Friday, October 15, 2004

Midterm Blues

I gave my first midterm on Monday, first test all semester (most of my classes are project-based this semester).

Man, what a lousy experience. My students did terrible. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but in a class of 50 people, around 7 or 8 people got A's and more than 20 people failed. And the F's weren't all 67 or 69. Many of them were in the 40s and 50s. And I even gave extra credit on the test, about 10-15 points worth.

So I am left wondering how they did so awful. I was speaking with a colleague in my department, and his theory was that if someone aces it (and several did), you know you taught the material and that it was possible for them to do well. And really, with double-digits getting A's, I know they are capable.

But to have a student get a 35? And this is a senior, taking a class in her major! I can't get over that.

One theory: I'm new, they didn't know what to expect (they do now).

My problem here is that I truly don't want to be a hard-ass as a professor, but I really do want them to learn and expect them to study. I even told them what was important to know for the test.

And that leaves me thinking that I must be SO boring as a teacher that they just couldn't pay attention. There are days, I am sure, when this was true, but I don't think that my ability to entertain them should be what determines their level of studying for the exams.

So now what do I do? This test is 20% of their grade. Several options:


  • Leave the grades as they are. That's what they earned, after all.
  • Curve the grades a set amount (i.e., a 10 point curve). It doesn't help the really big F's (the 30's, 40's, and 50's), but it makes it more palatable, I guess.
  • Curve the grades by a set percentage (i.e., everyone gets a 10% or 20% bump). In this option, at least it's more fair because you get an increase that takes into account your original grade.


All right -- soliciting opinions. What would you do? Keep in mind several factors: my insecurity as a teacher (I'm new and concerned that I didn't want the test to be too hard, but I also don't want to be a pushover); the fact that several people did do well (though several of them were graduate students taking a course full of primarily undergrads); the fact that I gave them a list of things that were important (it wasn't an overly specific list, but enough info to know what to focus on); the test was part multiple choice, part short answer and fill in the blank (they essentially had to list and define a lot of things we discussed in class); the fact that students openly slept in class at times and some barely took notes.

These are all things that have been running through my mind, so I am curious as to other opinions. I have to decide by Monday morning, which is when I see the class again.

10 Comments:

At 10:06 PM, Blogger chutry said...

To be honest, I probably wouldn't do anything. After all, it's only the midterm, and I'm assuming, a limited part of their grade. You might consider providing extra credit to students who ask privately (I wouldn't make this offer in front of the class) or remind students that they can discuss their grade with you.

As your colleague points out, several students did well on the exam. If you didn't have *any* A's, you might have reason to be concerned, but it sounds like you taught the material if students were willing to learn it.

 
At 10:09 PM, Blogger chutry said...

BTW, I'd do my best to make students who fall asleep in my class feel guilty about it. I make sure that they realize that everyone in the room knows they've been sleeping (and that we got a good laugh at their expense).

 
At 10:13 PM, Blogger chutry said...

One other thing, if you have class participation and other small grades, they tend to raise the overall grade. I usually only average 2-3 A's per paper, but class participation and journal assignments usually pull about 6-10 students up to an A grade by the end of teh semester. Usually.

 
At 7:13 AM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

I agree with Chuck - I'd just leave the grades as they are. It sounds like, what with the sleepers and non-note-takers, there are plenty of students who deserve what they got (in that it was through lack of effort on their part rather than any fault in your teaching). And 20% of their grade is not going to sink them beyond repair (if this were a 50% midterm you might approach it differently). This sounds like it will be a good opportunity to explain to them what they need to change in order to do well in the class.

I disagree about the extra credit, though - offer it to all of them or to none of them, it's not fair just to offer it to those who happen to ask - others would doubtless want it/deserve it just as much who won't think to ask you. You'll never have all the students take you up on it (at least, in my experience).

If this was the first test of the semester, unfamiliarity with your tests may be a big part of it. And for what it's worth, I've actually found (and had a friend in academic assistance confirm) that although students always want multiple-choice because they think it will be "easy," they actually tend to do worse on multiple choice than on other forms of testing (they simply don't read the questions carefully and grab the first suitable-looking answer). And when I've done objective testing as opposed to essay exams, the average grade is always about a full grade lower. I don't know how this test format compares to what's usually given in your department, of course.

Good luck!

 
At 2:34 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Thanks for the comments. I've been mulling it this weekend, and I was planning on doing something, but I feel a little bolder about doing nothing now. It's my nature to want to be liked, LOL, and I guess I shouldn't worry too much about that in this context.

I am still having trouble with those grades in the 30's and 40's. But like you said, Chuck, there were several A's, and a couple of them aced it, so the material was there and was taught to them.

What do you do to sleeping students? My thinking was to ignore them -- hey, if you sleep, you sleep, what do I care? -- but now I am thinking I should do something about it.

My trouble is, since I am so new and still struggling with remembering everything I need to do in class, and dealing with sleepers is just ANOTHER thing. Ya know?

Thoughts?

 
At 3:38 PM, Blogger AiE said...

It's hard when people sleep in class. As a first-year prof, I know that you are working hard to prepare for every single class and Sleepers are probably the last thing you want to deal with/worry about.

Filmmaker (my partner) is teaching a documentary theory/production class, and he has had the same almost the exact same experience on his multiple choice/short answer/fill in the blank tests. Many students earn painfully low grades, and it really makes Filmmaker confused and anxious. But, like you, many also do well. Fortunately, the documentary class includes 2 major projects (short docs), so the abysmal test scores are not, in and of themselves, going to sink those students. New Kid in the Hall may be on to something with her insights about multiple-choice tests.

As a former professor who stressed about absolutely everything her first year of teaching, I hope that you do not lose too much sleep over a few low grades. I'm sure you're doing a great job, and at a certain point students need to take responsibility for their own learning. Don't be too hard on yourself!

 
At 9:54 AM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

Yeah, it's hard to know what to do with sleepers. I tend to let them sleep since I don't think it's something students do on purpose. Although it might be worth pointing out that there was a correlation between sleeping in class and the test scores! Alternatively you can walk around the class and lecture standing directly over/in front of various sleepers, which helps wake them up, or even say to them something like, If you're going to sleep, wouldn't you rather be somewhere more comfortable? (which I admit might sound a little snotty). But this depends on classroom configuration - it's hard to do this in some lecture halls.

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Yep, lecture hall, seats in tiers going up. Also, I still rely on my notes heavily (probably don't need them, but I am nervous without them)... so walking too far from them makes me uptight!

 
At 6:48 AM, Blogger designergeek said...

I am a student and If they really wanted to make an "A" they would. Students are always complaining about how hard a teacher is or how hard the test was, when all they really need to do is open the book and take some notes. I would not give them a break. I went from almost failing out to a A student It can be done it just takes hard work. And most students are to lazy to even try. Sorry for the rant but I dont think you should worry, it should be the students who worry.

 
At 8:17 AM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Thanks, designergeek, for chiming in. It's good to get a student perspective. It's funny, over the last two days, I've had two students stop by to tell me how much they love the class -- and these are students who did well on the test (an A and a B), but who have been fairly anonymous in class. Until last week, I wouldn't have been able to tell you who they were if I saw the face or heard the name. So I am feeling better about it and think the good students will try harder. The ones who don't, they're responsible for their own actions.

 

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