Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Really? [A Mini-Rant]

I find myself channeling Seth Meyers "Really?" segments from his days on SNL. Case in point:


How long have my students had to read the first 80 pages (10 chapters) of the book? Assigned in chunks starting 2/24. Class canceled last Wednesday (spouse was ill and unable to take care of puppy and 5-year old son) and I emailed instructions to keep reading and be prepared for class today (they also had an essay to finish and upload by 11:00 pm Sunday night).

Today in the first class, 12/24 (50%) were present and prepared for the small group work on analyzing pairs of chapters. In the second class, 14/23 (60%). Between the two sections, I sent 13 students on their way to read and complete the day's group worksheet on their own (I'll give them half credit if they show up next class with it done).


Really?



They had 2 weeks to read 80 pages, and the paper (4 pages) has been done in stages over the last 3 weeks, including a full rough draft due a week ago for peer workshop. Eight students were absent, and 5 showed up with 2 pages.

Really?


I know I'm at an open access institution, but how much more am I supposed to dumb this down?

Do they really expect to get through 4 years of college doing nothing?


Seven of the DNRs (Did Not Reads) are currently failing and three more are in the D range. Only three of the DNRs are currently earning a passing grade, and they're all in the C range.


Really?


I have a bunch of low-stakes assessments designed to help them get their feet under them at the start of the semester, because once we get to this point, we're shifting toward all-out sprint. They have another paper coming, plus a major research project with many moving parts (and that comprises about a third of their final grades). They're not doing the low-stakes assessments, the ones recommended by current pedagogy and designed to help them find and catch their mistakes before they turn in the high-stakes stuff. The ones that, taken together, as stated on the syllabus, equal a paper grade.

Really?


What else am I supposed to do? Everyone at my institution is screaming about retention rates, and I'm sitting here in my office going, Why would we want to retain these people?


Money.


Really.

/Rant

Burnt Chrome

 

11 comments:

  1. It's not just money in the form of tuition revenue. It's money in the form of "gravy" funding from the government for keeping the "customers" happy.

    It's also reputation. If prospective students find out that a certain institution has a high failure rate, they'll go elsewhere. ("If we don't do it, someone else will.") After all, aren't professors and instructors supposed to work for student "success"? As well, that "gravy" money can do wonders for an institution's reputation.

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  2. I never used to keep track of attendance, but now I do, quietly (it's not for marks, but for my own information). And I am noticing a direct correlation between the students who show up regularly and those that do well. And vice versa. I don't think they grasp how much of life is showing up. And how much of the rest of it is opening the text.

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    1. During my first year of teaching, I upset one student because of what he perceived as an unreasonable workload. The class had certain deadlines to meet in that course and this kid growled that "we have a social life, you know".

      At most of the places I worked at, I was expected to put my social life on hold once in a while because things had to get done. If they didn't get done, my employer wouldn't get paid, which meant that I would soon be without a paycheque.

      Delete
    2. I don't think they grasp how much of life is showing up. And how much of the rest of it is opening the text.

      This. Definitely this.

      Delete
  3. My sympathies! Open enrollment is so frustrating!

    You could always get the reputation of being "the hard professor" and fewer students would sign up for classes, but that could come around to hurt you in the long run. In cases where I have a whole class not functioning, I do my best all quarter to notify the powers that be of my efforts (i.e. the writing lab, the tutoring center, my chair, my dean) so they realize I am doing everything I possibly can. Then when they see the abysmal grades at the end of the quarter, they don't immediately assume I did something wrong.

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  4. Frightening, isn't it? I'd feel sorry for the young generation, with the titanic debt and filthy environment we are bequeathing them, but I quickly stop when they make their own beds so egregiously by being unable to do what 6th graders could do when they're in college, for crying out loud, and clearly not interested in getting better.

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  5. BC, that's 40 pages per week! I assign ~20 and my students think I'm Vlad the Impaler. (Or they would, if they knew who that was.)

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    1. To paraphrase a department head I once butted heads with, the days of assigning 40 pages a week are over.

      Then again, the millenials are a generation that want everything instantly. Failure to deliver it in, say, less than 30 seconds is seen as an infringement of their human rights.

      Delete
  6. It definitely feels at times like a war of attrition (and, at other times, it feels a bit better). To some extent, I'm sympathetic; my concentration is not what it once was -- and it's not just age, though that's part of the picture. On the other hand, I've laid down some neural pathways associated with long stretches of reading a single text, and find I can re-activate them pretty easily with a bit of time and discipline. The thing is, our students need the chance to develop those pathways/habits, too, and, sadly, the "stick" of bad grades may be the main tool we have available to make sure that happens. But in an atmosphere that sees us as responsible for student learning (and measures student learning in a very short-horizon way), and good teaching as the delivery of content in the most compact, palatable form possible, it's hard to make the argument for flunking them until they buckle down and do the work (and actually learn -- both ideas and good habits -- in the process). That's how STEM fields work -- they actually flunk students -- but somehow humanities don't get that privilege.

    I'm not overly fond of utilitarian arguments for studying the humanities, but some are arising, and, at this point, I'll take them. Maybe the neuroscientists will eventually prove that novel-reading fosters not only empathy, but also concentration, and we'll be allowed to assign a triple-decker a week, as my undergrad professors did. Dickens one week, Thackeray the next, Eliot the next, then back to Dickens in week four. Ah, those were the days. (To be fair to today's students, my father paid my tuition and expenses; it was my job to make the most of the experience. And I did. But I know I was very lucky to be able to do that.)

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    1. Actually I have read (somewhere) that novel reading increases one's vocabulary and curiosity.

      Delete
  7. I once gave a quiz right out of the back of the chapter they were assigned to read. Verbatim. Answers were in the text. Every. Student. Failed.

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