Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Today's Post is Brought to You by the Letter "F"

As in "Flunk." As in "Failing." As in "Founder, Flounder, Flop and Fizzle." As in, "Somebody really Fucked up and I don't think it was me."

You know that episode of Seinfeld where George says something along the lines of, "It's not you, it's me"?

No matter how long I teach, I think I will always struggle with this: Yesterday students took midterm. Last night, I graded midterm. Today, I played around with the results - average, standard deviation, commonly missed questions, etc., And guess what? The results were, um, pretty f---ing lousy.

So now I go through my Seinfeld-esque question: Is it them? Or is it me? Was my exam too difficult? Or did they not study enough? Did I not spend enough time lecturing? Or did they spend too much time looking at the clock, wishing it was 2:30 already?

Experienced lecturers, teachers, instructors, professors, please weigh in: How do you know if/when an exam is "too difficult"? How do you know when to say (if only mentally) to your students, "It's not you, it's me"?

Mr. J. has been teaching college kids for quite some time. He says that the average score I came up with is not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, if it were any higher, I would be guilty of throwing them a nice, underhand, um, lob? Softball? I know nothing about sports, clearly. Let's be creative and add another "f" and say I would be guilty of grade inFlation.

But, they did a lot worse than they did on the first exam. A. lot. worse. Only TWO students did better on this exam than they did on the first one. In true Teacher Lady fashion, I present to you a multiple choice question of sorts. My students did poorly on this exam and that can best be explained by (check all that apply):

  • I warned them about the first exam being extremely difficult (which I did) and subsequently put the fear of gob in them and so they did fairly well. This gave them a false sense of confidence which led to less studying and thus, that loud flunking sound heard throughout the land yesterday was the result.
  • I should have warned them to study for the second exam. I did not threaten, cajole and scare the living daylights out of them, so they didn't study and this is what happens.
  • I spent too much time trying to use the classroom for application, with the expectation that they could read the text on their own. (And this raises a whole other post about textbooks: Base your lecture heavily on the text, and you get whiny evals that say, "All she did was lecture from the book - I could have done the reading on my own and just taken the exams and done just as well. I didn't need to go to class!" Try to use the book as the knowledge piece of Bloom's Taxonomy - and make students responsible for that - and use the classroom for comprehension/application and you get even whinier evals that say, "Why in the heck did I have to buy the textbook when she never lectured from it? If it weren't for the stupid exams, I never would have opened it at all." Aside: Teaching has given me a deep understanding for the phrase, "Damned if you do; damned if you don't." Much like my first marriage. But I digress.)
  • The questions were hard to understand - what with all the "GRE" words like "nocturnal" and stuff - which, by the way, is a term used in the text, which then brings me back to . . .
  • They don't read the textbook and expect to do well on the exams just by showing up and staying awake for an extended period of time.
  • Other: Write answer here.

What do I say to my students tomorrow? "Hey, gang! Y'all tanked on the exam, but don't worry - it's not you, it's me!" Sigh. Help!!

EDITED TO ADD: Don't worry, I'm currently seeing a professional regarding my ellipses addiction.

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11 Comments:

Blogger desiree said...

A) I want to see said exam and see how I do with absolutely no studying at all.

B) Kids hear sex ed and think "easy" when it isn't, hence the lack of studying on their part.

C) It is not you, and even if it were, I think the best way to approach it would be to not ever take any kind of blame stance on yourself.

D) Announce "You all did lousey on this test and I am dissapointed at the obvious lack of effort you are putting into this class. etc etc"

E) I'm not kidding about A.

November 16, 2006 2:42 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I'm not a more experienced teacher, but I can pass along what my mentors have told me.

1. If there is a particular question that they *all* missed, it's a bad question.

2. If there's a pattern to the wrong answers provided, you weren't clear enough and they learned something wrong (i.e. it's your fault.)

3. Everything else is their problem - not studying enough, not reading the book, not coming to class, etc. are all choices they, as semi-adults, make.

This advice keeps me from second-guessing myself in front of the students - I personally engage in a lot of soul-searching when they do poorly.

November 16, 2006 2:58 PM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

Oh, but I like ellipses. They're fun and mysterious, especially in the middle of sentences.

