Anjali’s earliest work was dramatically incompetent, but as the semester has worn on, it has steadily improved. That said, most of her “improved” work has been done at home, and I haven’t ruled out the possibility that someone else is “helping” her a little more than is strictly acceptable. She’s also been chronically absent – for the last month of classes I saw her only once – and at the moment has a failing grade, due mostly to missing in-class work.
Last week, I held office hours to answer last-minute questions on their final assignments. To my surprise, Anjali showed up. She had a draft of her paper with her. It wasn’t a terrible paper, but it had some serious issues: her absences meant that she hadn’t understood a number of the requirements for the assignment. We went over some of the most important problems. Then I leaned back in my chair.
“Anjali,” I said, “It’s good that you’re coming to see me, but it would have been much more useful if you’d come ten weeks ago. You’ve been failing all semester, and there’s not a lot we can do about it now. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to pass this course.”
“But miss,” she said, “I’m on probation.”
“I see,” I said. “That’s another excellent reason that you should have started coming to see me ten weeks ago. And an excellent reason to get lots of extra help, and attend all classes, and otherwise fulfill all your responsibilities.”
“But miss, I had a very good reason for missing so much class. But I know I should have come to talk to you about that.”
“Not necessarily,” I replied. “If you had a medical reason, you should go request a medical delete. If it’s not a medical reason, then it isn’t really relevant: passing a course means you’ve learned the skills the course requires, and you haven’t been in class to learn any skills.” I handed her back her draft. “Do your best, and we’ll see what happens, but you need to be prepared for the possibility that you will fail.”
She got to her feet. “Miss, do you give any kind of make-up work? To improve my grade?”
I shook my head. “Do your best on this last assignment, but I don’t think you’re going to make it.”
So today I corrected Anjali’s final paper. It has many of the same problems that her draft had, and all the strengths. If I grade it according to my rubric, it earns between 65 and a 70 percent, depending on how flexible I am about certain criteria. This isn’t enough; she will fail the course by two or three points.
However, if I look at this paper more holistically – if I ask myself, “Is this an acceptably organized and expressed paper that shows a good understanding of the texts, a paper that might earn a good grade in another course where the assignment requirements are different?”, then the answer is “Yes.” It’s not a bad paper at all. It’s just that it has some major weaknesses, and those weaknesses lie in areas that were emphasized in the guidelines and that were dealt with at length in class, when Anjali wasn’t there.
If I fudge her assignment grade to a 75%, she’ll pass the course. Now, let me be clear: given her lack of overall effort, I don’t think she’s earned a pass, and I’m never comfortable “fudging” anything. But based on this paper alone – and assuming that it is indeed her own work, and I have no clear evidence that it’s not, especially seeing that she came to see me with it – she has the basic skills she needs to manage fine in her future courses. I could probably examine my rubric again and make a few generous tweaks so that everything adds up to the grade she needs. And when a student fails a course by two points, everyone involved is much more upset than if she failed by ten.
What’s a teacher to do?
Image by Miriam Wickett