A teaching moment . . . .

Well the grades are in, and they didn’t look pretty.  Although there were some local exceptions, and a few encouraging upturns, for the most part my teaching this semester felt blah to me.  I’ve done too many reps of these classes, and the students seemed underprepared and unengaged.  One of the first things I noticed while calculating semester-long grades, though, was the relative scarcity of As and even A-s, and the solid, center of gravity in both classes around the C to B range.  And this was after loads of people dropped out, due to general f*ckwittage, as Bridget would call it.

 My biggest problem, as usual, is how to combine the teaching of writing (which is looking more and more necessary for our majors, even at the advanced levels) with the kinds of research activities and secondary criticism that make for more sophisticated discussion and understanding.   I think the information literacy stuff I did (annotated biblios, introductions to databases, teaching them how to discriminate sources, etc.)  had a big impact, at least on the best students, but they were all still struggling with the integration of the information into their own essays. 

Nonetheless, I had a few pleasant surprises, and that’s what keeps me going.  How did others do in their courses this semester?



3 responses to “A teaching moment . . . .

  1. I was kind of in the same boat, Dave. In some ways, I feel like I got around to doing much more difficult material than I did in the same class the previous semester, but that means that there were still quite a few students who just couldn’t keep up, despite all opportunities for assistance.

    At the end of last semester, I mentioned how I gave a pretty straightforward final so that students who weren’t doing great could study for something that wasn’t too high-concept and help their grades out. This semester, like last semester, the students who were already getting A’s on papers got 100 percent on the exam, and those who were getting C’s and B’s on papers generally did poorly. It puts me in a bind about whether it’s even ethical to give a final at all under those circumstances.

  2. It was blah for me as well. Unfortunately, we still have one more week (this week is finals) so I won’t have the final tabulations in until next week, but sometimes I’m so frustrated. It is frustrating that students walk out of a methods class that focuses entirely on the mechanics of writing a research paper and walk into my class the next semester unaware that article titles are in quotation marks or of proper footnote format.

    But as you say, there are some notable exceptions and at least two of my four classes this semester had a great dynamic, so the business of attending to class matters was -gasp- fun.

    Carrie, in my freshman-level class I handed out a sheet showing their grades on all assignments and what they needed on the final to move their grade to the next level. When we do the number crunching, a “final” exam does seem rather superfluous, but I continue to see the exam process as a necessary feature to force them to think through (if poorly) what I call their “reservoir of knowledge”.
    Anyway, wish me luck during finals week.

  3. David Mazella

    Carrie and Sharlene,

    I’ve been thinking more and more about the assignments I’ve been doing in both courses, and in both classes I feel that altering the tempo or intensity of the course–slowing it down, to allow them to read and absorb more, or maybe breaking up assignments into smaller steps, or possibly assigning more essays, with some adjustment of length–doesn’t seem to affect more than a fraction of my B- and below students. It’s also hard for me to step up my own grading cycle, because I’m already feeling overwhelmed with what I’m doing.

    All these strategies assume that students are making good-faith efforts to improve (and some are), but they don’t touch what feels like a core group in the student body, the path of least resistance crew. This is a very demoralizing group to focus one’s energies upon, because they don’t seem particularly interested on what we’re doing or trying to accomplish.

    Now we’re facing a big administrative push to eliminate excessive drops/withdrawals campuswide, which makes sense in many ways, except that those silent drops were the most painless way for the most apathetic students to disappear from my classes. This means that I’m going to have to have diagnostics and early assignments in the first twelve days to confront the least qualified students with the reality of their performance. Once again, this makes sense on many levels, but it won’t be pleasant. Stay tuned.