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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Brilliant insight provided by a friend

I do wish I'd been keeping track of the hours I've spent this summer, working on the reconfiguration of my 101 class--and no, I haven't even begun yet on the Mystery and Detective semester prep, never mind whatever my third class ends up being. (Did I mention that we finally got the official word about reassigned time--about two weeks ago? I imagine that, in all the fooraw over the request that SUNY appoint a new interim acting president, little administrative details like signing off on reassigned time probably got shoved to the side, but still, the fact that we had to submit those requests in March and didn't get the approvals until July is pretty ridiculous.)

But the real reason I wanted to post is because I have to give credit to a friend for a brilliant insight into students' reactions to grading when they get to college. She's not a teacher, but she has watched her two children make the transition from high school to college--and her kids are well educated, intelligent, and in just about every way the opposite of the majority of students we see at the community college level. So Stacy's wisdom doesn't so much come from her own children as it does from understanding the adolescent mind, and what she said is that students walk in the door assuming that they have an A, and if they just sit still and quiet and don't make waves, they won't lose that A: anything they do potentially jeopardizes that perfection, so they're terrified to take any risk. And every time they get a grade that is less than an A, something has been taken away from them: they've been cheated; the teacher has snatched something away from them.

That rang so true that my jaw must have hit my chest--and here I was feeling so smug about the "everyone starts with 2,000 points and the idea is to keep them" grading policy, but what she said made me realize it's absolutely backward: I need to flip it. Everyone starts with zero--and they have to earn points toward that potential 2,000. That way, instead of "oh, god, it's hopeless: she won't give me 20 points, she always takes away some," the thinking could be "OK, I made 18 points but I could have made 20: what do I need to do to get those two extra points?"

I'm not sure it will work, but intuitively, it feels right. Of course, some students won't be motivated, no matter what I do (what anyone does), but if they feel that it's like getting paid, or like making points in a game, they're more likely to engage in the process. I hope.

So, that's my big realization for the day. Now--between sessions with a member of my personal tech-support team (in this case, my sister's boyfriend), trying to get my old printer to recognize my new laptop through the wireless connection--I will be working on class materials, right up until I have to get in the shower to go be a student myself, working (endlessly) on my Argentine tango....

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