Monday, April 14, 2008

Teaching stuff

A few people wanted to hear about some of the assignments that worked for me this year, mentioned in the last post. So I thought I'd post about them here...

I did this in every one of my classes this year. The students had five days of grace spread across the entire course - i.e. across up to four assignments - and not five days per assignment. I would just note the days used in a column on my grade spreadsheet; I didn't find it too onerous, believe it or not. Here were the instructions in my syllabi:

Assignment Submission Policy: All assignments must be submitted in hard copy. If you must hand in your assignments late, do so according to the following policy:

1. I strongly encourage you to submit work on time.

2. If you absolutely must hand in an assignment late, you have five days’ grace for late assignments over the course of the term, though you should only use it in the case of an emergency.
3. You can use your 5 days all at once, if you wish. For instance, you might get sick with strep throat just days in advance of the March 12 research paper due date. You may take all 5 days then, and you will have used your grace for the term.
4. You can also spread out your five days. For example, you might take two days for the bibliography assignment and one day for the second Unit Reflection paper. You will have used three days.
5. I don’t need to hear explanations for why assignments are late.
6. Once you have used your five days, late work will be penalized at a rate of 10% per day, unless you have official documentation of a true emergency
7. If your assignment is late, you may email it to me to “date-stamp” it, but you must also hand in a hard copy.

Below is syllabus language for this, which I did in an upper-level class. (After a couple of years of being the Queen of the Critical Response at all levels, this was a switch to a new thing that worked just as well, I thought.) The only thing I will add to this in future is direction to stick to the text. Something like, "Questions should emerge directly from the text. If they speak to more general issues, it is important to provide an account of how the text led you to the question." I say this because sometimes the students would just write incredibly generalized questions on X Topic, rather than truly engaging with the specificity of texts.

I found that this assignment ended up being mini critical responses, with questions punctuating them. It was incredibly productive that way. I couldn't get over how much students wrote - they just ran with it!

At each class, you will submit two critical questions based on the readings. These should demonstrate your engagement with the materials we are covering in class. You must be in class to hand them in. An advantage of the critical question assignment is that it ensures you have questions and thoughts to contribute to discussion each day.

An example of a critical question raised by the reading might be: [Example of question]

You should find that as your theoretical vocabulary increases, you will be able to make reference, in your questions, to concepts we have been working on together.

You’ll hand in the questions to me and I will hand them back to you with a letter grade and sometimes with feedback. At the end of the course, you will hand in a “portfolio” of graded questions, which I will evaluate to come up with your global mark for this assignment.

This was for a fourth-year course. Rather than reproduce the exact language from my syllabus, since it is so incredibly specific to the course, I'll just say a few things about this. I had them hand in a proposal and bibliography about 5 weeks in advance of the due date. I asked them to identify their research questions in there. You know, standard stuff! I checked, in grading proposals, whether the way they were conceiving of the assignment was actually suitable for a literature review. Some of them, for instance, wrote proposals for standard empirical research papers, which was exactly what I didn't want. Since this was a theory course, what I was looking for was a survey of the literature in the area of their theoretical interest.

Before they wrote the actual paper, we looked at an example of a literature review in a good journal so they could see the ways lit reviews combine a comprehensive survey of the field with a strong analytical voice, and ideally address gaps and weaknesses in the literature. Most of them got it, and engaged in some sort of comparative analytical exercise. The weak ones basically handed in "essays" that were like a series of "book reports" strung together - I will be careful in future to very explicitly ixnay the "string of book reports" approach.

Sisyphus, if you'd like more explicit stuff about that assignment, feel free to email me.

Hope some of that was helpful to some of you!


Thoroughly Educated said...

Thank you! That's all helpful. I like the idea of assigning students to come up with questions rather than "responses", since the latter seems to me to invite non-germane subjective ramblings. And with the 5 grace days, I'd almost be tempted to hand out real tokens they could trade in - but there would probably be a lively counterfeit and exchange trade. Hmm.

Brigindo said...

Very helpful. Thanks!

Pantagruelle said...

This is going to be very helpful! Thanks so much!

kermitthefrog said...

You know, a lit review like the one you describe would have been so much more helpful than the "annotated bibliography" assignments I've had in a couple of grad seminars. Which were literally a series of paragraph-long book reports, not even strung together. Thanks!

medieval woman said...

Thanks for sharing these! I particularly love the critical question section!!

Mike Shapiro said...

It is really fantastic of you to share this, Hilaire. Those grace days are just inspired—the students I have met in the past few years respond remarkably well to flexible systems like this. Thank you!

Hilaire said...

Glad it was a help, everyone!

Mike - welcome. Glad you found me, because now I've found you.

What Now? said...

I love the grace period idea and may adopt that next year for my HS classes -- thank you for sharing it!