Posted by: Magistra | March 5, 2007

Checked Out

One of the two classes I’m teaching right now is Economics. It’s spring semester, so if these students want to graduate, they have to pass this class. But they’re not.

I quickly learned that 8 (out of 33) students did not pass Government last semester, so clearly it’s not just me who has a hard time reaching them. Going in, I knew I wanted almost everything to be done in class. It’s not that my goal is to avoid them thinking about Economics outside of class, but if it can be accomplished in class, that’s where I want to do it. I thought this would create more opportunities for interaction about economic issues. You’d think that a greater focus on in-class activities would also make it easier to get a passing grade, as long as you show up.

After every test, we review the questions and talk about why students didn’t score as well as they thought they had. Three units in, it’s clear to me that these students don’t really know how to take a test. When it’s short answer, they don’t outline. When it’s multiple choice, they don’t eliminate bad answers, they just guess among all four options when they don’t know. Last unit, I put together a brief little review game, dividing the material into the three major categories. This unit, I had the students collectively brainstorm what we’ve covered, and then asked each of them to write three test questions (with answers).

I’ll say it up front – this sort of assignment would have bored me to tears in high school. I thought about that, but I just couldn’t come up with something else that would serve my purpose. I’ll probably do my review game again some time, but I’m not willing to always put all the effort into their test review. I’ll help them guide it (hence, the topic brainstorm), but I won’t just deliver it to them. I also figured that this way, since I was requiring something written, I could give them a few points for it. Boy was I wrong.

Instead of being a little grade booster, at least ten people shot themselves in the foot by not doing it. And actually, it turns out it’s worse than losing the 5 points, because I was pleasantly surprised looking through the questions, that the process obviously helped some students (in just three questions, you could watch the quality improve, as the first question was generally weaker than the last).

I do not understand showing up to class, knowing you have a 45% in class, and not doing what is asked of you. I can wrap my head around not finishing out of class assignments (I don’t think it’s a good decision, but I can follow the thought process), but I do not understand coming to class, even participating in class, and not demonstrating that participation. Why do they sit in the classroom, every day for 58 minutes, if they’re not going to work? I just don’t get it.

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