Monday, April 9, 2007

incentivizing class attendance (OR, you're gonna pay to miss class!)

As Janet says in the opening of her post, "Incentivizing class attendance," this is a discussion we had over sushi last night. A lot of sushi.

I was telling her how many of my students have mathematically eliminated themselves from passing the class, with 12 class periods remaining, purely because they failed to do the easy stuff: show up, be a warm body, make even a minimal effort at participating.

In many cases, their writing is fine. It's their "student-ness" that's lacking. You know: responsibility, follow-through, etc. Maturity, for lack of a better word. A sense of entitlement for no reason. Same old thing.

Before I go on, I should note that instructors can't drop students after the first two weeks of classes, and our institution has a policy that states we cannot grade on attendance (per se; we get around this with daily writing assignments/quizzes/etc that, for me, count for half of a percent per day (30 days, 15%)). Add in that nebulous "participation" 10% and the mere act of showing up and trying to be a student will get you anywhere from 12-25%. "Passing" in English 1A or 1B means a 75%. So...the math isn't that hard: if you screw up on the easy stuff, you damn well better get all As on everything including the final, else you aren't going to pass no matter how awesome your compositions might be.

I was lamenting the fact that my students this semester are...different...when compared to my students from last semester, in terms of their general studentish attitude towards schoolwork.

To wit, here we have the numbers of absences per class:
* Fall '06: out of 30 class sessions: 0 (7), 1 (6), 2 (3), 3 (2), 4 (2), 5 (0), 6 (1), 7 (1), 8 (1)
* Spring '07 1: out of 20 class sessions so far: 0 (0), 1 (3), 2 (5), 3 (2), 4 (3), 5 (0), 6 (4), 7 (5)
* Spring '07 2: out of 19 class sessions so far: 0 (4), 1 (7), 2 (3), 3 (1), 4 (0), 5 (2), 6 (2), 7 (2), 8 (0), 9 (1) , 10 (2)

It's not me; I'm teaching the same stuff the same way. Ok sure, some people just might not like me, and that's fine, but I've had enough profs tell me that it isn't me to be ok with it. In fact, I had a prof warn me last semester: "in the spring, 1A is rough -- it's out of sequence, people are just coming out of a semester or remediation or they put it off or the enormity of college is finally sinking in or they've failed it already. you've had success; it's not you." The same thing happens to 1B instructors in the fall; since it's out of sequence, the pool from which people are drawn is...different.

Also, this isn't just in my classes. It's everyone's classes. I even see it in my grad seminars; people just don't show up, do a half-assed job, don't think beyond the surface, wait to be told what to think. It's such a waste of a space for someone who actually wants to learn, even if they just need to learn how to learn.

Students now are so very different than when we went to school that it just makes me very sad; Janet's slightly older than I am, but we're of the same GenXy kind of age range. I hated a ton of classes (mostly those science and math ones) but I always went, I always did my work, and I still cared that someone might not think I was an appropriate member of the scholarly community at my school. It seems like very few students have that attitude these days, at least not at our school.

BUT! GO READ JANET'S POST for what we (she) came up with, and join the comments.