I would also like the chance to see how well I do on this test.

November 17, 2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger ricki said...

First of all: AMEN on your third bullet point, the one about how they complain if you DON'T use the textbook "enough" but complain if you base things too heavily on it. I get that all the time; you can't win.

As for dealing with "is it me or is it them?" I guess I'm lucky in that I teach several majors courses in my department so I kind of know the students going in and what they're capable of. And if one of my "known good" students does poorly on a test, I wonder about the test.

Generally - if I get at least one student scoring 85 or above, I don't worry too much about the test as a whole. If there is a question everyone missed, I figure it is a poorly-made question.

Sometimes what I do if a class really tanks on an exam is to give a (rather onerous) homework assignment to let them reclaim a small percentage of the lost points. The real gunners will go for it and will do the homework, but the slackers won't - so things work out.

Except, of course, then you have extra grading to do. Not such an issue for me because my classes average about 25, but in a mass-lecture I could see how it could be a nightmare.

Depending on the maturity of the class, you could do a post-mortem of the test - ask them to discuss how well they felt prepared going in, how well prepared they felt taking the test, ask them what they would do differently next test.

My guess - since it's a first test in a "sex" class, is that it's them. They figured it would be easy and didn't study hard enough.

November 17, 2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger The "Mind" said...

I'm with Rebecca in her first point. If there is a question, or two, that almost everyone missed, it is a bad question. At least that is what I would guess and it is the way several of my own teachers have operated.

And it is not likely to be your fault in any way, shape or form. Not based on some of the stupid stuff your students have done that you have cataloged here.

November 17, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger mex said...

That's a tuff Q.. but I think this.. you teach College... somebody has got to say.. YOU FAILED

I let too many slip by (middle school) figuring that it wouldn't be "I" who taught "them" the life lesson

But back in The Day... a college grade was a REAL grade.. and my parents gave me 4 years.. and hat was that..

they DID what THEY said..

When I took my kids to college (one made it; the smarter one didn't), the orientation for parents talked about "the five year program"

WHAT??

It's craXy... All I gotta say, is that I wuvvvvvvvvvvv
retirement and I have not regretted one second of 31 years of teaching...

I keep thinking.. 'Tomorrow, I will start "giving back" to the community... but man oh man do I love spoiling the dog.. and yea, spoiling ME too

Have a good weekend.. u deserve it.. and remember... Dont give in.. Yr ABOVE that.. ya I know... easier said than "did"

Syb

PS.. These word verifications drive me bonkers.. I don't mind when they're 4-5 letters.. but this one is about 8, or so.. all Ms, Vs.. and udder thangs my ole eyes can't discern

November 17, 2006 1:42 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

Ugh, TL, I'm having the opposite problem for the most part. I think my exams are too easy. I think the format is pretty dang generous, too, but that wasn't for me to decide.

I agree that if some people got the answer to a specific question right, it's them not you. And I bombed my second exam for quite a few classes because I did so well on the first. And? If they have 3 exams in your class, and only 2 in another- or worse, crits in art classes!- the precedence might have been on the other class.

November 17, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Oh, and just something else - I recently handed back the third exam in my class (third of four.) The first results fit a normal curve. The second test was a little skewed to the right, i.e. they all did fairly well. The third test was polarized - a lot of student did excellently, a lot did extremely poorly. It was easy to correlate the differences to choices the students themselves made: you can't MAKE them read, come to class or participate.

November 17, 2006 4:01 PM  
Blogger Silliyak said...

Off subject to MEX... I just keep hitting Publish til I get an easy one. For awhile it seemed like they got easier each time you do it, but today it waas all over the board, but just keep doing it until it's short and readable!

November 17, 2006 5:32 PM  
Blogger Just another student said...

I am not an experinced teacher, but I have graded two chem quizzes!

That said, I would love to take a crack at that test.

November 18, 2006 12:21 AM  
Blogger KC said...

Oh, have you seen http://oedb.org/library/college-basics/88-surefire-tips ? Point the students to that, and wash your hands of perpetual reminding them to study.

November 18, 2006 11:46 AM  

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