October 21, 2007

A Small Rant About Students

I've just finished 12 hours of grading an assignment handed in by (most of) my students. I won't get specific here for obvious reasons, but I do feel the need to vent just a little bit.

See, I've stressed for the last couple of weeks how important this assignment was. I've offered constant guidance, and moreover the students had available no fewer than four documents that explained everything they needed to do. The format was set out in great detail. They were even given the rubric by which we'd be grading so that they could make sure to get as many points as possible. All they had to do was follow the directions, which they received in verbal, printed, and online forms. This should have been an easy 20 points for them.

Instead, it's apparent that the vast majority didn't bother with the guidelines offered them. Most of them left at least one section of the assignment off completely. More than half didn't even bother coming up with a title for their paper. The assignment was an outline, the format for which was explicitly laid out for them in writing; at least a half dozen of them even ignored that and handed in a couple of poorly-written paragraphs. There was only one section that was supposed to be a paragraph; several students didn't bother to write one at all. Many of them, contrary to repeated and explicit instructions, copied and pasted material from a common file without even bothering to reformat it. If this had been material published elsewhere, that would qualify as plagiarism (which has also been explained and warned against); the only thing saving them from that severe misdeed is the fact that our class itself generated the material.

One student didn't even bother handing in the assignment. He didn't show up for class (his second time this semester; once more and he fails) and hasn't tried to get in touch with me about it as far as I can tell. The thing is, this assignment was prerequisite to the BIG final paper; it was an opportunity to get feedback toward that end. By not turning it in and so not getting that feedback, this student has effectively screwed himself. That's fine with me, in a sense. It was one less assignment I had to grade. On the other hand, I know what will happen in this case. He'll wake up one morning and realize he's in trouble, and then he'll be bothering me about what he can do to pass and will I please review a "rough draft" of his final paper and, one way or another, that student will try to push his problem back off on me. None of which is going to happen; I've already put tons of time into getting everyone prepared for this project and done more than my fair share of hand-holding.

The irony of this whole thing is that I graded this assignment far more leniently than I've graded anything else this semester. The point of it wasn't to test anything, after all, but to provide an opportunity for feedback. Students got half the possible points just for turning something in with all the sections filled out, even if what they put into those sections was wrong. If one even looked at the guidelines, it was impossible to get less than a C for the assignment. Nonetheless, quite a number of students managed to do so. It's like they were looking for a way to do poorly.

Bah, freshmen. What can be done with 'em? On the other hand, I did have three students who got all the points and appear to have put real effort into the assignment. One of them has been struggling all semester, so I'm glad to see her doing what it takes to turn things around. The two others have both been consistently diligent and seeing them get high grades comes as no surprise.

I'm going to have to make very clear to my classes as wholes what they're up against if they missed this chance to get help toward their final, important project, without which they can't possibly receive a grade higher than C overall (and that only if they've done perfectly on everything else this semester which, as far as I remember, nobody has done).

I like teaching and I want to see my students doing well. Unfortunately, a sizable proportion of them seem determined to thwart my intentions and are trying everything they can to blow it. I wouldn't care as much if I hadn't spent all this time grading a very subjective assignment in which there are appropriate answers but not necessarily correct ones, only to find that a good number of them didn't give a crap in the first place.

Grumble grumble grumble.

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