The line between optimism and cluelessness can be a thin one, I guess...

In the past week, I've had to have some uncomfortable conversations with students. In each case, the student is failing my class. (And we're not talking barely failing....we're talking obviously failing.) In each case, the student had no idea that s/he is failing my class.

The student had no idea! Even though:
1. I post grades for each student on our course management system.
2. I post how many points each assignment is worth, so the students can calculate points percentages.
3. I post the grade breakdown for the course, so the students can also, at any time, calculate their overall grade in the course.
4. I have been emailing each of the failing students, periodically, since it became clear that the student was failing or on the road to failure. (In one case, the emails started in Week 2 and have been continuing roughly once a week since then.)

I'm starting to wonder if students like this are hopelessly, naively optimistic, or if they really are that clueless. I mean, how could you not *know* you're failing a class? Particularly if, say, hypothetically, you've failed every single test and/or homework assignment? Or do these students know that they're failing, and just hoping that, what, I don't realize they're failing, and that I'll just pass them? Or that even though they've (hypothetically) failed everything else this term, they'll magically get a perfect score on the final? Which will earn them an A, because really, the rest of that stuff was just filler? I don't get it.

My dear students, let me spell it out for you. If you want to pass my class, you must do all of the following:
1. Attend on a regular or semi-regular basis.
2. Do the homework---on time---and hand it in---on time. For the entire class---not just the first week, not just the last week, and definitely not all at the end of the class, after the last day of class.
3. Follow the directions on the homework: i.e., answer the questions I'm asking, not the questions you hoped I would have asked, nor the questions that you know the answers to that are not the questions I asked.
4. Ditto for exams, quizzes, what have you.
5. If you get an email from me that says "come see me, because you did not do as well on that last homework/exam/quiz as I think you're capable of and let's right this ship while we still can", well, then, you'd better drop what you're doing and get to my office pronto.
6. Particularly if you've received more than one such email from me.
7. Those grades that I post? The grading breakdown (exams are worth X% of your grade, etc)? Maybe you should glance at them every once in a while, just to make sure you're on the road to passing my class.
8. When I say "There will be a question about X on the exam, and it will look something like this...": I'm not kidding. Be prepared to answer a question about X.

It's definitely that time of year, I guess.

Anyone have any clueless student stories they'd like to share?


More like this


Man. that all sounds like a lot of ... 'work'. How are they supposed to enjoy the rest of the academic experience..??

Just the tip of my 'tongue in cheek' there...


P.S. And any 'clueless stories' I might have to share would have to be about myself so . . ..

Oh I love those students as well. Especially that bit where they answer a question you didn't ask. Not even one that is remotely related to whatyou asked ;)

My second most clueless student:

1) Didn't show for any classes

2) Didn't submit any assignment work

3) Was sick on the day of the exam and then applied for a deferred exam.

4) When told that the exam was worth only 40% of the final mark and therefore, he would fail the course even if he got 100% for the exam, still insisted that he wanted to do the exam and under University regulations we had to give it to him

5) Didn't show up for the deferred exam

Now my most clueless student is a much longer story :-)

C'mon Martin, you can't leave us hanging like that. You owe it to the audience, now :)

People who are really bad at their jobs think very highly of themselves and not so highly of others. Those who are the best at their jobs doubt themselves.

You might hold up Sarah Palin as an example of how to guarantee failure.

By Ken Shabby (not verified) on 24 Nov 2008 #permalink

I once as a graduate TA handed out my exam as a "study guide". I even hinted that there was something "different and special" about this study guide and they should really look at it. Just wanted to see what happened. Had one or two more A's than usual and the rest of the distribution was the same. Placed in with other exam grade distributions you could not pick it out from other exams where the standard "gee it would be nice if you all learned this" study guide was handed out. Of course this experiment assumed you came to class and received the hand out or knew someone who did. And that you actually LOOKED at it.

During my grad school years, there was this one student who decided he wanted to add the astronomy class that counted towards the distribution requirement. Of course this required the approval of the professor in charge of the course, so he asked a random faculty member in the department where he could find the "astronomy professor." The faculty member he asked turned out to be the professor in question. It seems our anti-hero had only been to labs, not to any of the lectures, and thought that the lab TA was the professor.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 24 Nov 2008 #permalink

Worst student: Big general education lecture. In the middle of the first exam, Sonny raises his hand. I walk over, climbing over several rows' worth of people, and he complains that the graph on the exam isn't the same as the one shown in class and doesn't match any of the answers on the multi-choice exam. I say, I think you may not be remembering the graph quite right--try hard to remember your class notes. Sonny replies that the graph on the exam is wrong and makes no sense, and finishes with, "so what's the right answer?" I silently count to ten, then calmly say that I am not going to tell him that in the middle of the exam, and that one answer is right, the others are wrong, sorry kiddo. Sonny YELLS, "That's not FAIR! You can't make us get questions wrong on the test, JUST BECAUSE WE WEREN'T PAYING ATTENTION IN CLASS!" I put my head down for a minute until I could keep a straight face, then told him he'd have to take it up with my hard-boiled, ready-to-retire boss. He tried the same tactic on another TA at the next exam, only to get the same reply. At the end of the course, after grades were turned in, I got a laundry list of questions he felt were grossly unfair on various exams, including the first one. I sent him back citations from each lecture date and text chapter, then explained that if he would like to discuss this matter further with the Dean, I'd be happy to do so, as I had some questions about the basic study skills of incoming students these days.

Come now, You actually expect students to read anything You post?

One experiment:
At one point I handed out a few "useful review papers" to read between sessions. Next session I asked the (reasonably small) class if anyone read them.
Apparently everyone did.
I asked if they understood, if there was a problem.
Apparently no problems, it was crystal clear.

Two papers out of the four I handed out were in Russian.
Different alphabet.

No one noticed.

Mivadar's comment has me crying from laughing so hard.

I make it a habit to email students (and post on our course management site) a reminder of possible topics for the weekly quiz. These are sent out / posted two full days before the quiz, yet I still occasionally get a nasty note on a quiz to the tune of "thanks for the blindside."

Whatever! :)

(Pardon me for butting in; I found you through someone else's link months ago, bookmarked you as neat, and didn't come back until now because until last week I was busy with classes.)

If you don't get any responses from those students, I bet they just aren't reading their emails. I hardly ever read my school-assigned email account because the school insisted on spamming me with dozens of messages a day, almost all of which were irrelevant for me.

If your students also expect to be graded on a curve, they might just assume everyone else is doing equally awful work.

By HM Wogglebug, TE (not verified) on 22 Dec 2008 #permalink