Thursday, July 30, 2009

How not to get student complaints...

I realized recently that I rarely have complaints / grade challenges from students. On occasion I do make a mistake-- and occasionally I'll have a student ask me to review or reconsider a grade, but it's been years since a grade complaint made it to my Dean's office.

I think I know a few reasons why...

I'm very clear about their grades, expectations and what's due. This includes using a grading matrix that is very simple and justifies the grade. I also write the next assignment on the board every class period. I know the little dears won't keep up with the syllabus -- and they often don't arrive on time, so that way they have no excuses. You can't say you didn't know what was expected if it's written on the board at the front of the room EVERY FRIGGING CLASS.

I tell them what I expect and I grade accordingly. Students complain when they're surprised -- I spend a lot of time (perhaps too much) in class making sure my expectations are clear.

I provide a way for them to know where they stand in the class before the last assignment. This lets me clear up any clerical errors I might make (and I do make them), and get stuff in before it's too late. It also prevents the surprise D. They know at least a couple of weeks before I enter it that they're heading to D-land...

I have a minimal number of standards/expectations, but I hold to them. I think I could raise my standards/expectations for writing a bit, at least for Bioethics which is a smaller course.

I have a limited number of 'mulligan' opportunities. This gives students a chance for a do-over -- without becoming a huge burden on me. I want them to demonstrate their abilities, but they also have to -- at some point -- be able to deliver. The combination is important because it allows a student to learn what they aren't understanding about an assignment/topic and then makes them actually do it. The limits are an important part of the 'do it' phase, as some students won't learn until they have to.

I'm also pretty transparent in terms of grading and my own experience / duties as an instructor. So I'll tell them when I expect to get something done -- but, also if it doesn't look likely for a while... if I have a huge stack of papers and another class needs theirs back first, generally classes understand this. Their anxiety comes when a professor promises a specific date and then doesn't deliver. When they realize the time-management game that is being a CC prof, it helps them see and appreciate both the effort that goes into giving a thoughtful grade and helps them understand the time line necessary for giving that grade.

Being transparent about my own time management challenges helps to explain my reason for delay on grading late papers. I tell them that I have a specific time period set aside for grading their papers. When papers miss that time period, the students can't expect immediate feedback... they need to wait for the time period I have reserved for 'misc, grading', which is usually at the end of the semester.

So -- what do you do to make your student relationships easier to deal with???

6 comments:

rented life said...

Ok, I've got one for you. What about student who believe that because you are nice and funny (I AM funny!) That I must be an easy grader--or worse, because the other favorite professors are easy graders, they expect me to be. How do I combat that? I don't work at the place now, but for awhile it was a big problem. Why they feel a prof who is nice can't also expect a lot is beyond me.

fireweedroots said...

I teach Gr 7-9 so my challenges are different from yours, but I dare say my way of avoiding complaints from my students are vary similar to yours. Clear and concise instructions, reminders of due dates on the whiteboard, I let them know what I have to deal with aside from their assignments and papers - and I try to be a fair as possible.
The few times I've had students complain, it's been their projection of own failures onto the nearest person - the teacher in a particular subject.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I tend to be kind of funny/sarcastic and a bit casual, so I end up with the assumption that I'm a correspondingly easy grader.... which, I probably am, kind of.

I realized a while back that being a really easy grader isn't to anybody's advantage. Students leave my course with an inflated sense of their own abilities and I end up having to deal with the points fishing.

I also realized that 'easy' and 'hard' grader correspond to whether or not I've affirmed or denied the student's own image of themselves as a student -- especially in relation to how much work they think they've put into learning whatever you are grading.

VirtualProf said...

You covered it nicely :-) It's a bit different teaching online because they have to be more responsible about knowing due dates and such. To that end, I post a lot of announcements and send a lot of class email reminders (and that's over and above the course calendar and weekly discussions and assignments). I state my expectations of them right up front and I tell them what I will and will not do during the class :-) I also provide them with a webpage where I've posted comments from my students from the past ten years.

I think I scare them at first because I tell them I'm a tough grader and they will work hard in my class. Then they read what former students have said and they know I'm there for them every step of the way so they feel better about it all at the beginning.

Lisa said...

I do many of the same things you do (and I imagine in a similar style to yours); however, I also justify why we do certain assignments. My course is jammed chock full of assignments. It's action-packed, with major assignments due at least every other week (if not more often). Students often blanche at the amount of work. I've found that by explaining why we do certain assignments, particularly when they serve specific assessment objectives and cannot be avoided, I get less resistance -- or at least I become less evil. I have found that giving the logic behind the course design has become some of the most important transparency in my course.

I'm curious about how you handle mulligans in a way that doesn't create more work for you, though. I can barely keep up with all of the grading now. I give draft/revision opportunities, but what else do you do? I struggle with how to give more opportunities, so I'd appreciate it if you would elaborate.

Thanks!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

On the mulligan question...

I only permit students with low Cs and lower to do rewrites... because I limit the revision grade to a C+. This cuts them down quite a bit.. Also, I require rewrites to have the original work attached, so I look for the changes and the grading is very fast.

For logic, it's a bit more work -- but, it's also the case that the process for scheduling a re-take at the testing center is pretty icky. The fact that they can only re-take one exam -- and they can't re-take the last one, means that they tend to "save" their re-take until they don't need it anymore...