Makeup Work: 3 Scenarios

meZaC80I have a blanket policy against end-of-term makeup work for students who have failed.  If you didn’t complete all the assignments and get the extra help you needed during the semester (and if you did, you probably passed – it is extremely difficult to fail my courses), then you need to face the consequences.

This semester, I’ve received more requests for makeup work than ever before.  It’s exhausting.  Over the last few days, in particular, I’ve grappled with three scenarios that, when I add them all together, I can’t come to a comfortable decision on.  I need your advice.

1. Student 1 is a competent writer and could easily have passed the course.  When we met at midterm, we agreed that she was in serious danger of failing if she didn’t buckle in, come to class and do the work.  Nothing changed.  She did not do the required minimum of blog writing and didn’t show up to do her oral presentation.  A few days before the deadline for her final essay, she wrote pleading for extra work, citing personal problems throughout the semester, a need to graduate etc.  Answer was a blunt “no.”  She failed the course by a few points and wrote again to plead for allowances.  Answer?  Still no.

2. Student 2 failed this course with me once before, due to both poor skills and inattention to work and deadlines.  She was always pleasant but seemed confused and tuned-out, and repeatedly expressed surprise when it was pointed out that she had not followed (very clear) instructions.  For the first half of this semester, it seemed that her approach would be exactly the same as it had been last time.  By the second half, though, she started to try to pull herself together, mostly without success.  There were glimmers of potential in some of the things she produced, but deadlines were still missed, word counts nowhere close to met, writing riddled with all manner of errors.  Again, she looked surprised when told that she had failed assignments for these reasons.  A couple of weeks before the end of classes, she asked me to tell her honestly where she stood, and I told her honestly that there was no realistic chance she would pass.  She soldiered on anyway, and handed in what amounted to a good final paper, but it wasn’t enough.  The day after her final grade was posted, I received an email from her in which she began by wishing me a “pleasant good day” and then went on to say that she couldn’t believe that I “had taken pleasure in failing her by only 3 marks” and that it was clear that I had been “determined all semester to see her fail.”  She informed me that she had thought about “taking me to the dean” but had decided instead that she would benefit from doing the course again because she “had learned nothing in my class.”  (Perhaps she hasn’t put it together that, if she wants to maintain her major, she needs to take the course for a third time WITH ME.)  She ended by wishing me blessings from God.

3. Students 1 and 2 wouldn’t really trouble me if it weren’t for Student 3.  She is a nationally ranked athlete.  Her spoken and written English are very poor, and she was spotty in her completion of assignments.  At midterm, one of her coaches wrote to me and asked me to call him.  I hesitated, but did so, after confirming his identity with the student.  Only during the conversation with him did I discover that he was not a college coach, but a private one.  He informed me at length about Student 3’s prospects, including a scholarship to a major American university contingent upon her passing all courses.  I explained that I understood the situation but was not going to GIVE the student grades she wasn’t capable of, or dedicated to, earning.  I also asked some questions to find out who at Academic Advising is responsible for monitoring her progress (a setup in our “Sports Etudes” program in which elite athletes are given some academic flexibility to accommodate their training schedules).  I suggested that in future, the coach should ask this contact person to deal with me, and should not write or call teachers directly.  Nevertheless, I received a message from the coach again yesterday, asking about Student 3’s final results.  Although she had made significant effort on some assignments, others had remained undone, and I had posted her failing grade the day before.  I didn’t reply to the coach right away, but minutes later got a panicky email from the student, asking for extra work or other ways to make up her grades.  I immediately wrote to their contact at Academic Advising, asking him to handle the situation and contact me if needed.  He has promised to do so, but I am left with the question: if her results in my course are the only thing standing between her and the next important step in her academic and athletic career, do I take that into consideration?  If I decide to be flexible, should I also be flexible for Students 1 & 2?

What would you do in any of the above situations?  Does leniency for Student 3 also require leniency for the first two students, or should the answer be a “no” across the board?  Or should I lighten up when it comes to borderline failures and allow students to do makeup work regardless?  I would be very interested to hear  your thoughts.

Image by Sigurd Decroos

Evaluation Rubrics

I’ve been asked to sit on a panel in January to discuss evaluation.  One of the topics under discussion will be the use of rubrics to evaluate student work.  I’m curious about others’ experiences with using rubrics.

I have no idea how I’d manage without rubrics.  I sometimes decide to “give myself a break” by reducing feedback on less critical evaluations to general grades and comments in a few categories (usually content, organization, expression and formatting) instead of filling out a detailed rubric with criteria and subcriteria.  I usually regret it.  A table with checkboxes for each criterion and a space for comments is the easiest, most efficient and most mathematically neutral (which is not to say actually mathematically neutral, because evaluations never are, but as close as possible) way to give students some meaningful feedback and a numerical grade.

Each sub-criterion receives a grade between 1 and 5.

  • 5/5 = excellent!
  • 1/5 = WTF?
  • 0/5 = this essay shows no evidence that you were even aware that this criterion was being evaluated, despite the fact that you had this rubric in front of you while you were writing it.

Each category is then weighted according to its importance in that particular assignment.  Major essays in post-introductory courses are usually weighted more toward content, while a first version of an essay in a remedial intro course might emphasize grammar.

These rubrics are immensely helpful when students come to ask questions (as they are all required to at least once a semester in order to revise and resubmit), and when students challenge a grade.  Just this past week, a student came to me ready to burst into tears about an oral presentation grade.  I was able to say, “Ok, there are two different ways of looking at this.  The first is, ‘I’M UPSET!!'” (I wave my arms in the air and shake my fists.  The student laughs.)  “The other is, ‘I don’t understand why I didn’t do well on this particular aspect that I got 2/5 on.’  Let’s try the second approach.”  So we talked it through, and in the end, she got it, and no adjustment to the grade was made, because frankly, the presentation, although a valiant attempt, was a structural mess.  She didn’t know what was meant by that, and now she seems to understand a bit better.

Teachers: Do you use rubrics to evaluate your students’ work?  How do you structure them?  Do they help you?  Do they help your students?

Students: Do your teachers use rubrics to evaluate your work?  What kind of rubric best helps you learn?

You will find some more thoughts on the use of rubrics here.

Image by Steve Woods

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