Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Reversal of Fortunes

The exchange is now complete: my calculus students started out as the "bad class"; now the gen-ed class has taken over that title.

Neither class was ever even half as bad as the bad class from last fall, btw.

Late in the semester, academic stress affected the two groups differently. The happy gen-ed class panicked and started to become sullen. They reverted to tactics of learned helplessness. They started to lie. At this morning's final, a student showed me an exam from earlier this semester asking, "Why are these right answers marked wrong?" By the way I had marked the paper, I knew that the answer was, "Because those right answers were not there when I graded it." Another student, midway through the exam, asked me to explain how to plug numbers into a formula with a calculator.

The calculus students, on the other hand, realized that they were in danger of getting their lowest grade in a math class ever, that I was serious about giving low grades to students who didn't meet my expectations, that I didn't know or care who they were or who their brother was or anything other than how much calculus they knew. Many of them started working. (Not working harder, just working.) For many of them, things improved. Not all made it up to where they wanted to be. But the number of students doing stupid things was strictly decreasing towards the end of the semester.

How far has the gen-ed class fallen? That will be known this afternoon, after I finish grading the final.