24 February, 2006

Calling it too quickly

A few weeks ago, I indicated that grades this semester seemed to be better than grades last semester, at least in my lower-level classes. It still holds true for statistics, but my lowest-level class has turned into a disaster. After the first test, attendance plummeted, and reporting absenteeism to Student Support did nothing to help. It wasn't much of a surprise that the second test was a complete rout; little more than half the class even bothered to show up. Of those who did show, none scored even a 70%. Several of those who missed the test waved their hands and made noises about alarm clocks and subpoenas, but the subpoenas have yet to materialize, and alarm clocks are not valid excuses.

If that weren't bad enough, I just graded the exam for the majors class. I'm left scratching my head, wondering if they've understood anything at all of what I've taught. They participate in class, and do alright on the homework, but they collapsed on the test. As I told them today, I might not have bene too concerned about the low scores, except that it wasn't a matter of making mistakes. It was a matter of not understanding fundamental ideas in differential equations.

I was reflecting on this today, and it occured to me that, in class, I have only 3 contact hours with any of the students. No one learns the material in only 3 hours a week. Surely the students must realize that they need to spend more time on it outside of class than they are spending, and they must get help when they don't understand something. They're not doing that, though. Maybe the solution is to make the classes so insanely difficult that they realize they need to study and learn the material thoroughly? or will they throw up their hands and do nothing?

I have no idea what the solution is, but something's gotta change, and I don't know what it is.


qkl said...

Can you see them individualy after class hours?

jack perry said...

Yes, I can. Do they actually appear? no.

The college has a program called "supplemental instruction." In such a class, a student who has done well in the class sits in, takes notes, then holds three "SI sessions" every week, about an hour long each. These sessions are scheduled in the evenings, which make them convenient for the students -- unlike my office hours, which (during the daytime hours) are not too convenient.

Almost no one shows up. But thanks for asking that question; you have just now given me an idea on how to get students to show up for that. Maybe it will help.

Alessandra said...

Surely the students must realize that they need to spend more time on it outside of class than they are spending, and they must get help when they don't understand something.

Why is that such a certainty? It could be exactly where a good part of the problems lies.

jack perry said...


Whereas it's true on a superficial level that they don't realize this, I think they make choices based on things that they value more highly than an education. Sooner or later they all say, "I'll come get some more help," and invariably they come at most once.


Alessandra said...

I think what could seem obvious to you, might not at all be obvious to some of your students. Or they lose a lot of time to find out about it.

If a student has all their goals and strategies figured out, and your class is not important in the larger scheme, fine. But if they are lost or misguided, then it's not good at all that they should remain that way, when they could start thinking about goals with some guidance from the very beginning.

I think this can vary a lot from school to school, not to mention individual to individual, but a lot of kids haven't got things figured out, what their priorities are, where their current choices are going to take them.