It's that time of the year on campus. Classes are over, studying for and taking exams begins, seniors are getting ready for graduation, and faculty is busy grading final exams and papers to post grades in a timely fashion. As I approach my eleventh year at the university -the absolute longest time, other than self-employed, that I've ever spent at a job- I've developed a method of final presentations and portfolios for my courses. This together with my notes and observations of the students in class; their participation, attention, desire to submit drafts of written work for review and comment during the semester, use of office hours, e-mail communication attempts toward me, etc; I come to a final grade, usually with considerable accuracy.
One of the positive sides of the 'bean counting' aspect of academia and the development and use of assessment tools, is the need to develop a rubric: what are the desired qualities and aspects of graded work that would be ranked as Excellent, Very Good, Satisfactory, Fair, Poor and points in between. It's a format that allows the outspoken and engaged student whose critical writing skills demonstrate a steady improvement over the course of the semester through their weekly two-page critical papers; to have equal footing with the quiet, shy student who's written work demonstrates advanced and serious critical writing skills. It's the shy student who transforms through their poetic verse, plays and digital media projects. In my rubric, any student who has ever had me knows what a "D-" means. More on this later.
Granted, my classes are not for everybody, nor is my style of teaching. My creative classes are about process, my critical classes are about the analysis of oral traditions, drama, literature of film from the standpoint of the aspiring artist. Some students happen into my 200 level courses because they fulfill a core requirement and a friend told them that my class was easy. Of course, this friend who took my class has inclinations and interests towards poetry, music, literature, drama and/or cinema and my class was a formalized way of taking their work to another level. I refer to this student as the cowan. I get a lot of cowans in my classes. The usually spend the first three weeks in my class (if they don't drop in the first week) looking at me with an expression of, "is he serious?" From there on, their either coverts or hostages, to coin a phrase.
The B.F. Skinner- like model of the modern academy has created a false expectation in the process and objectives of education. Some cowans never quite grasp the concept of an organic learning environment and mistake flexibility for weakness.
Yesterday, I posted my final grades. As always at this time, I get hit with questions about grades received. I can say this: no reasonable inquiry or request for re-consideration has ever been refused. Often it's the difference between a "C+" and a "B-", or some piece of work that was missing or had not been considered. One guy grading 70+ final projects, there is room for error.
However, sometimes, these requests call me to question the planet from whence some of these cowans herald. Such is the case with an e-mail received this morning from a student.
This one was classic...
I answered in-line:
-"I don't understand why I got the grade I got"
"You missed 17 class meetings (out of almost 38), you didn't participate, most of the time you started packing up to leave while the lecture was still going on."
- "...I worked hard on my final presentation and portfolio."
"Your final presentation is the only reason you passed. I'm sure you worked hard on the portfolio the night before it was due. The content was pretty poor and pieces were missing."
- "... I would like you to reconsider my grade."
"By university policy, you would fail the class. By my policy, you EARNED the grade you got. Your choice."
The subsequent response was that I am unfair.
This has nothing to do with a lack of ability and everything to do with a lack of effort combined with a sense of entitlement. I BLAME THE PARENTS!!! The parents need they asses beat!!! (That's right, Mufu, I said "THEY"... ya' feel me???)
Please, Please, Please, Please, Please... PLEASE instill a sense of ACCOUNTABILITY in your kids before you send them to me or any of my colleagues world-wide!!!!