Showing posts from December, 2015

The Muses of Bad Timing

Without fail my best ideas appear when time is running out.  I have had this problematic course that I have been tinkering with for two years.  I know it needs attention, but it has been moping along with generally decent evaluations and student responses.  Still the course isn't coherent.  I've long known it and long known I need to entirely rethink it.

But there is always something else to focus on and--frankly--I've been singularly uninspired with any ideas on how to start fresh.

So this morning I was spending time finalizing a few minor details on the syllabus, and (wouldn't you know it?) the pedagogical muses show up. In all of an instant I see how the subject could be hung on nine inter-related questions about the subject.  That's it.  Nine questions, a number that will fit well into the course's length and framework.  So simple and elegant.

We could approach each question by taking an initial stand, do a little reading and debating and take our pulse ag…

Do we give grades? Or are they earned?

I penned a little article for another teaching blog and it touched off a minor dust up over what to say and what not to say when students contest grading standards.

The premise of the piece was this: we ought not to use that hoary academic catchphrase: "I didn't give you that grade.  You earned it."  To my mind the statement obscures the fact that our standards (and our interpretation of our standards) play a not insignificant role in a student's final grade.

Not all of my readers agreed.  One argued that I focused only on those students who got low grades and were upset.  What about those who received an A?  He would tell them they earned it, because they did. And praising real student effort is a part of good teaching.  Another thought that subjective grading wasn't an issue in science and math courses, especially when answers were straightforwardly right or wrong.

Good points, I guess.

Still I can't help thinking that the "you earned it move" is…

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints

One of the courses that I come back to in January will be the spring section of First-Year Experience that's scheduled for students who were "gearing-up" last semester for college-level work, a few late starting true freshmen and one or two students who failed FYE in the fall. 

Recently I had a chance conversation with the instructor who taught this section last spring and she said, "Scaffold the hell out of that course and then--when you think you've got it right--scaffold some more."

By scaffolding she meant breaking the cognitive and skill-level requirements into a graduated sequence that stretches from the first day to the last. In other words, I should assume nothing about the readiness of students to perform at what I think should be a "given" college standard.  Instead, I'll need to walk them slowly to that level.  This is a good design philosophy in any course, but it's especially necessary with under-prepared students.

Indeed, t…