What a Failing Student Taught Me

One of the toughest things to do at the end of a semester is to give a student a failing grade. A failing grade always begs the question, which often comes back to the teacher from parents, for example, “Isn’t there anything we can do get this kid to pass?”

The answer, or course, is that an end of course grade is a comprehensive summary and so by that time, no, there is nothing that a student can do to pass, since the opportunity for doing constructive work has now been closed.

I. Strength of Structure

But this is also hard on a teacher because I want to revisit and review and see what could be done to help the kid do better. And this is the kicker: In order to provide more structure for the struggling, and more explicit content for the absent minded, and more review for the forgetful, I slant the course more and more toward forcing success. What I mean is that I set it up in such a way that I MAKE every kid write every salient point and I MAKE every kid complete every explanation to the explicit quality of the key. In other words, I am doing everything except pushing the pencil.

II. Loss of Choice

One other aspect of maximum structure too is that it sets aside the issue of choice, which is one of the motivating aspects of learning: being in control of what you want to pursue and explore.

Feedback of course is also valuable, but to increase the amount of marking means less creative lessons and more talk/paper format. So maybe it is just the weak ones who need feedback. Maybe I can let the higher students be self monitoring. I will post the key and only require grades less than B to submit work for grading. Those with a B- or higher will be excused from submitting work for grading. They can check their own work against the key. Hmmm.

I will also make explicit notes next semester for the topics like I did in the end of this past couple of weeks. In fact, I will provide a summary of content that students need to be familiar with at the beginning of the week. Then we will do a lab/activity illustrating that material. Then will will practice written work on those questions. Then we will have an assessment. I think I may do assessments every week to give kids MEGA feedback.

Monday – Explore concept with a lab/activity -OR- lecture the concepts.

Tuesday – [other half of Monday plan]

Wednesday – review the concept and do written work in class.

Thursday – Assess written work.

Friday – quiz in class; one page; 20 points (1/5 of test)

Ok; that’s a plan!

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