Thoughts on Education

Critical Mass and Sigmund, Carl and Alfred have two posts which brought me to say, “I need to think about these things.”

The following is a quote from a quote in the Critical Mass entry:

It’s heartbreaking to read the comments that students who’ve been betrayed by their universities write at Rate My Professors. These students almost always begin by mentioning their excitement about taking the course, their interest in the subject. They then flatly state that exposure to this professor has killed forever their interest and excitement. A series of questions usually follows. Why is this person teaching? Why does this person get paid to teach? Why is a university classroom like this one? I thought it would be different, going to a university…

This article comes in reaction to Frisch, the adjunct who blog commented in extremely inappropriate terms about a blogger’s two year old child.

The only student of Frisch’s that I’ve heard about said that she acted appropriately in class and engaged in debate. The student was a conservative and disagreed with what she said/taught, but said that the classroom was carried well.

I wonder, sometimes, how much of the students’ complaints are actually about the teachers and how much is about how much work the class was. (I give A LOT of work. But there is a rationale behind it that fits my philosophy of education completely. I wonder if I should make a bigger deal of telling my students about it.)

And this is a quote from what was at Sigmund’s, but is actually written by The Irascible Professor.

We’ve taught you to glory in self-expression while we’ve disdained troubling you with the tedious details like spelling, punctuation, and grammar that make clear expression possible. We’ve so inflated your grades and your self-esteem that they far exceed your achievements and abilities. American students, for instance, are more confident and comfortable with their math skills and prowess than their international peers, even though their actual math skills and prowess don’t rank anywhere near the top of the international heap.

He is speaking to students, the students I get in my freshman English classes often, the ones who think they should be able to get an A because they are native speakers. But they don’t do the work. They don’t make the required corrections. They don’t do the research for the research paper. They plagiarize their work, without citations…

I am amazed that almost every semester my students come in to class obviously expecting to get out of class, to finish it. And every semester half of them drop.

I do require a lot of papers- five plus two short research papers on the same topic- but I also let them rewrite papers and I average the original with the rewrite. And I only ask them to fix their errors on the rewrite. It doesn’t have to substantively change. (Unless they were WAY off topic.) The idea there is that they learn more from doing what they did the correct way than they would from doing grammar problems from a book. It helps them to have experience having written in their own style, but correctly.

I guess I think that high school and lower may have given the students an inflated sense of their ability, but college tends to pop that balloon pretty quickly.

Grading Joys

Okay, that’s facetious. Grading woes would be better. But this article at Irascible Professor, now on my daily blog read, is by an English teacher at a university dealing with students who think their grades are too low.

I have to admit I have contributed to grade inflation, not willingly, but because of overwhelming pressure from all sides. I don’t hand out As and Bs like candy, the way so many teachers do these days, but I do tend to pull my punches at the lower end of the grade scale. I don’t give as many Ds and Fs as I used to. In fact, I often put a C- on a paper that would have earned a D from me twenty years ago.

I don’t give away As or Bs either. I am not sure about whether I give fewer Ds and Fs. I doubt it. Since I have freshmen who don’t even write, it’s not too hard to justify those grades. The real question would be do I grade as hard as I used to… I do, but I don’t. I grade as hard as I used to but I also give the students a chance to rewrite their work and then I average the original and the rewrite. I didn’t do that earlier. Of course, earlier I had them writing 14 papers a semester instead of 7, and none of us had time for rewrites.

So I guess I have lowered my expectations of the workload rather than my grade expectations.

She wrote this about a student who was in her office for help.

Five minutes into our conference yesterday he snatched the draft of his paper out of my hand, stuffed it into his backpack, and stomped out of my office in disgust. He sent me an email last night saying that the reason he cut our conference short in such a rude way was that no matter how hard he tries I keep criticizing his writing.

I wondered, and asked my son aloud, how it was that she was supposed to teach him to be a better writer if she didn’t criticize his writing?

The author makes that point herself at the end of the article.

Think about his complaint, “You criticize my writing no mater how hard I try.”

How else am I supposed to show him what is wrong with a paper or what isn’t working, so that he will be able to fix it or improve it in his next draft?

Of course I criticize his work when it is not good enough. That’s what teachers do.

Avoiding Grading

I have been frantically avoiding grading. I have bought and read several books, gone through my library books to read, read an entire weeks’ worth of blog entries on 220 blogs… But, though I started another chapter in Readings on Beowulf, my true duty to return papers on Tuesday has sent me to grading. But I am putting it off for two more minutes by writing this blog entry. Can I hire a TA to grade these?