End of the semester reflection

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Today I finished the final grade calculations for my two sections of Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This means that I basically double checked my grades to make sure they were accurate. Overall, I am very happy with the performance of most of my students this semester. In fact, I didn’t have anyone fail, much less get a D, as long as one student did drop, as I suggested he do during midterm. But honestly, I’ve never had a semester like this one where everyone, I feel, did a competent or better job. Sure, some students lagged and didn’t work very hard, and those were the students who received grades in the C range. But a teacher gets those students every semester. It seems it isn’t until the semester’s end that those students email you asking if you accept revisions, extra credit, or whatever in exchange for a better grade. It is the last-ditch efforts of bullying and bribery.

But I only received, so far, two emails like that. I am giving them the rest of the day to send any questions or complaints they have. Tomorrow morning I’ll officially submit my final grades.

Aside from the grading issue, I want to reflect on a number of things I noticed this semester. First, I’ll start with the not so great things I noticed this semester:

  • Higher incidences of plagiarism that I could not prove. I had a one student, for example, plagiarize from her textbook. Really. And because of this I couldn’t “prove” it with the typical google search and whatnot, but I knew it was plagiarized because of the tone and writing style. I asked her to revise it and she did and received a far better grade in her revision. Usually, plagiarism has been easy for me to point out. I can find it quickly and easily. This semester, not so much. And to be honest, I never kill myself over trying to prove this. If I can’t find the information quickly and easily, I simply ask students to rewrite the paper and explain my reasoning. They get that. I seldom have had problems with this policy
  • The cover letters for their portfolios were not the strongest I have ever seen, which was disappointing since I felt I had such a fantastic group of students this semester, but their cover letters in their portfolios were kind of bleh. Granted, some were well done and articulate. Some included fantastic examples. I could see who had been listening to me in class about these and who participated fully in the activity to better understand how to write these. But it was hard to get over the not-so-fantastic cover letters. And really, I blame the final project reflections on this as well as the final projects themselves since I noticed many students who made videos and used googlesites and googledocs did work on their projects up to the last minute. I think this explains the poor cover letters, in some cases. So, in reality, I kind of blame my final assignment for this.
  • The final assignment was up and down. There are some things I need to change about this which I explained here. And I stick by those reflections right now. I think by having the previous assignment has a concrete part of this assignment will help. I do not think them writing a rubric from scratch was useful. And I think the reflection needs to be taken out since it didn’t seem necessary and they could write the same information in their portfolio cover letters.

Though there were some things that didn’t turn out so well, quite a few things did. Here is a quick list:

  • Students seemed to have a greater appreciation for the assignments. The literary analysis I felt would be the toughest sell, but I had a few students take 320 previously and many of them commented on how they learned quite a bit from that assignment. 
  • Each class was a strong class, though for their own reasons. My 11am class was quiet, but their assignments were of high quality. While my other section didn’t have such high quality work, their participation was strong in class. In fact, they seemed to enjoy class more than the assignments. (haha)
  • The job packet went very well. I have to thank Josh for that.
  • Though the final assignment needs improvements, I think the students liked the fact they could take control of that. I know some students struggled with the openness of the assignment, so that is one of the things I will work on. And I think by completing the changes I discussed in an earlier post, this will happen. I also agree it needs a bit more structure in areas.
  • I also asked for more student feedback this semester in regards to grading peer review, group work, and in class participation and I think students appreciated this, even though it was extra work, and I learned quite a bit from their responses.

So, overall, I think the positives outweigh the challenges I had this semester.

But there are still things I plan to change, of course, and many of these can apply to my upcoming 320 class in the spring. For example, I plan to spend more time in class working on the rhetorical situation. I plan to emphasize audience over genre and work to make them realize that audience is often the reason for the genre and perhaps by doing this they will understand genre better. I also want to bring more creativity into my teaching and in class activities, and I already have a number of ideas for the first few weeks of class that I am excited about. I think as I continue this blog next semester, I’ll focus less on assignments and more on how those in-class activities go. That is my goal and hope for now, anyway.

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