Changing Grading–Part 3

The majority of students who fail do so because they don’t do their homework.  Whether this is because they missed school and didn’t make it up, or fell behind and didn’t complete it, or just didn’t do it, their grades do not reflect knowledge or understanding of the course material.  It just shows missing work.

The traditional way to solve this problem is to have the students make up their missing work.  When the students get to a certain point, however, it seems to be an insurmountable task.  How can they make up a dozen assignments and keep up with their current grades?  In addition, does it help a student to keep working on Chapter 8 when you are teaching Chapter 10?

Instead of lowering the standards, or giving less homework, or giving time in class to complete homework, or moving students into less demanding classes, we need to find an alternative solution.  Students are not the same as they were.  The world has changed.  Teachers often bemoan this problem, but do not adjust education policies to match this changing landscape.  We are often afraid that we are being asked to “dumb down” our teaching practices.  I don’t think we need to do that, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to change.

I have a solution.  It may not work, but it seems to be an adequate compromise.  I am not lowering my educational standard, but the student is not facing an insurmountable task, either.  I’m trying it out on a few students right now.  We’ll see if it works.

My solution is this:  I make a deal with each student.  If they are willing to accurately complete a packet that outlines the core information of everything in the previous unit, I am willing to excuse the missing assignments.  I am only willing to raise their grade to a D for this, but I tell them that any other work they are completing for class can work to raise their grade to a C.  (Working this out mathematically is a challenge, but most grading programs allow teachers to insert an assignment that only applies to one student.  Either way, working out that part is not what I am most worried about.)

This provides hope for students who see a mountain of work ahead of them that they cannot complete.  It also provides a way for me to work with students to get them a passing grade without sacrificing education.  If students can complete these core knowledge packets, I’m willing to forgive missing work, unread novels, and repeated absences.

Some will balk at that.  To these people I say this:  Do you have a better solution?  Sink or swim is no longer an option.  No Child Left Behind.  No more passing the buck.  It’s time to pass the students.  And actually educate them.


1 Comment

  1. Scott Erb said,

    March 29, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Teaching at the college level (though often first generation students) I’ve been doing the same thing for years. If a student literally skips two months and suddenly shows up, well, he or she is out of luck. But if they’ve been trying and fallen behind, I figure the best thing for them is to get the most they can out of the class. Like you, I determine an assignment or set of assignments that covers the parts they missed, but without requiring all the work. Like you, I limit their grade to a D for that portion. Like you, I say they can raise it to a “C” with superlative work the rest of the way (and in one case someone managed to get to a “B-” level by literally getting the top grade on the research paper and final exam).

    Most people don’t do that, and I warn students not to expect it. I also tell them (since they may have me for more classes) that this is not to be repeated, it’s an effort to have them learn the lesson but in a way where they can minimize the damage. In the last three years I’ve averaged offering this to about 5 students per semester. On average 3.5 of them never do the work anyway and flunk. The ones that manage to catch up usually change their habits completely the rest of the semester.

    By the way, I don’t know if you see this at the high school level, but in first and second year college students there is a tendency to respond to a reading with a personal critique — “I didn’t like it” or “He wasn’t interesting,” and the popular “she could have made that argument in only two pages.” It makes me think students are reading to just figure out the authors point and their reaction to it, rather than understanding an argument and going through the evidence (I almost always use non-fiction books, so it’s probably different than yours). Also, students seem to call everything that is not a text book a “novel,” even if it is a biography or non-fiction. I’m not sure where they get that.

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