Students, reflection, grades, and the big picture

I have learnt a lot through teaching at a university (five years this year). One of the biggest lessons is that unless marks are attached to something, students will not care about it. As a teacher, this breaks my heart but I am nowhere close to being surprised by this fact, as their entrance into university is based on grades, and success is measured by marks every day until you step up onto the stage at graduation, we have really created this problem ourselves.

Because I love doing easy things (not), my teaching enhancement grant for this year is focused on elite student collaboration and changing attitudes towards formal assessment. Four weeks into the semester where reflections were not assessable, I was getting less than 50% completion rate, which I was not impressed with. I took the problem to my students – their solution? Treat the reflections as a class ‘ticket’ – to come to class, they have to have done their reflections (and so I also promised there would be cupcakes at class so they wouldn’t want to miss it!). Student-designed curriculum is the main tool I wanted to use to change attitudes towards formative assessment, so I agreed – and with 35 minutes until submission closes I have about 70% submitted, so I guess it does work.

But how will it affect the students who don’t complete it and will be refused participation in class? I am worried I will lose those students – but I did have an individual chat with all the students in class last week, and all I asked for was a maximum of 30 minutes spent on the reflection – they just needed to do something. As I am writing this, I have become more comfortable in sticking by what I said, because if they can’t honestly find half an hour in the week to write something, they don’t deserve to participate in class when all their peers have made the effort.

The underlying problem is that I think these students do not grasp the ‘big picture’ very well. And so I have eight more weeks to change that.

2 thoughts on “Students, reflection, grades, and the big picture

  1. JB West says:

    Your post brings up so much of the angst I felt as a university professor. I wish I could offer you an answer. Like your students, there were times I preferred to look at the small successes, i.e. 30 minute chat with student, rather than frustrate myself by trying to focus on the big picture. Your students are lucky to have you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebbbphd says:

      JB West I agree – I think aiming for reflective writing is on the high end for skills required: reflection comes in many forms (like those 30 minute chats) that I have to be ok with those sometimes!

      Liked by 1 person

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