Why Can’t I Get This Right?

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Jan
  • 06
  • 2008

Experimentation is the nature of any classroom. If you’re just doing the same things you’ve done for the last 10 years, you aren’t responding to the way students, education, and the world are changing. That said, I sometimes wish I’d just do the same thing I did last year because at least part of it was successful. This year, my experiment failed in a big way. Next semester will be a different and more traditional story. Oddly enough, last year’s experiment might help me save a few kids, though.

What I Did

Each of our three essays this semester had a “first-attempt date.” A paper in the classroom that is at least the beginning of the assignment on the first-attempt date is a pass to turn in that paper anytime between today and December 21, the beginning of winter break. Take your time; have someone edit it; make it your best. Anything less than 70% will be returned for a rewrite. All essays turned in after December 21 are only eligible for 50% credit. Anything turned in near December 21 will be entered into the gradebook no matter the grade, no chance for a rewrite.

What Happened

As you might imagine, an incredibly small handful of students (4 out of 119) used this policy to its intended purpose. These students worked on their writing and handed it in a few days later. These students are already stellar writers. Another small group (roughly 10) turned the papers in months later, but still ahead of the deadline. The rest didn’t complete the three writing assignments until days before the final deadline, a huge chunk of them cranking out three essays overnight to turn them in on time. What I read these past two weeks were mostly horrible essays. A lot of 67% or lower class averages on these things. It’s bad to read a sixteen-year-old’s recollections of The Great Gatsby three months after it was the subject of discussion in their English class.

What I’m Doing About It

The day of the final will be an in-class essay about our current piece of literature: The Crucible. If you pass that in-class writing and are failing the course, you’ll have a D- on your first semester report card. All other scenarios will earn you whatever grade your scores say you earn. I might even go so far as to only collect these essays from the students who are failing or from those who think they’ll benefit from the grading of it. If you have a B and fear that this writing will lower your grade, don’t hand the essay to me and you’ll keep that B.

This is my way of making sure that if you can write and just got suckered into natural procrastination, something seemingly engendered by my flawed essay-collection policy, you’ll pass the class. Even a good writer will have a hard time cranking out three essays overnight. On the other hand, if a student can’t write, that will become terribly apparent due to three essays, four in-class paragraphs, and an in-class essay composed on the day of the final.

Sound fair?

1 comment

1. Elona Hartjes says:

[1/8/2008 - 2:53 am]

It’s always a struggle getting my students to meet deadlines. I find that what will work best for my students is to have short deadlines. The more time I give them, the longer it takes. Short deadlines along with getting the assignment marked and returned quickly so the kids get to see their marks motivates those kids who haven’t handed their work in yet to get it in. They freak when they see how not handing their assignment in affects their mark. There’s nothing like a mark dropping to 33% because work hasn’t been handed in to motivate a student to get their work done. I tell them that I’m always looking for ways to give them marks. They have to help me do that by handing in their work. If the assignment they hand in isn’t their best work, I’ll hand it back with suggestions for improvement and tell them they can resubmit it if they choose. However, failing isn’t an option. If they are failing, they have to redo the assignment. It’s a struggle! No strategy works all the time with all kids. Keep the faith.