Monday, October 17, 2011

You can lead a student to water, you can show the students the water, you can even splash the water on the students but...

Yes, it is midterm grading time once again! The one bright spot is that I have gotten much faster at pushing through them. Oh wait, that could be because they left so much blank this time compared to the last two times I taught this class. Dude.

I don't know what to do about these students, except maybe shoot them. Since I have worked out a decent syllabus and lectures, this time around I am working on making the class more interactive for them --- quizzes every week, more discussion questions, more practice writing in the beginning of class where  I ask them what is the most important word in this poem/passage. All the stuff I couldn't quite get to when I was reading the material and trying to figure out what was important about it the first time or two around.

And I have been "connecting the dots" for them in excruciatingly painful ways. "Guys, why aren't you doing the reading? This is a literature class. I notice that there are a lot of zeros on this quiz I am handing back; that is a good sign that you are not doing the reading and will fail the midterm. You will need to identify passages we have read and connect them to our lectures, you know, and you won't be able to catch up on an entire class worth of reading the night before!"

And you know what? They totally bombed the midterm. Like I have said before, I don't give any credit for blank answers, and there just isn't any point to curving or grading these up. This is all on them. I went back to my files and they even did worse this time than the last two times. For example, here is last fall:

1 A
6 B range
9 C
2 D
7 F (three of those being in the 10 % range)

Compare to this time around:

1 A
8 B range
5 C
4 D
12 Fs (2 of those are in the 20% out of 100 range)

Yeah I have no sympathy; clearly students can do fine on my midterms. I asked the students what was important in class so far and they generated a big list of terms and names of movements on the board and I took straight from that for the definitions section; if you get 3 out of 40 points on that section I can tell you didn't even copy down the list of terms from the midterm review.

What are these people thinking? Do they hate literature so much in general (or this class topic specifically) that they are dead set (perhaps unconsciously) against passing the class? Are they so invested in magical thinking they think that they can pass this class without doing any of the reading? Do they secretly want to fail? They have to take a literature course from this list of requirements to graduate from college, but they don't have to take this course. And yet (something I did not know last fall), students failing my course have tried to pass it 2 or 3 times in a row now. Any time you teach one of these required surveys you have a fair percentage of repeaters. Why do they come back to the same course they didn't bother to do the reading on last time and expect it to be better this time around? Arggh!

We have been doing group work/discussions where I have them pull passages as evidence for or against an interpretation of the text and then come back and discuss it. I think I am up to about 7 or 8 different people actually talking in class and saying good things. Maybe 3 or 4 of them are actually fun and saying interesting things that count as literary analysis. I would looove it if all my Fs would drop and just let me teach students who talk and seem semi-willing to be there and work with me, instead of folding their arms huffily and glaring at me from under a baseball cap. The class would be just so much more pleasant in its vibe and more like teaching if I only had to work with the students who were attempting to learn in good faith.

Sigh. But I know that none of the Fs will drop; most of them won't even miss a day since there is an attendance requirement in our department, and I bet I will get nasty horrible emails once again as soon as I hand back the midterms and have to have another series of meetings with my chair and my students about how I "disrespected" them by making them fail an assignment. Jeezus Fucking Kerist on a Cracker.


Belle said...

You can't take responsibility for their (poor) choices. They are college students, for criminey's sake. They make their own choices; it's not your job to save them. Their grade, their choice. Period.

Of course they'll try to blame you, your tests, your style, your assignments. You can choose to accept that blame, but why in the world would you?

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to think all college students are like this now. I teach statistics - about as far away from literature as you can get. I explain the material in painful detail. I say "this will be on the test". I still get about half who fail, all of whom blame me for it. Its as though they feel showing up should be sufficient.

Worse, I am an adjunct and narrowly avoided an argument with a full time faculty member recently who said "if they do the work they should be able to pass". This really depends on your definition of "do the work". if they skim the book and get a 50 on the homework, that really isn't enough for them to pass when the test comes around. Showing up isn't enough. Token effort isn't enough. I can't MAKE them read the book attentively or use the study skills and resources that I provide. All I can do is teach the 50% who are trying and try not to let the other 50% drag them down too much.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

My intro to lit students have to write one page about every single reading assignment they have. And believe it or, they're actually reading. The biggest single influence on their final grade is these short writings, which are focused, unit-wise, on one important thing in literature. (7 units in the semester. We're currently finishing up symbolism; next is irony.) It's a lot to grade, but they are keeping up with the reading and are doing pretty good work. But most importantly, this is a gen ed class and pretty much everyone is reading. (I did have two drop the class.) I'm also giving no tests at all. Everything about their grade depends on their writing.

Sisyphus said...

Protoscholar, I haven't found this to be true of my freshman comp students --- that class is going fine, except for the fact that it's comp and I have to grade the dammed homework constantly. It's just this one survey that goes so crappy.

And I have a story that will truly demoralize you; remind me to take the time to actually post it.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Ouch. At least our surveys are required for English majors, so we usually have a genuinely bimodal distribution rather than just a steep decline.