Some Helpful Advice

Some Helpful Advice about Teaching

From the beginning, you need to make some decisions about your course policies regarding attendance, homework, late assignments, quizzes, and grades. Here are some suggestions:

Attendance: You should take roll at the beginning of every class. Devise a system to mark absences and excused absences. Many instructors use "A" for absent, and "X" for excused absence, and a check-mark for those present. The English Department may provide gradebooks in which you can record this information, or you may create a spreadsheet on the computer or adopt another method of your choice. The Writing Studio for your class also has an online gradebook. Establish at the start of the semester, and make crystal clear in your policy statement, what the consequences are for (excessive) absences and apply those equally to every student. Helpful hint: it is much harder, or nearly impossible, to toughen up later in the semester regarding policies; instead, it is to easier to lighten up. But always have your policies in writing so you can point students to them and rely on them for "back up" if the need should arise.

Late Attendance Policy: Particularly in early morning classes, students will push the envelope by coming in late. You can handle this through talking to the offenders, devising a policy where more than a specific amount of minutes equals an absence, whatever. Once you have policy, make it clear on your policy statement from the start of the semester and stick to it.

Collecting Homework: You have two choices here, and both methods have their merits. First, you can collect homework and Write to Learn (WTL) activities everyday. This obviously creates work for you everyday, but it also allows you to recognize right away who is having difficulty with certain skills, whether everyone really understood the reading, and how students are succeeding at creating accurate summaries or developing support, for example. (For the first three weeks of the semester, please collect all homework so you can determine whether all of your students should remain in CO150, should enroll concurrently in a Writing Studio tutorial, or should be moved to CO130. If you have a student whose writing suggests that he or she might be at risk of failing CO150, please email Sue Russell or Stephen Reid.) On these homework assignments, you do not need to comment extensively -- just a word or two of encouragement and/or suggestions. You might put an "S" for satisfactory work or a "U" for unsatisfactory work (if a student missed the point of the assignment) at the top. You could use an "M" in your gradebook if someone didn't hand in anything. It is also effective to assign numbers to homework assignments. Many instructors count homework assignments as 5 points each. It is a good idea to discuss how the points students receive correlate to their success on the assignment. For example, 4s and 5s may demonstrate an effective (or even great!) grasp of what the assignment called for, 3s may have gotten the point but need a bit of work, and 1s and 2s may warrant a visit to your office to clarify larger concerns. At the end of the semester, you can easily tally homework points and translate them to the percentage homework is worth in the students' grades.

After the first three weeks, you may wish to use the second method, and collect homework and WTLs only randomly and periodically. This saves you having to read every single thing they commit to paper, which has its obvious advantages.

We advocate the former method, though most people use the second. We find it helps us get to know the students better earlier, allows us to foresee problems, and students trust us more if we ask them to do something and then collect it faithfully. Some students will try to get away with doing as little as possible, and those students can get left behind if you're not keeping up with their work (or lack thereof).

The compromise is to collect homework everyday at first, to get them used to being responsible for it, and give it a quick read and a sentence or two. You can relax a bit after that (especially once you've got their major papers to read!)

Late Assignments: You should also anticipate how you will handle the occasions when students fail to turn in assignments on time. To prevent the majority of these occasions from happening in the first place, be very clear that it is each student's responsibility to turn in work when it is due, regardless of the circumstances that may surround their attendance at that particular time and/or date. Remind students that you have all due dates and assignments posted on your Writing Studio site. So if an athlete has an out-of-town softball game on the same day a major paper is due, make sure she knows she needs to send her work in with a trusted classmate or email it to you before she leaves. Also, be sure due dates and expectations are clearly explained for students well in advance and are accessible to them outside of the classroom (through assignment sheets, a syllabus, or an online course management calendar). However, "life happens" and some students may have legitimate reasons for why they miss a deadline. Establish the consequences for this early in the semester (and make them explicit in your policy statement) and apply these consequences fairly to every student.

Reading Quizzes: You do not need to give these; in fact, the syllabus doesn't include any. However, you may find students stop reading after a certain point or there is a particular day when clearly everyone felt the reading "wasn't important." Feel free to provide short quizzes, announced or unannounced, but decide beforehand how they will count: will they be part of the homework percentage? will they be part of participation?

Recording Grades in General : You will need to keep track of everything you take in since, undoubtedly at the end of the semester, a student will question you when you inform them they missed "X" homework or "Y" assignment. (It helps to email students several times during the semester who have excessive absences or who have not turned in homework so that they are aware of the number of classes they have missed and know what the consequences will be. Construct a system to record not only essay grades but also homework assignments, write-to-learns, workshop days, any quizzes you might give, etc. No matter what system you devise, be sure to label the assignments, papers, homeworks, etc. clearly enough so that two months later you'll know what each label refers to.