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Why do I bother?

6 April, 2006

Why do I bother?

I admit it. I am a compulsive overexplainer. My tendency towards TMI extends to my writing of syllabi and assignments. They are, in a word, wordy.

But here’s the thing …

the syllabus? It explains my expectations. It has a list of outcomes and how students will be assessed. It has (shock horror) a list of assigned readings and the dates on which they, as well as all the other assignments are due. It’s kind of neat — you can take the dates in the syllabus and transfer them to your own PDA or (if you are low-tech, like me) to your calendar!

So why is it that Amazingly Bright But Equally Clueless Student asked me today when assignment Y was due? I said, ABBEC, “it’s in the syllabus.” ABBEC said, “Oh, but I don’t have that with me, so I thought I could just ask you.” I said, “well, since we don’t meet again this week, it’s not this week — which gives you time to look at your syllabus!”

My paper assignment? Includes a detailed description of the assignment and the questions the essay needs to answer. It’s a review. The assignment sheet has outcomes listed in terms of what skills they will have mastered by doing the assignment. Stated clearly is my understanding that most students have never read a scholarly review, and instructions to go to the library (or JSTOR) and find a scholarly review from a particular journal, and to read that review first, so that they will have an idea of what their paper should look like when they are done. So why is it that a student asked me today if the assignment was to watch a film and summarize it????? “Have you read the assignment sheet all the way through?” “no” “Have you found an example of the kind of review you’re writing and looked at it?” “no”

I did not ask why we were having this conversation, but I did wonder it. When I were a lad, professor told us to write paper. Not how, no specific instructions as to what was entailed in writing a good paper in a particular field. It could be a recipe for disaster. But why bother to articulate our expectations if students seem totally unaware that the instruction sheet is actually an instruction sheet?


I’ll stop ranting and go do something useful now …

But by the way … I also tell them, orally and in writing, that most of their questions on how to do things can be answered by reading the assignment sheets and syllabus carefully.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 April, 2006 10:29 pm

    Arghh!!! This drives me crazy.When I was a beginning teacher, I’d pass out a handout explaining an assignment. Then I’d explain. And I’d get interrupted by DOZENS of questions. It took me only a few weeks to learn to give everyone 5 minutes to read the whole thing, and then to tell them that I was going to explain verbally as well, and to please hold their questions until the end, as I’d probably answer them in the course of my explanation.And sure enough, someone would STILL ask a question we’d just covered.My dean had a sneaky way around this. On the first day he’d pass out the syllabus (very lengthy) and go over it with the students. The assignment for the next class meeting? Summarize the syllabus, with all due dates, in a 2 page paper. Two things happened: first, no one could claim they didn’t know what was going on, and secondly, the slackers, faced with an assignment the first day of class, usually dropped.I started doing that. It helped. And I did announcements at the beginning of every class. AND put the syllabus and all due dates on the website.And still students would ask me about things that were In. The. Freaking. Syllabus.

  2. 7 April, 2006 2:08 am

    I go for the short syllabus and lots of in class/blackboard announcements. because they don’t read the syllabus, they don’t even keep the syllabus and writing it makes me tired. them i’m tired and they aren’t reading it and i’m thinkin, i wrote the thing you should read it, and no one is happy.short syllabus. less is not more but it is definitely not as irritating.

  3. 7 April, 2006 2:51 am

    I sometimes think that, but if I don’t have it written down somewhere, my experience is that students will often argue that “I didn’t know” when complaining about a grade. If everything is spelled out, it makes it much easier for an outside pair of eyes to see whether an assignment deserves the grade it was given (I used to have a lot of complaints — only one this year, and it was from the same type of student as before) Oddly, it’s my lazy, entitled students who complain about the grades, not the ones who are working their butts off …

  4. 7 April, 2006 4:27 pm

    I agree – overdocument! I do an extremely detailed syllabus AND blackboard – fortunately, the syllabus only needs tweaking every semester that I teach it.Last semester, I had a kid who bombed the midterm (it was the kind of lit class where you need a midterm and a final) and then after he got it back and saw the grade, he started stalking me to drop the class. I was leaving for Thanksgiving break and stopping at my office on the way to the airport to sign this kid’s drop sheet! I was happy to be rid of him – he was complaining about HAVING to drop the class because he didn’t know how much the midterm counted until after he’d RECEIVED (not earned) the grade. And we all know where that little jewel of a percentage was listed….

  5. 8 April, 2006 8:50 pm

    “Oddly, it’s my lazy, entitled students who complain about the grades, not the ones who are working their butts off …”They are putting all of their energy into complaining…

  6. 10 April, 2006 2:21 pm

    well, everything is clear in my syllabus as to how much this and that assignment count. It’s all points in my class, not percentages, so there is no confusion.still doesn’t take me more than about three pages to lay out the expectations and schedule. hmmm….I’m going to think about this more.

  7. 14 April, 2006 2:24 am

    I’m not a teacher and I’ve been out of college now close to 30 years. I liked detailed syllabi. I liked seeing in writing what the professor wanted and when, and what his/her expectations were. I remember one class I dropped after its first meeting when the prof handed out a course outline that stated “papers are to be written ANTHROPOLOGICALY, not historicaly, sociologicaly, politicaly, or psychologicaly.” He also stated that most of the books he wanted us to read could not be found in the school’s own library but at a local museum’s library. This was for the intro anthrolopogy course. (The guy also took a drag on his cigarette every other word and laughed every other-other word.) Then there was the professor who told us he couldn’t give us a recommended reading list because he didn’t know what books we’d already read! (This was a philosophy of political science class. I stayed in this one because I needed it to complete the requirements for my major.) Compare his attitude to another political science professor who gave us a 35-page list of titles she thought we might find interesting and whose content was quite far-ranging and inclusive. (This was for a seminar in ethnic politics.)I think its admirably that you prepare so much for your students. I salute you and probably would have loved taking classes with you.

  8. 14 April, 2006 2:27 am

    Please forgive the bad spelling in my preceding post… sometimes I do things too quickly.

  9. 15 April, 2006 1:16 am

    Don’t we all! Welcome, and thanks!

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