Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oh, this crazy, failing system

Damn. Damndamndamndamn.
There’s really something wrong with this system.

In the fall term, I blogged about this student. She’d written the worst essay I’ve ever seen. Because I’d looked at it before and sent it back with extensive comments for revision, and she went back and really did try to rewrite it, I didn’t fail it. I marginally passed it. (‘D for effort’.) Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I did.

But what I now see is how this maybe-I-shouldn’t-pass-her-but-I-will has contributed to the problem for her.

She got 29% on her December exam. Who gets 29% on a TAKE-HOME exam?? I dunno. She did.

This term (this is a year-long course), she had to write an annotated bibliography prior to her research paper. She came in and talked to me well before the bibliography was due, looking for guidance. She is a really earnest, hard-working student. I enthusiastically approved her topic. It was a word. She was theorizing a one-word concept. Not a particularly hard word. Like, say, a pretty ordinary word that also has theoretical applications. Let’s call it “possibility”. A word like possibility. Not hard to understand the basic meaning of that word, right, and to then do a basic essay on how that word is marshalled conceptually by theorists? Well, she handed me in a bibliography that made no sense. I couldn’t tell what sense she was making of this word-concept – or whether she even understood the word. I tried to point her in the right direction, asking her to clarify her use of “possibility” and offering a host of other suggestions for her project (which was also deeply flawed because she was using all sorts of resources that had no discernible connection to possibility).

Today she came to see me with a draft of the essay. Oh my god. Ohmigod. I don’t know. I am stuck in the face of such a disaster. I talked her through some things, including, again, what does the word-concept possibility mean???? But it is clear to me that this is a lost cause. She has such a deep lack of understanding of the most basic material, of the most basic words – which means, as I noted before, that the whole course has gone over her head – that nothing I can do or say at this point is really going to help.

So what the hell? How did she get into university? Or, how has she not been identified as learning-disabled (which I can only guess is what the problem is)? How does she continue to make it through and make it through and make it through, so that I am the one, in the end, who is going to shut down the possibility of her getting an Honours degree. (If she doesn’t get at least a 60 in this required course, she can’t do an Honours.) It really feels as if there is something wrong with this picture.


Dr. Crazy said...

Well, she may get by precisely because she's so hard-working and driven, and so people just can't face telling her that she really isn't understanding the material/the language/etc.

Also, has SHE told you she needs the 60 to do honours or do you know this independently, i.e., are you able to see her transcripts? I've found that students will sometimes lie about how well they're doing in other courses to try to bully me into bumping them up a bit. I'm not saying that she's certainly doing this, but it's a definite possibility.

Go to your chair. Go to your chair with her work. Put this in the hands of somebody who has the authority both to take you out of the hot-seat and to actually help this girl.

Take care - this sort of thing is not at all easy to handle.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Ouch -- and, because of FERPA rules about disability and privacy, she could have a learning disability and you couldn't know it.

If she has the work ethic, it would be a shame if a learning disability were standing in her way. Check with your chair about going to the center for students with learning disabilities about her.

One way or the other, if she isn't able to do the work in your course, she shouldn't get the grade...

Earnest English said...

I agree with Dr. Crazy. Go to the chair or whoever it is you go to there for teaching issues. It may be that if you have to fail this student, she may take it up the ladder anyway, so really you're only covering your butt. And I also don't think you should have to go this one alone, but know that you have someone in your corner whom you can speak with about this student and these issues, brainstorming the best possible options for both you and the student.

Good luck Hilaire!

psychgrad said...

I always feel for students that try very hard but continue to perform poorly.

Maybe you should be upfront with the student and say that you appreciate the effort she is putting into her assignments but that you don't feel that the product represents a strong understanding of the material.

I also agree that you should speak to the Chair.

Hilaire said...

Hey folks - thanks for the advice. I think I will go to the Chair.

Dr. Crazy - That is a really good idea about checking into her record. I don't think it would matter in this case, though, since I think it's that she needs a 60 just in this course to advance to Honours degree - not a 60 average. Actually, I'll have to check that...BUt anyway, FIPPA (Cdn privacy rules) guidelines prevent me from looking at her record, I think...Agh.

Last night the student did her presentation in the class...It was so insane. I was embarrassed for her. But mystellar students - sweet things who could feel what was going on - picked up what they could from the presentation and ran with it, starting a productive discussion. They do better than I do, in that respect - sometimes I just have no idea what to say to the kookiness...