In “Calculating Final Course Grades: What About Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?” (The Teaching Professor March 2014), the editor notes that “some students … assume that course content is a breeze, [so] the first exam serve[s] as a wake-up call.” (p. 6) In two Introductory Psychology classes (150 students), I recently implemented an effective three-step strategy for getting the best out of such students (and, indeed, all students).
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Instructors commonly cope with a missed test or failed exam (this may also apply to quizzes) by letting students drop their lowest score. Sometimes the lowest score is replaced by an extra exam or quiz. Sometimes the tests are worth different amounts, with the first test worth less, the second worth a bit more, and the third worth more than the first two—but not as much as the final.
What? Students writing their own exams? Yes, that’s exactly what these marketing faculty members had their students do. “The Student-Written Exam method is an open book and notes take-home exam in which each student writes and answers his or her own multiple-choice and short essay questions.” (p. 32)
There is growing interest in the pedagogical literature in something called feedforward. It is, as the name implies, the opposite of feedback, which provides input after the fact. Feedforward offers input focused on the future. It lets students know what they should be doing or could be doing differently next time. If it’s a similar assignment, the “do differently” is specific advice on changes that will improve the next assignment. If it’s a different assignment, the “do differently” identifies what’s not the same about the next assignment and what needs to be done in a different way.
Recent research verifies that when looking at small differences in student ratings, faculty and administrators (in this case, department chairs) draw unwarranted conclusions. That’s a problem when ratings are used in decision-making processes regarding hiring, reappointment, tenure, promotion, merit increases, and teaching awards. It’s another chapter in the long, sad story of how research on student ratings has yet to be implemented in practice at most places, but that’s a book, not a blog post. Here, my goal is to offer some reminders and suggestions for when we look at our own ratings.
I just finished putting together some materials on grading policies for a series of Magna 20-Minute Mentor programs, and I am left with several important take-aways on the powerful role of grading policies. I’m not talking here about the grades themselves, but instead the policies we choose as teachers.
Is this situation at all like what you’re experiencing? Class sizes are steadily increasing, students need more opportunities to practice critical thinking skills, and you need to keep the amount of time devoted to grading under control. That was the situation facing a group of molecular biology and biochemistry professors teaching an advanced recombinant DNA course. They designed an interesting assessment alternative that addressed what they were experiencing.
Flipped learning environments offer unique opportunities for student learning, as well as some unique challenges. By moving direct instruction from the class group space to the individual students’ learning spaces, time and space are freed up for the class as a learning community to explore the most difficult concepts of the course. Likewise, because students are individually responsible for learning the basics of new material, they gain regular experience with employing self-regulated learning strategies they would not have in an unflipped environment.
Students perform poorly in our courses for a variety of reasons. Here are some students you’ve likely encountered over the years, as well as a few ideas on the type of feedback that best helps them turn things around.