Assign graded work early in the term to alert students to problems with their learning
September 9, 2014
The first exam or major graded assignment in the term delivers a loud message to a certain number of students in a course: You are not performing well enough to succeed in this course. What can faculty do to help students who are “on the edge” pull back from the brink of disaster and succeed in the course?
- Alert students to problems early in the term with concrete feedback to give students time to make necessary corrections. Students need feedback early enough in the term to locate sources of assistance and make use of opportunities to improve (forming study groups, obtaining tutoring, increasing participation in class, consulting with the writing center or other campus support services).
- Structure the grading system for the course so that an early failure still leaves some hope for recovery. When the final grade in a course is determined by one or two major exams or projects, an early stumble might not be recoverable. When courses include multiple opportunities for graded work or when grades for later assignments are weighted more heavily than early assignments, students can realistically expect that significant improvements in their work will offset an early stumble.
- Contact students who are at risk of failing following the first graded assignment or exam. Email students who receive a D or F and request that they come to speak to you during office hours. This gesture can provide the encouragement to students who get off to a bad start but are otherwise capable, especially if you use the meeting time to direct the student to campus resources for additional help. Some instructors use their graduate teaching assistants or recruit honors students in the class to serve as mentors to students who are struggling. Both students can benefit from this experience.
- Advise students about the consequences of decisions and choices they make. Students increasingly have unrealistic expectations that they can manage a full-time job, a complex family life, and a full load of university course work. Although students must accept responsibility for decisions that impair their ability to succeed in a course, a heart-to-heart discussion with their advisor or course instructor about the impact of their choices might motivate them to choose more wisely. Discussions that occur early in the term (before withdrawal deadlines) allow students to save themselves from poor decisions and back out of unrealistic course loads or reduce other demands on their time.
Update: 09/16/14 tjf