Monday, April 28, 2014

Pedagogical question

How do you teach an upper-level class where half the class is getting high As and the other is getting mid to low Cs? It is to late to put it to use now, but it has happened to me this semester with my 300-level Latin American Civ class, and I haven't found a solution. The problem isn't their Spanish skills, just that the lower half does not seem prepared for the out of the box, I want you to think and not memorize, assignments I demand from them. The upper half are some of the most brilliant students I have had in a while. But the mix isn't working, and I don't know how to solve the dilemma. And yes, I am tired of suggesting them to make use of my office hours. The only student that took me up has seen amazing results, and not only her motivations but her grades have improved tremendously.

4 comments:

  1. This has happened to me every time I've attempted a particularly innovative teaching strategy. The strong students get interested and do wonderfully, the weak students don't. The mediocre students sort themselves into one of those two camps. Things I've done (with varying success) to forestall this outcome:

    --telling the students up front that the final grades tend to work out this way and suggesting specific steps they should take if they find themselves sliding into the weaker group.

    --giving, early on in the semester, an assessment that draws on the kinds of rote memorizing that the weaker students expect and are good at--only I cast it as a "gateway" assignment. E.g., "This list of key words will be crucial to your group project, so make sure you do well on the key word quiz at the end of the week." Success on a rote assignment can give weaker students confidence for taking on the "think and not memorize" challenges.

    --where feasible, walking them through some examples of student work to show what critical thinking looks like when it's written down and how you know it when you see it.

    --inviting weaker students to sign up for "group office hours," where you talk to two or three students at once about the difficulties they share in meeting the challenges of the course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I always try to do the third suggestion. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I really like your second and your last ideas, and will keep them in mind next time a situation like this arises.

      Delete
  2. At the end of this class, ask them to write a little bit about what they would recommend to someone taking the class for the first time. Collect those answers and hand them out to students the first day the next time you teach the class. They tend to believe it more when it comes from a student, I've found.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was a great advice. Sadly, it came after we had finished classes. But I will certainly remember it for next time I am in a similar situation. In the end, I guess the grade distribution wasn't too abnormal. 8 As, 3 B +, 2 B-, 2 C+, 3 C- and an F. But it was the first time ever I give an F in an upper level class. Usually, they drop before it's too late.

      Delete