Thoughts on Teaching – Failing the Semester – 11/26/2013
Yes, this sounds like I am going to talk about my students failing this semester, and, to be honest, I will in a roundabout way. However, in reality, what I am writing about is my own failure this semester. I tried something new, as I do every semester. And, I can honestly say that it has not worked. I feel like I have failed the students, although, in reality what I have done is to make it easier for them to fail themselves. As there is so much pressure on us to help the students succeed, I certainly do feel that I have done them a disservice and made at least a few of my students less successful that they would have otherwise been.
What I did this semester was I did not assign weekly writing assignments to check and make sure the students were doing the work they were supposed to. To be clear, I did assign chapter readings and chapter work, so I was checking up on whether they were doing that part of the work. However, as a part of the hybrid-class model that I am using, the students have extra work each week, whether it be watching a documentary, reading some extra piece, or even completing a history game. Last year, I consistently had the students complete a response paper each week. This mostly was used to check on whether they had completed the work they were supposed to and provided a basis for a regular check and grade on their work each week. In the evaluation of the course last year, I heard back from students that, while they did not like writing something every week, they felt that it was helpful in making sure they were doing the work they were supposed to. The students said that they felt more prepared to discuss the material when they had been required to write a response paper about it.
With that said, it would seem stupid for me to not assign those response papers this semester, but, when it came down to what my weekly workload would look like, I chose to take them out. I was assigned an extra class at the last minute this semester, meaning that I am teaching 7 classes this semester. Five of those classes are online, and so they are not affected by this change. It is only in my two hybrid classes that I decided to try running the class without the weekly responses. I was afraid of what the teaching load would look like if I added those extra grading pieces each week, and so I left them out. In retrospect, this was a bad idea. For one, my students have been noticeably less prepared this semester than last year. I have had to send them away twice this semester when I did go and check on whether they had done the assigned work, only to discover that they had not. The other reason this was a bad idea is that I have not been as burdened this semester by an extra class as I thought I would be. So, I could have easily done the response papers with little consequence on my overall work load.
What this leaves me with is that fact that I made students less likely to succeed, despite both knowing that they would do better with regular checks on what they were doing and despite having the time for the resulting grading. This is why I see this as a failure on my part. The check that I had built into the semester for them doing the extra work to prepare for class was that they have a discussion grade for the class that counts for 25% of the overall grade. It turns out that this grade is too abstract for the students to care about on a weekly basis. The level of participation has been lower this semester, and the quality of participation has been low as well. Given the opportunity to have no checks on whether they have done the work or not, most students have chosen not to do the work and not be prepared for class. I know this should come as no surprise, and, if I had thought it through more, I would have easily realized this. This, again, is why I put the failure on myself. I did put out the rope for my students to either grab on to or hang themselves with, and most of my students chose the latter.
I do not know how this class will fall out at the end, but I have a feeling that my grades and pass rates are going to be horrendous for the hybrid classes this semester. Obviously, I know what to do to fix it next semester. However, it still sits heavily on me that I have let these students fail out when I could have done something to help them. Sigh.