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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It was the best of semesters, it was the worst of semesters...

Seriously, it was a weird semester (or 'is', since it isn't technically over yet). On the very bright side, my upper-division writing class was wonderful - I think this was the first time in thirteen years of teaching that every student in a class completed every major assignment (I'll ignore a handful of minor, not-paper assignments but even those had a 95% completion rate). There were some that were a few days late but there are no ZEROs for papers in my gradebook. I don't know if that was because I scared the heck out of the students on the first day, warning them about the amount of work in the class (one of my students commented in his end-of-course evaluation that on the first day, he thought, "Wow, this lady is INTENSE"), or it was because many of the assignments required that student swap papers with someone else and they didn't want to let down their peers, or if this was simply a particularly responsible group of students. Given that I also had almost no whiny emails or office visits from this bunch, I tend to think I just got a great draw. But whatever the reason, it was a pleasure to work with them. The only 'problem' is that I always grade upper division classes on an absolute scale (i.e., I don't curve, either up or down), and the students all did solid work, so I'm a bit afraid my chair is going to give me a hard time because the average grade in the class is so high. But that's a problem I'm happy to live with.

On the other hand, the average grade in my Principles class, in the absence of a curve, would be the lowest average of any of my classes in a long time. Although I know I under-estimated the difficulty of the second midterm, the class performed quite poorly on all the exams in general. More disturbingly, they seemed to do a lot worse on the in-class clicker questions than past classes, and during class discussions, it was pulling teeth to get anyone to explain their logic. Prior to the last week of class, there were only three (!) students who came to see me for help with material, even after that horrible second midterm. But I had about the same number of emails and office visits to complain about grades or to ask admin questions I had already answered in class or on the website. One advantage of having taught the course almost exactly the same way for three previous semesters is that I feel fairly confident that the problem was the students and not me, though I was still somewhat comforted when a colleague in a different department mentioned that the average in his intro psych class was the lowest in several semesters as well.

It's just odd. I wonder if the younger students were more affected somehow by the budget cuts - for many freshmen and sophomores, it's hard enough to manage their time and workload without having to also worry about furlough days and classes being cut, or maybe they were working more outside of school. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, that class being so frustrating often overshadowed the joy of the other course this semester. For weeks now, I've been looking forward to the end of this semester, to just put it behind me and look ahead to next year. But I also know that in a few months, I will think about this semester and I'm sure it will be my upper-division class that I will remember.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have the "disappearing student" problem--students who simply quit coming to class/doing the work, instead of dropping the class?It's been a growing problem in my intro classes (and, in talking to my on-campus colleagues, it seems to be a growing problem for them as well). This semester, I had 16 students (out of 92) fail my intro micro course. But 13 of those simply quit doing anything. Makes the end of the semester something of a downer.


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