Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Syllabus Policy

In the past, my approach to grading has been to grade individual assignments according to the standards I saw as appropriate and then to kick every student's grade up by the same amount at the end of the term as my concession to grade inflation; to me, that seemed like the most intellectually honest way to handle that issue. However, by the time the end of the semester rolled around and the students saw that yes, I did boost all of their grades, they hated me so much for being a hard grader that the classroom dynamic was really unproductive. One change that I made was simply to grade individual assignments along that higher, pre-inflated scale. My final grade distribution is the same as it ever was, but my students but we got through the semester without my students thinking I was an impossibly hard grader.

Another change that I made as part of my larger ongoing effort to get students to think that I'm nice*, apparently an important criterion in end-of-term evaluations, I allowed my freshmen to rewrite a number of their assignments as they saw fit. In the past, I've only allowed students who earned a C or lower to rewrite, but this time, I chose several assignments and told them that anyone who wanted to rewrite could do so. In a class of 16, only 3 or 4 took me up on it each time, so it wasn't a huge amount of added work. This semester, I want to formalize that policy for clarity's sake, so I'm adding it to the syllabus.

Any thoughts about the following syllabus language would be much appreciated:

A Note on Rewriting 
One of my classroom goals is for students to focus more on the content of the course than on their grades. That said, I know that earning good grades is important to many of you and that those marks play a big role in your planning for the future as you apply for study abroad, graduate school, or jobs. As such, every student is allowed to rewrite any take-home written assignment within two weeks of it being returned after discussing his or her plans for revision with me during face-to-face or online office hours. The rewrites will be graded by the end of the semester and the two grades, the original and the rewrite, will be averaged together. It is my hope that this policy will reduce any stress you might feel about your graded assignments so that you can focus more of your energies on reading, writing and discussing, and that it will encourage you to take bigger risks in your written work.**

* Because I'm just temperamentally not warm and fuzzy and bubbly in the way that undergraduates expect a thirty-year-old female professor to be.

** Updated to include a good suggestion from C.S. Ungar, which has the added benefit of helping me do something that is actively encouraged in my department, which is incentivizing students' use of and attendance at office hours:

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