdraw later in the semester if it looks like she can't pass but that I won't lecture her again (this was the third time, after all). I will expend no more worry, time, or effort on her.

I had a similar talk with a student in the second session: she had submitted the final version of her paper on time, but the first two pages were illegible because clearly she was using a printer that was running out of ink. I told her I needed pages I could read, and she gave me the story about how her father won't buy more ink.... There are printers on campus, I pointed out. Yes, but she's only on campus at X times, and won't be on campus again.... Blah blah blah. Today, I told her that she needs to take responsibility for that sort of thing, even if it's deeply inconvenient, no matter what she needs to do: as soon as she saw that the pages were illegible, she needed to do anything and everything necessary to get a readable printout to me. She also said she lost her syllabus, lost the information about how to get to my home page, lost my e-mail address, so she couldn't contact me to find out how to get to my home page. I only now thought, "Wait, haven't I sent out a number of e-mails to you individually and to the class as a whole? And isn't my e-mail address on those?" At the time, I simply gave her the information, but I said to her, as I said to the young woman in the other class: what I see looks like someone who is still operating in high school mode, not someone who has made the switch to college mode.

Those students who are not yet dialed in to what college requires are still in for a hell of a bumpy ride, as I've told them that the gloves are coming off. Some of students, however, perhaps enough of them--especially in the second class--are really getting it. I'm proud of them.

Oh, and just to note: the Wreck Victim was not in class today. Absence seven. I truly don't expect to see him again, unless it's to sign a withdrawal form for him.

Shifting gears, however, to a thought about a way to calculate grades that will allow students to track their own progress, or (more to the point) lack thereof. It's all about numbers--and I actually thought about this briefly about a hundred years ago when I heard the idea floated in a professional development event. Here's the idea:

Each student starts with 2,000 points. Every assignment has a point value attached. For instance, the revision portion of paper 1 would be worth up to 200 points. If a student earns a C+, which I calculate as a 78, I'd say the student has earned 156 of 200 points, so the student would subtract 44 points from 2,000. (Since some students like to know letter grades, too, I could also give them numeric values for paper grades: 180-200 is an A; 170-179 is a B+, and so on.) And say each particular homework assignment is worth 12 points. Each time a student misses a homework assignment, he or she would subtract 12 points from the total. I'd also provide them with a numeric range for an end result: If the student ends up with anywhere from 1200 to 1284 points (rounding off to the nearest 10), that's a D; anywhere from 1285 to 1385 is a D+--and so on.

What I like about the system is that the percentage weights are already built in to the raw numbers--and that although the students can see that some assignments are "low stakes" (12 points instead of 200), they can also see the effect of repeatedly missing those assignments as they're subtracting from the total. It also puts the students in charge of tracking their own progress: they don't have to come to me to see how they're doing; it will be visually obvious with each assignment--and that will save me a lot of the "it's now mathematically impossible for you to pass the class" lectures. It will be very clear: if the student has subtracted down below 1200 and the semester isn't over yet....

I'm actually somewhat jazzed to try this out--next fall.

I am, at last, starting to feel the very early sensations of a sabbatical coming up. I'm still running about a bit wild-eyed (I have to draft up letters in support of the sabbatical applications, I have to get more of the stuff together for my promotion application, I have to track down the members of a subcommittee to see who's doing what, I have to input some stuff into Taskstream and remember what to bring up at the next assessment meeting, I have to I have to I have to...), but I can see that we're about to pull over the top of that long uphill climb: the fierce rush of the plummet to the end of the semester is almost upon us. And then, oh heavens, and then I can put this all down for a bit. I can almost imagine it. Almost.

Right now, I'm simply looking forward to playing hookey on Monday. I've already informed my students and the office that I'm canceling my office hour and class; I just have to send off a quick e-mail to Advisement to let them know I'll be out, and then I don't even have to do that much on Monday morning. I will, of course, check e-mail a time or two during the day (since my 101 students have their second papers due on Tuesday), but mostly--well, mostly I don't know what I'll do, except sleep as late as I want and do whatever I want. That's a happy day, right there.

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