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Do you want an B for showing up? I sure do. Give me an A. Give me a raise. Give me a job. Give me something.

February 20, 2009

Jezebel, a site that I look at frequently has highlighted an instructor sore spot with its commentary on students expecting an “B” just for showing up, and an “A” if they “work really hard.”

This topic always annoys instructors who have at least one story to share about the student who fails to see how anything he or she does outside of class has anything to do with the grading scale.  In other words, when the student shows up for every class, he or she feels that points are deserved.  We have all had them, the students who complained about their grades because they worked so hard, or they can’t understand how they got such a poor grade on a test because they studied “so hard.”

It never ceases to amaze me how so many students actually fail just by not completing class work, by sheer lack of effort.  But the students that show up also have unrealistic expectations about the grading procedure.  Here’s what an instructor should do:

  1. Spell out the grading policy in the syllabus, because this is where you spell out expectations for your class.
  2. Take at least one part of a class section (depending on my student level, I may take a whole class) in the first half of the semester and help them figure out their grades.  For one university prep course, I also had students bring in a syllabus from their other classes and helped them figure their own grades.  You will be amazed at how many students fail to understand basic percentages and averages.
  3. Make use of Blackboard, or another digital grading site, to demonstrate what Student X would have to do to pass your course midway through the semester.  Some students only feel a sense of urgency when they realize they have to pass every assignment for the rest of the semester just to pass.
  4. Tell students at the outset of the semester what your policies are for late assignments, missed classes, and missed tests.  SET YOUR LIMITS UP FRONT.  Some students won’t actually read the syllabus as it may apply to them, and they will be “surprised” that simple attendance doesn’t always factor into an actual grade.
  5. Consider giving students a warning midway through the semester if they fall below a “C” grade.  Some schools mandate that their instructors do this.  In the education courses I taught, I made this a matter of a teaching experience, but you may find that this is something that helps students increase their work level.

I am not sure that students are always the victims of grade inflation, but their expectations certainly are not corrected soon enough in the college experience.  The only ones who can save students from these misguided notions are the teachers.

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