Saturday, April 19, 2008

Being a Hard Ass without Necessarily Having to be a Hard Ass

In response to the prompt:

This kind of scenario happens all the time, at least in my classes. Why students choose to ignore some component(s) of an assignment is beyond my powers of reckoning, especially when I’ve made it abundantly clear that a given assignment will not be accepted as completed unless they’ve satisfied each of them. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I still have students who ask if they need to bring two copies of a draft on peer review days, as if maybe I’ve changed my mind on the matter and simply forgotten to make an announcement to that effect. And still I am dumbfounded when I go around collecting their drafts and a handful of students who don’t have a second copy of theirs to turn in act all bewildered about it.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand: In a situation such as the prompt describes, I typically do two things. First, I remind them of the course policies as stated in the syllabus, and thus that I can exercise the option to assign a failing grade for any assignment that does not meet the stated criteria for its completion. If or when a student feels bold enough to pipe up with a slow-pitch softball lob of complaint by saying something to the effect of, “You didn’t say anything last time about needing all this stuff,” then I’m a big fan of the gospel-of-the-printed-word response: If I said it on paper and then gave you a copy of that paper (eg, syllabus, handout, etc.), I’m not required to ever say another word about it. Period. Any and all contestations beyond that are met with a firm and simple No.

Second, I collect what they do have and tell them that they have until noon the following day to submit whatever components they’ve failed to turn in or complete. If it’s not in my mailbox by then, I say, I simply won’t grade what they’ve already spent time and effort to get done, and I will thus have no choice but to exercise my stated right to assign the F. (And I won’t lie by pretending that some part of me doesn’t hope they won’t turn in the missing components. After all, having made it so abundantly clear and having given them a second chance, if they don’t get it done then I have less to grade. Maybe that makes me an asshole, I don’t know, but at least I’ll be an asshole with a little more time on my hands.) By painting it in such black-and-white terms, it’s rare that a student has failed to get done what he/she needed to get done once granted the mercy of an additional opportunity.

The underlying logic of this process is simple and obvious: it allows me to be a hard ass without necessarily having to be a hard ass. Moreover, this kind of response attempts to reaffirm the notion that the burden of responsibility for successfully completing a given assignment falls on the students so long as I am able to demonstrate that I’ve given them the information requisite for doing so. Additionally, I usually take moments such as these to remind them that the grading process is a subjective one. That is, I am not a machine and there are no Scantron writing assignments; hence, why risk putting yourself at an immediate disadvantage by giving me a less than favorable impression of what I should expect when I begin this evaluation process. Attend class, mind the criteria, ask questions, and do the work: this is a simple formula for doing well, I tell them. As for the two students who completed the assignment in its entirety, they will be rewarded according to those terms.


Charity Gibson said...

I like the way you put "a formula for doing well" by simply following the syllabus and doing the work. I think sometimes students see assignments as possibilities for failure, but they are just as much so opportunities for success. And of course now, knowing that we are Dr. Cadle's example class, also gives more insight to the wonderful concept of grace as a learning process and chance for success.

LBusby said...

I don't think your approach sounds too much like being a hard ass, unless you define being hard ass as someone who expects their students to fully read and understand the syllabus!? But, also, it seems that you continually make the requirements very clear to your class, unlike some others I've been in...