American Government is my most frustrating class to grade, because the mistakes some students make are things they should have come in knowing, much less should know after a semester of a college course.
So it was very disheartening on grading final exams to see one student claim that the President appointed Senators, and even more so that another claimed it was Representatives who were appointed by the Prez.
And then there was question 27 of the multiple choice portion of the test, a question that not one single student came up and asked me about, even though I screwed up so that there was no right answer available for them to choose.
I don’t even want to talk about the take-home test from another class where 14 of 17 students failed to make even a vague reference to one of the two chapters the question was asking them to compare.
A recent study found that 45% of college students don’t learn critical thinking skills during their time in college. I admit it. I don’t think I managed to teach any of these students how to think critically. It’s impossible to do so if they skip class regularly and don’t bother with the assigned readings. I’ve even shown students the percentage of “F”s I’ve given in the same class over the prior two years, and it has no effect on student performance.
I’m going to spend the next couple of months doing a major revamp of some of my classes. Not just adjusting the syllabus, but radically restructuring how I’m teaching them. What I’m doing isn’t working. Maybe it never has as well as I thought, and I’m just now learning how to really recognize it. But across the board I’m hearing college profs saying students read less now, and studies show they’re studying fewer hours, not just less than my brilliant and hard-working generation (which studied less than the generation before it), but less than just ten years ago…about the time I started working.
The question is, how do I get them to read and study more without doing regular and relentless testing, which will require the kind of grading effort that will completely burn me out? They have the advantage of numbers–it’s easy to fail a couple of kids in a class, but this term in one class I’m giving an F to 21% of the students, and I persuaded one other to withdraw while he still could because he wasn’t going to pass, either. I can get away with that this term–I can’t get away with it every term.
I’m not sure what to do, but I feel like it’s crunch time for me. Either I figure out how to adapt–which doesn’t mean entertaining the students so they give me good evaluations, but means figuring out how to get this generation of students to realize a meaningful college diploma means more than writing the tuition check–or I have to find something else to do. I have a former colleague who, when he finally retired, was embittered because, he said, he couldn’t “communicate with these kids anymore.” I don’t want to be that guy. And on a personal level I’m communicating with my students pretty well still. But not in all my classrooms. Some, yes, but not in all. And that’s no damn good for anyone.