Tuesday, November 28, 2017

“I’m Worried About My Grade.” How to Pre-empt the End of Semester Panic

By Julie M. Phelps, Contributing Editor, Valencia College

As the end of the semester nears, educators brace for the inevitable student questions about their final grades. If you are anything like me, this can be distracting from my goal of the class: to teach mathematics and make a difference in student lives. Sometimes I find myself dreading the last couple weeks because many students are stressed and solely focused on the final grade, not on learning ways to utilize mathematics in their major.

This year I decided to try something new and pre-empt student questions about their grades by having them reflect on their class work and engagement. To do so, I showed a YouTube video called “I am worried about my grade” to my College Algebra students at the beginning of the semester (just before the first test). While very basic, the video goes over the many ways we educators evaluate student performance, and how we make time for students to approach us outside of class.

After showing the video, I asked the student to reflect on it and write a brief essay about what they saw in the video. Here are the themes from their essays that you can use to set course expectations early in the semester (and pre-empt the end of semester panic):

1. I need to be a responsible college student/adult.
  • Ask for help/ask questions/make sure I understand/go to tutoring. 
  • Always try to improve your work/use the resources. 
  • Turn in assignments on time/don’t procrastinate. 
  • Come to class/participate. 
  • Passing the class is up to the student. 
  • Take your education seriously/have good work ethic/don’t be lazy/take the initiative/have a good attitude. 
  • Learn from your mistakes. 
  • Manage your time. 
  • Taking this class is not about a grade but about learning mathematics.
2. There are plenty of opportunities to get help.
  • Go to office hours.
  • When the professor takes time to be flexible within your schedule, make sure to show up.
  • Go to tutoring.
3. The professor is there to help!
  • Establish a connection with the professor.
  • "Professors have a lot of students, so if they offer to help...accept it!"

Three notable quotes from student essays on being responsible and engaged students:
  • “OMG… I’m the bear… you’re talking directly to me aren’t you? Don’t drop me… I get it! I need to make a schedule, study, and ask for help immediately. Thanks for the wake-up call.”
  • “By showing me this example, Dr. Phelps showed me that grades aren’t given, they’re earned. After realizing this, I’m going to utilize every resource that is available to me to show that I have the potential to get passing grade and higher, and that I have the capacity to be good at math and enjoy the work that I do in the class and in the other math classes.”
  • “The video that we watched in class shows in a very droll way a conversation between a student and a teacher. I identify his [the students’] attitude as a student from high school or a middle school, since they only want to pass the year, not to learn things for the future, they can’t see the utility of their learning.”
Because of this activity, I am now able to focus on what the end-of-term should be about: teaching mathematics for long-term use and retention. At the end of the semester, we educators only have a few more classes to make an impact on our students, and our students only have a few more class meetings to get the most out of the semester-long experience. I encourage you to have this conversation with your students before the end of the semester so everyone can have productive class time.

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