Monday, September 10, 2012

Student Anxiety

It seems to be running high in my lower division classes.  Holy cow.

I must have answered six times today that yes, if something is on the syllabus for Wednesday, that means it should be ready to go by the time you walk into class on Wednesday.  If it's a written assignment, it should be ready to turn in.  If it's a play, it should be read.  And so on.

And yes, that means the whole play.

If you're a lit faculty type, you're thinking, wait, they won't have read a play until Wednesday, and they've already had a week of classes?  I know!  And still, somehow, it's shocking that they need to read a whole play!

(We've been doing a performance project and also read a chapter of Russ McDonald's beyond wonderful companion to Shakespeare.  He really met a need with that text.  Do other people love it as much as I do?)

When I look at my colleague's class outlines, timelines, calendars, whatever, they all seem to show something on a given date, and we all seem to think that means that students should have that done for class on the given date.  But students must be learning something else somewhere else?

The only place I've seen it done differently is when I go to the Gathering for Incompetent Teaching place on campus, and the people who've never actually taught pass out "sample" calendars that have days for when students "should" do the work.  [Seriously, if you have a Tuesday Thursday class, do you REALLY think you get to mandate that the work gets done on Friday and not on Tuesday morning at 2am?]

But maybe high school teachers organize their calendars that way to help students manage time?

It wouldn't be so noticable if I didn't basically get the same question repeated several times about the calendar.  I try not to be snotty (really, I know it's hard to believe, but I do), but there's a point where I want to ask if they realize they're asking the same question that the person in the room with them asked within their hearing barely a minute ago.

All of my classes have now had an opportunity to turn in a small assignment (it's one of a group, so they can choose to turn in which ones they want, so no single one must be done so long as they do a certain number in total).  


  1. Anonymous2:52 PM

    So, I graduated from high school 12 years ago, so my perspective might not be completely valid to today's undergrad, but I do somewhat remember syllabi in high school that listed assignments on the day they were assigned, not the day they were due (so Wednesday listed Wednesday night's homework)

  2. Patty3:37 PM

    Next time I teach and get that question, I'm going to ask what else it could mean... I also tell them that they may often need to read the assignment more than once..

  3. I always get those questions from my first year students -- I know that they didn't see syllabi like that in high school. If even one student asks the question in class or sends me an email then I send out an email explaining it to ALL of the students. That saves me from having to answer a whole batch of anxious emails.

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  5. I certainly got calendars that were little more than lists of dates and titles of works to be read/discussed, and coped just fine. However, I spent some time looking at literature colleagues' syllabi this summer (because I'm teaching in the major for the first time in a long time; most of my load is comp.), and I was surprised at how sparse, and sometimes how hard to interpret, they seemed in contrast to my own and my colleagues' comp syllabi, which tend to contain a lot of carefully-thought-out scaffolding, and always, at the very least, contain explicit "do this before this class" instructions.

    I started off my teaching career with calendars that had table cell per class meeting, with activities listed first, and preparation for the class listed underneath. That didn't work so well (the students didn't look ahead), so I then switched to the homework-listed-after-the-preceding-class-activities model, and then to a system where there are separate cells headed "before class on [date]" and "in class on [date]." Hybrid and online classes are similar, except for some(or all) days there are activities to complete online, with no corresponding class meeting.

    It's a bit more of a pain to set up, and a bit repetitive, but it seems to work. Of course now the powers in charge of assessment want even more (what course goals are you addressing with each assignment/in class activity? This is supposedly useful for the students as well, but I have my doubts). And no, I'd never tell students which work to do when; the furthest I'll go is to set biweekly deadlines, especially for online work, in classes that meet face to face once a week (or not at all). For our students, many of whom have complex lives/schedules outside of school, that pattern seems to allow the right balance of structure and flexibility; it might be different at different schools.

    In addition to assessment, questionable pedagogical "advice," and what seems like the increasing tendency of students to attend class only periodically, but nevertheless to be kept fully informed, I'd guess that the advent of word processing has something to do with lengthening calendars/syllabi. They're just easier to create.