High Hopes for the Semester, Part 4

Now, that was unexpected.

One of my “high maintenance” students – mentioned in the last blog installment – has been continuing to be an issue for me.  Her exam scores have averaged 30%.  She always has an excuse.  “When you gave us some example questions for review at the end of last class, I thought that was all I needed to study.”  “You tested on stuff that was in the textbook but not in your lecture.”  “I missed the exam because I sprained my ankle four days ago and forgot your email address…”  You get the idea.

She didn’t show up for the lab practical on Tuesday morning.  I thought either “she’s given up” or “I’ll find another excuse in my email”.  There was no email.  She stopped by during my 5:00 p.m. office hours and we talked about her chances in the class.  She admitted that she needs to read the textbook (not just her notes from lecture).  She is going to withdraw and try again in the spring.  I gave her some suggestions to prepare in the meantime to be more ready for the spring class.  She actually appeared to take the suggestions to heart and asked questions about finding a tutor in the meantime to help her review the prerequisite material.  She left my office appearing fairly upbeat.

Wow, I did not expect that kind of personal ownership and maturity.  I could be cynical and tell myself that she was bluffing me and won’t change.  But no, I’m going with “I think she’s made an important turning point and wish her the best.”

It’s easy to become jaded and write off some people.  I’m grateful for this student to show me that there’s still a chance for us to make a difference.  I’ve read the enthusiasm of the other HAPS bloggers about flipping and I’m encouraged.

This day is a golden “high hope” day for the semester.  I hope you’re having a “high hope” day, too.

High Hopes for the Semester, Part 3

“Can you set up the practical for me next week?  I’m just not ready for it this week.”

Come a little closer and let me explain it to you.
Come a little closer and let me explain it to you.

I slowly unclench my fingers from the mouse as I read this email from a student the evening before our first lab practical of the semester.  Four weeks into the semester, it does seem about time for these kind of desperate requests.  Nonetheless, it is so hard to not be riled up by the request.  I breathe for a few moments, compose a response, delete it (too biting), breathe a little more, compose a new response (better), and send it.  The gist of my reply is “no”.  I elaborate that it would be unfair to do that for one student over all of the others.  I drop their lowest exam or lab practical, so if he bombs this, it will just be his lowest score and not affect his overall course grade.  Later that evening, I get a reply.

“Okay, I can see that reasoning.  I was just stressed with work and wanting to do well.  I’ll crack down on the books tonight and be as prepared for tomorrow as possible.”

Wow…maturity.  Who woulda guessed?  That kicks up my “high hopes” level for the semester by one notch.

Next student:

“I’m sorry that I haven’t completed the syllabus quiz – which was assigned the first day and due the end of the second week – but I was bedridden this past week and the internet where I live is too spotty to get email and I was called into work several times this past week and…”

Where do we begin with how wrong this is?
Not impressed with his focus.

A little background for you.  I assign the syllabus quiz – found online in a test bank – the first day of class.  The students need to get a perfect 10 out of 10 on it by the end of the second week (they can take it as many times as they want).  If they haven’t gotten the 10 by the deadline, they lose 1% of their overall course grade for each day late.

This student is now two weeks late.  I’ve reminded him in person and sent him email reminders.  He’s shown up for half of the classes, usually just long enough to take the exam and disappear before I can catch him to chat.  He has not done well in the exams but did fair in the lab practical (so, I don’t want to give up on him entirely).  Having said that, I’m not thrilled with his inability to complete a simple assignment.  If he’s having such trouble with this one assignment, what does that say about the rest of the semester?  This one drops down the “high hopes” level for the semester by one notch.  We’ll see how/if he progresses.

Next student:

“I’d like to re-enter the class.  After the first week, I had to drop when my work changed my shift schedule.  Now, I’ve got it back into check and wonder if you’ll let me back in and catch up on what I missed.”

How much can you learn in a few nights?
How much can you learn in a few nights?

Breathe.  Re-read the email.  Unclench the fingers.  Breathe.  Look at the schedule.  She attended for the first week and a half, doing fair in the chapter quizzes.  She’s been a student in two previous courses and is stable, solid “B” student usually.  She’s missed a week and a half, which includes two quizzes (which is doable as I drop the two lowest quizzes out of seventeen).  The first major exam is in a few days.  In her email, she mentions that she’s already talked to some classmates, gotten notes, downloaded my PowerPoints, and is reviewing for the exam.  I decide to take a gamble and allow her back into the class.

That was a week ago.  She took the exam and scored a high “C”, which isn’t bad considering how much she had to catch up to get there.  We have two quizzes this next week and the next exam the week after that.  We’ll see how she does.  My “high hopes” indicator is “pending” for this one so far.  Cross your fingers.

Overall, so far:

This semester is a mixed bag of stories and students.  You’ve had students like these.  You can appreciate how easy it can be to become jaded and not have hope.  By the same token, you know what it’s been like to offer hope and…either they reward your hope or they crush it.  But, that’s one of the amazing thing about being an educator.  We hope.

High Hopes for the Semester, part 1

I spent the summer traveling and thinking about new ideas for my courses or updates or changes to current ideas for my courses.  It was a time of great hope and great promise.

The first week of classes was a mixture of ups and downs.

We're so excited to be in your class!
We’re so excited to be in your class!

One “up” is an online exam for the prerequisite material.  We’re fortunate at my college to have a prerequisite course (BIO 181 Cell Biology) for BIO 201 Human Anatomy & Physiology I.  It weeds out most of the students who aren’t ready for a 200-level college science course.  It prepares the rest by teaching them skills and concepts to help them better prepare for A&P.  Last year, I had the idea that, since chemistry/cell/genetics were already covered in the pre-req course, I wouldn’t need to lecture on those chapters and instead have the students take an online exam over those chapters during the first week of class.  It was a rough week with technology issues, test bank issues, student frustrations, and my own adapting to these changes.  This semester looks better.  I have resources for students to aid them in reviewing the pre-req chapters in preparation for the exam.  I (try to) explain as clearly as possible in the first week what is expected in this exam and when the deadline is (Sunday midnight).  I added a new detail this time; you need to take the quiz online once before Friday noon (you get three attempts at the test bank) or you will be dropped from the roster with a full refund for the course.

Oh, woe is me.
Oh, woe is me.

The “down” was the discovery of 5 students (out of 105 in five different sections) who hadn’t even attempted the exam by Friday noon.  Once they found out that I wasn’t bluffing, each contacted me with excuses and begging for a second chance.  I let each one back into the course but emphasized what is expected of them throughout the semester.  I’m collecting data on how effective this project will be and will be happy to share it.  In the meantime, I’m watching the website for glitches, questions, and feedback.

This may sound like a harsh strategy, but I’m hoping that this will set the bar early on and help prepare the students more quickly early on.  It also frees up course time to cover material specific to A&P itself.  We’ll see if this works.