What do you do when?

What do you do when you thought you adequately covered a topic, but twenty papers from the class show that only one person understood even the basics of the presentation?

That’s a question I am asking myself. I changed my syllabus this year to include things that I am particularly interested in. So I had a new reading. It is the third version of the same story that we read. This is the first time I have introduced all three stories. Unfortunately, the students got them hopelessly confused.

The only student who got what all three versions were (or seems to have) also went and reread the works himself. I know this because he called to ask me about a part of the work that confused him.

So… What do I do?

I am teaching a three week class and I don’t really have time to go revisit a topic we studied the equivalent of three weeks ago. But this topic is on the final, so I don’t want to leave the students confused.

Obviously I’m going to have to do something. Here are my ideas:
1. Give the papers back, with my notes, re-explain the salient points of the readings, and have them rewrite the papers.
2. Give the papers back. Re-explain the salient points of the readings.
3. Give the papers back. Tell them to look up the works, since they didn’t understand the sequencing.
4. Throw the paper out. Explain the salient points of the readings again.

I expect that I will do number 2. However, I might do number 3, just because they might understand them better if they have to look it up. I don’t really have time to do number 1 and number 4 would require that I weight more heavily something which is already weighted too heavily.

Okay, I think I will do number 2. Then on Wednesday I’ll give them a pop quiz over the history of the works, to see if they got it.

Are you wondering what they got confused about?
orazio_gentileschi_-_judith_and_her_maidservant_with_the_head_of_holofernesjpgWe read the Vulgate version of Judith, chapters 12 to the end.
Then we read the Old English version of Judith, in translation.
Then we read Judith in the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament.

Some people thought the Vulgate was written in 350 BC. Others said it was written in 1350 AD.
Some thought it was in Greek.
Some thought it took a story from Hebrew, Greek, or Latin.
Some thought the Vulgate is the King James Version of the Bible, because we read our translation of the Vulgate in the KJV.
Some thought the Old English version was written first. Some thought it was written last, since it was in modern English. (We read a translation.)
Several people wrote that different works were shortest. No one mentioned correctly that the OE version was the shortest.
They got the story. Mostly they even got the details from the separate works correct. But the whole misunderstanding of which work was which was frustrating.

The assignment was to compare and contrast the three versions of the story.

The painting is by Orazio Gentileschi, from around 1614.

2 thoughts on “What do you do when?”

  1. Sounds like they didn’t pay attention to your explanation of the different sources/time periods. Maybe didn’t take notes?? Probably not your fault, and I like sending them back to look up the differences. I’d give a provisional grade that stands if the student doesn’t follow through your instructions to investigate on his or her own. I like your idea to use the three stories, and it’s important to insist that students learn to pay attention to detail and details.

  2. I agree in most part with mikee. However, depending on your purpose, I would suggest a mixture or options 1, 2 and mikee’s idea. Give the papers back, include a handout of the salient points of each reading that will send them back to the texts, and provide a provisional grade or opportunity for re-write. While I agree that we should ask students to pay attention to details, I find that our perceptions of clarity and their perceptions of our intentions are often at cross-purposes. If one method of delivery appears to fail, try another (time permitting)!

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