Six things that I must make clearer to my students in the future

  1. I am not grading your answer; I am grading the process by which you get the answer. Hence, a correct answer with no justification is worth little to no credit (unless it’s “state the definition of…” or a multiple choice); and an incorrect answer that’s the result of a small glitch in an otherwise OK thought process is worth a lot.
  2. The solution to a problem must communicate clearly to the intended audience without necessitating further work on the audience’s part. This means you can’t skip steps gratuitously, your English has to be clear and well-constructed, and your overall solution has to make sense.
  3. Corollary to point 2: Yes, English grammar and syntax matters, even in a math class.
  4. Deadlines are in place in order to simulate the working world and to inculcate habits of responsibility. This is why I don’t take work that’s 15 minutes late; and why if you are working in groups and the person in the group who has the writeup skips class, the whole group gets a 0. It’s not because I’m evil and like inflicting punishment on students.
  5. We use a lot of technology, and when we do this, you must expect screw-ups that are out of your control. But what is in your control is time. You must give yourself enough time when using technology to fix the problems that will inevitably arise, whether it’s an email that mysteriously doesn’t send or a bug in your Maple code that is giving you nonsensical output.
  6. Grades are information; so are my comments on your graded work. Your work gives me information on what you know. My comments give you information on where the gaps in your knowledge are. When used properly, graded work can create an inward spiral at the end of which is a very well-formed grasp of the material in your brain. When treated like points in a basketball game, grades are useless.


Filed under Education, Higher ed, Liberal arts math, Teaching

11 responses to “Six things that I must make clearer to my students in the future

  1. If you find out how to make these things clearer, please let us know. It might be a publishable result!

  2. I was thinking after I posted this about making six big banners, one for each point, and setting them up in my classrooms every day when I teach — kind of like how churches will put up banners around the sanctuary with the names of Christ or something. Make it ubiquitious for the students.

    Seriously, I think what I wrote here applies to this case as well — keep the points simple and easy to remember, almost like advertising slogans. That way you are only fighting against student apathy, not against apathy as well as the inherent difficulty of the points you are trying to get across. (And not all students are actually apathetic. More on that in another post maybe.)

  3. Hey, the church analogy has some promise. Maybe you could also work it into a sort of “Apostle’s Creed” for your class:

    I believe that Dr. Talbert is grading my thought process. The right answer is insufficient.

    I believe that leaving out steps in an answer is unacceptable.

    [and so on]

    Make them memorize it and repeat it at the beginning of class every day (right after you take up the offering).

  4. Hmm… the Talbert Shorter Catchecism?

    Q: What is the chief and highest end of graded work?
    A: To glorify my thought processes, and fully to enjoy them forever.

    On second thought, nah.

  5. I like the offering idea though.

  6. Wonderful guidelines! The first is so, so important.

    My [English] students used to get so upset with my grading. I never cared about the length of a response, only the conclusion and the process by which it was reached.

    Which is, I think, the purpose of education.

  7. All suggestions are wonderful — don’t think you should give up the idea of a catchecism. But my personal favorite is the technology one. Almost every excuse I get in my college classes has to do with technology. “WebCT wouldn’t let me submit” is a favorite. Thanks for cheering me up this morning. It easy to believe that your problems are yours alone and reaffirming to see other struggle with the same issues. Have put a link and plug for you on my blog. have a great day

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  9. English grammar and syntax MATTER. =)

  10. I was wondering when somebody would bring that up. The way I learned it, when you are lumping two ideas together and thinking of them as one, you use the singular form of the verb. E.g. “Peanut butter and jelly *is* delicious”, not “Peanut butter and jelly *are* delicious”. I am grouping “grammar” and “syntax” together similarly. Then again, I might be wrong to group them together like that.

    This isn’t one of those grammar things that I would harp on my students about!

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