About every 4 or 5 years I get a model class. The students are actively engaged, asking and answering questions, naturally curious about the world around them, hard-working, responsible, and understanding the importance of careful and critical thinking. About every 4 or 5 years.
Usually however I am pulling my hair out. I consider the actively engaged student one who has conquered the basic skill set necessary for entering college and is taking a step forward to be what a college student should actually be. My problem is that many of my students don’t have the basic skill sets; in addition many are irresponsible and apathetic. Attendance isn’t always great. Homework isn’t always completed. And there is little acknowledgment upon their failure that their actions must change. I always ask my students to come and see me if they fail an exam. Only about 10% do.
Sometimes if there are enough actively engaged students in a class, it can rub off on other students. Sometimes students come into a classroom and they can sense there is a culture of learning, and they almost feel left out if they don’t conform. But far too often it’s the other way around; the student who shows a true interest in statistics (a course I am currently teaching) and how it can shape how they think about the world around them, is considered a nerd by the rest of the students.
Here’s my thought: I would love to require the basics from all students: attendance, homework, and extra work when they fail. Now I know you’re thinking, “Well that’s easy, just incorporate it into your syllabus, make rules and policies and assign points and grades to accommodate your desires.” And yes, I do these things and all of us probably do as well. But I don’t think students are motivated by a few points here or there for attendance, homework, or participation kinds of things. Even threats of huge penalties may not motivate them because the F comes in 16 weeks and that’s not real enough for them now.
I would like the Faculty Senate and the faculty at large to consider a possible faculty policy called something like “Required Involvement”. Here’s what I want: I would like each faculty member to have the option to communicate a set of reasonable, required expectations for students (attendance, homework, textbook reading, note-taking, etc.) If students are not fulfilling these expectations and/or if students fail an evaluation (quiz, test, paper, report, lab, etc), I want the faculty member to have the authority to require these students to get extra help (math center, writing center, tutor, small group, office hours).
Again, you’re probably thinking I already have the authority to do this by the way I assign grades. But again that final grade is so distant, I don’t think it’s a big motivator. What I do think is a big motivator is getting dropped. It’s a problem for many categories of students for a variety of reasons and gets their attention immediately. Many students have a parent paying for their class (the ones that pay their own way seem to be very hard working to me). If a student flunks a class at the end of the semester there’s a myriad of things they can blame this on. But if they get dropped because they’re not putting in an honest effort, that’s a lot more difficult to explain.
How would this work? Two things: 1. I don’t want to create a policy that all faculty are required to follow, and for the faculty that do follow it, I would like it to be flexible enough that they can define their reasonable expectations and the level of involvement they require of their students. I do think, though, that by making a policy statement about student expectations and have it be adopted by the Senate and ultimately the school, we create a culture (maybe? hopefully?) that LLCC is serious about students working hard. 2. Whatever policy we do create, I would want students to have clear, easily achieved opportunities to turn their semester around instead of being dropped, and be able to appeal any kind of threat of being dropped.
What am I envisioning? I am envisioning some students not doing so well in a class, being identified as at-risk students, and then being required (if so identified by their instructors) to get extra help with the threat of being dropped if they don’t. The extra help can be documented by signed notes from the math center, writing center, LLCC-approved tutor, LLCC-approved study group and of course if it’s attendance during an office hour, the professor would know that.
Busy work? Yes. Worth it? I think so (but I could be wrong). I truly feel that there are some students who would love to get extra help but are afraid, because they don’t know where to go, what to ask, how to get started, etc.
Imagine for a minute that this program were put into place and all students knew about it. Imagine they knew about it before the first day of class. Imagine they knew before they registered for classes. Imagine that students had an expectation at LLCC that they were going to have to work hard in all their classes. Isn’t this what we all want? Isn’t this what the property tax-payers want? It doesn’t cost a dime to dream. Will you dream with me? Help me figure out how this could work. Thanks.