Wednesday, October 18, 2006

That'll teach 'em!

I admit it. Sometimes, I am a bad person.

Remember those three young men who cheated on their first homework assignment? I promised them after our little episode that the next two assignments (and there are only a total of 3 in the course) would be designed to promote individual work and it would be difficult to cheat.

It took me a couple of weeks, but I came up with an assignment.

Usually, first year language classes involve assignments with lots of fill in the blank, short answer and some multiple choice.

But not this time.

This time, they got a "critical thinking assignment": Construct a portfolio on your experiences with the Spanish language and culture outside this classroom. Include written journal entries that show a critical reflection of how your experiences of this class have impacted your life. Show me how you have grown as a human being through taking this course.

I gave them a full list of instructions, but that is the basic gist of the project.

It is true that this assignment does not review basic language skills. They have a practice workbook for that, so they have lots of chances to do "drills", so to speak.

In fact, I told them, "This assignment can be done in English. Part of the point of taking a Humanities course is to develop your critical thinking skills. Activities that focus on filling in the blank don't do that. The purpose of this assignment is to show me you can think and express yourself eloquently. It is an individual assignment. Originality and creativity count. If you expect an A, you need to show me that you have paid attention to detail, thought it through in depth and dedicated yourself to the task of creating an original project. The results should speak for themselves."

I figured words like "creativity", "critical thinking skills" and "reflective journal writing" would make a few jaws drop. And it did. There are numerous students from other faculties in the course who are taking this as an option (including the 3 who cheated). Most of them will be unaccustomed to doing projects where they are marked on their critical thinking skills. But developing such skills is, after all, part of a complete university undergraduate experience.

They even have to pass in a first draft (part one) and then a final version (part two). Each part is worth marks. This will help ensure that they don't just slap something together at the very last minute.

As we say in Spanish, "No hay nada mas dulce que la venganza"... Revenge is sweet.


William said...

Muy bueno. Yo la quiero.

I am just learning the basics of spanish now because my wife is from Guatemala and I should know how to speak with her in her native language.

Too bad they can't appreciate the opportunity.

P.S. love your blog.

Downhillnut said...

Very cool. So... did their cheating result in an improvement in your teaching? Irony is sometimes sweet, too.

Sarah Elaine said...

I don't know if I'd call it an "improvement". I have been teaching for almost 14 years now and I have noticed that in the past few years I have been trying to incorporate ways for my students to learn to think more critically and relate what they learn to the world around them.

Some may call that an "improvement"... but others may not!

In any case, the Internet has made it ridiculously easy for students to cheat, so coming up with ways for them to show *original* work is getting more and more challenging!

backofpack said...

Very creative on your part Sarah! Good for you for coming up with a creative and instructive assignment.

As for your comments on my post, I've never seen Sex and the City, but I was under the impression it was about, ahem, younger women, not frumpy, older running-mad women wearing birkenstocks and running sandals. If that's the case, then it might be something I should watch!

Anvilcloud said...

The trouble is that this will be a lot more marking for you than the other type. But I commend you for trying so hard.

Misty said...

Creating the structure of an assignment that:

- keeps your promise for an individual type assignment;
- has a relevance to what you are teaching and the world at large; &
- allows students to formulate their own words, experiences & use creativity to do so

does not make you a bad person, just a brilliant teacher. Good for you!

Any student who is genuinely interested in what you have to teach will rise to the opportunity.

Sarah Elaine said...

"Bad person" in that one shouldn't revel in revenge... Bad kharma. Or something like that... :-)

zouzou said...

is it "nothing is as sweet as revenge?" because that is just more poetic eh.

craig said...

Brilliant idea. Evil. But brilliant! I think I want to teach. You make education sound so empowering.

wthenrest said...

It is evil ...I love it. I have to agree with Anvil though...sort of made more work for yourself too. Ahh !! the good teachers!!
That is why they are so burned out. They try to teach those stubborn kids something if it kills them. Good on you!

Turtle Guy said...

Bravo! ...and might I add, brilliant! Revenge aside, you may just have designed an assignment that will give you, their teacher, insight to their inner workings... how THEY think. But then, you already KNOW how they think!

...or maybe not...

Turtle Guy said...

"Bad kharma"

...some thoughts on this too, but later.

D said...

Brilliant assignment. Sarah 1 point - Cheaters 0.

Misty said...

It's a matter of perspective.

I wouldn't think about the assignment as "revenge". As a parent, I have to dish out "logical consequences" every now and then to my children's misbehaviour. I would consider this the same thing, only you are "parenting" your cheating students in providing them a valuable life lesson (in addition to academic growth).

The remaining students who did nothing to warrant the individuality of this assignment can benefit from the academic growth as well - none the wiser that it was a result of these particular students misdeeds.