What’s the more important skill?

I was updating grades today and happened to look at my class averages for the marking period, something I very rarely do unless someone questions me about it.  I teach 6 sections of chemistry and my averages range from 88 to 95.  Then I was sad.  Not sad because I felt they were too low, but sad because it forced me to second guess every class policy.  Specifically here is what is under attack:

  1. If a student fails any assignment, they have the opportunity to retake it.  We go over the material they got wrong and then they take an alternative version of the assessment.
  2. The students are allowed to ask me to check their HW before submitting it for a grade.  Any mistakes I find can be corrected, allowing them to correct misconceptions and misunderstandings before major assessments.
  3. Students can use any resource they want to solve a problem on an assignment (except Tests) including other students, as long as that other student explains how to do the problem completely not just what the answer is.
  4. There is no memorization.  Students may use any reference sheet they want on all assessments.
  5. No points will be taken off for handing an assignment in late.  Period.  No questions asked.
  6. Students may choose when to turn in assignments.  If they need an additional day or two of studying before taking a test, they can have it as long as they complete all required assignments by the end of the marking period.
Am I doing a disservice to my students by not being harsher?  Am I preparing them for the “real-world” with these policies?
Last week, a former students asked if he could use my room during lunch to help people from his Pre-Calc class on their HW.  While he was explaining some concept (I couldn’t tell you what it was as it all sounded like Chinese to me), the female student turned to him and asked how he understood the material so well when no one else in the class understood a word the teacher was saying.  My former student turned to her and said “If there is anything I don’t understand from class, I just look it up on the Internet and watch some instructional videos from YouTube.”  I taught him that!!
So what’s the more important skill?
Is it more important that I put pressure on my students to get the work done fast or give them freedom so they can get it done right?
Is it more important that memorize every fact from the curriculum or that they know how to find the answers if they get stuck?
Is it more important for them to be punished for not understanding something as fast as others or reward them for making the extra effort to learn it to the same degree?
I am afraid my colleagues are going to find out about my class averages and there is going to be trouble.  So, dear readers, please help me figure this out.
Am I doing what’s in the best interest of my students?
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2 thoughts on “What’s the more important skill?

  1. Crystal Kirch

    I feel like I have been coming to the same crossroads and transition that you are and have many of the same questions. This is happening especially now, as grades are due Friday and I have about about 10 of my 100 Math Analysis students who simply “ran out of time”. So, they will receive an F for the semester on their transcript because they learned a little slower and (due to many reasons, one of them being lack of motivation and focus, so they are a little to blame) now they will be “punished” for it. So, was it right for me to allow them to work on what I called “independent contract”, hoping they would finally catch up by the end (they did have a 3 week winter break in which to work when the other students had nothing new assigned)?

    My opinion is that I'd rather the students learn something well than just glaze over it to get a grade and move on, cramming their way through life. Besides the 10 F's I have, almost all of the rest of my grades are A's and B's, with maybe 15 C's total- the best grades I've ever had. I'm a pretty tough grader, but I do allow my students to retake everything, turn things in late w/ no deduction, etc – everything you mentioned in your list. I really feel like my students learned well and grew as students/learners tremendously. If I would have just said “one chance, if you didn't pass then oh well just move on”, I don't feel that would have happened.

    I think your three questions posed at the end really answer your concerns:

    Is it more important that I put pressure on my students to get the work done fast or give them freedom so they can get it done right?
    Is it more important that memorize every fact from the curriculum or that they know how to find the answers if they get stuck?
    Is it more important for them to be punished for not understanding something as fast as others or reward them for making the extra effort to learn it to the same degree?

    I would choose the second option for all of these questions. If that is your philosophy as well, then I think you are right on!

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  2. Marc Seigel

    Crystal,
    The only F's I give are to students who don't do any work. If they won't help themselves with all of the opportunities I give them, there is nothing I can do to save them. I hate punishing kids for just being kids. They will learn eventually what the right method is. Today I stayed after school for a student to take a test (that's right, Friday afternoon), even though she should have taken it 8 days ago according to the assignment chart. I graded her test on the spot and she got a 93. She apologized profusely for asking me to stay on a Friday. I looked at her and said, “I shouldn't have allowed this, but I knew asking you to come in at 6:30 in the morning to do this test or forcing you to do it when everyone else did was not what you really needed it. So I am here when you needed me to be.”

    As my philosophy of education has morphed over the last few years of using the Flipped Classroom, I see how much school policies are not in the best interest of students. Things we really need to start thinking about changing.

    Thanks for the great comment!

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