Thursday, March 8, 2018

Clueless Class

So, I have just finished calculating midterm grades (they are due at 9 a.m. on the Friday before spring break for some reason), and the results confirm my impression that one of my two comp classes is the Kingdom of the Clueless. Thirteen of them, out of twenty, have a grade in the C range or lower. One of those is a classic "ghost student" who showed up to the first day of class and then disappeared, but the rest have fully earned those grades. I don't think I'm that tough. There are three students in my other section of comp with Cs, and none with anything lower. They've had the same instructions, the same activities, mostly-the-same everything. This particular section simply ignores all directions, spoken or written, and all examples.

I can understand how visible bad habits, like arriving to class late or doing the bare minimum in peer workshops, spread among a given group of students. If you see other people doing something, it becomes normalized, and you figure you might as well do it too. It's a bad dynamic from the instructor's point of view, but at least I understand how it works and where it comes from. In this group, though, all but a handful of the students seem to have become identically clueless in ways that ought to be invisible to each other. For example, one of the assignments in this class is to read, summarize, and evaluate an academic journal article in your intended major field. I've been using some variation on this assignment for over fifteen years. They see multiple examples from previous students. There are some predictable places where most students have difficulty -- no freshmen are very good at the evaluating part, and lots of them struggle with identifying main ideas and central arguments -- and the occasional one-off error (there's always that one kid who decides an alternative-medicine website is a journal article). But mostly, they sort of do what they were asked.

This semester? An amazingly high percentage of students -- but only in this one section -- seem to have interpreted this assignment to mean "Write a personal essay about why you're interested in your major." I have literally no idea how they GOT this notion.

And why is the Clueless Class always the one that meets at 11:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Is that time slot jinxed?