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February 2, 2013

Numbering Lines and Jumping through Hoops

by fambrojoe

Jumping Through HoopsDo you distort the grades of the students in your courses?  I recall many times as a child losing interest in learning because I did not want to (and sometimes couldn’t!) jump through the hoops that my teachers required.  I am a smart person (not bragging), but was not always a good student.  The sad fact is that too many times teachers focus on their personal desires and requirements instead of on learning.  As a teacher I have tried to learn ways to not construe my desires for student work for authentic learning by students.  I am not perfect at this, but it has become something that I believe strongly.

Often I see the these “hoops” written into rubrics by teachers.  Deductions in points for late work, deduction in points for behavior (talking in class or being out ones seat), and deductions for formatting or style.  The problem that I have with these is that when points are deducted for such things a students grade is distorted and does not accurately reflect their learning or achievement of the learning goals for the course.  Sadly, it has a dramatic effect on student motivation.  My understanding and beliefs concerning the separation of academic achievement and behavior comes primarily from my reading of Stiggins and McTighe/Wiggins.

Recently I experienced this in my first graduate course with Purdue University.  Here’s a brief summary of the story:

I am an avid Apple user and fanatic.  It’s no secret.  And, I completely expect all university professors in 2013 to allow for freedom of platform and tools in order that students can learn with their own flair and style.  I once had a professor require that I use Microsoft Powerpoint for a presentation when I felt that Prezi was a much better tool for expressing the ideas and content of my presentation.  I turned in the Microsoft Powerpoint with a single slide that had a link to the Prezi.  I am quickly finding that the flexibility and freedom students need to learn is not common practice at Purdue.  On one of the first assignments in my first course the rubric required the numbering of lines as well as numbering of pages.  Yes, you read correctly, the numbering of lines.  Something I haven’t asked students to do ever and haven’t seen in at least the past 7 years due to collaborative comments in Google Docs.  Further, it was clarified in the task requirements that Microsoft Word was needed to in order to number the lines.  Honestly, I failed to see the line numbering and Microsoft Word requirement when first looking at the task.  I then, completed the task in Google Docs, the most appropriate tool for collaborative commenting, from my perspective.  I completed the assignment , feeling as if I had learned through the process and produced a solid case study as the task required, but failed to number the pages or the lines.  In the end, the professor gave positive feedback on the overall work (the academic work) but reduced the score on the assignment by 15% due to the formatting.  Though, according to the rubric, he could have reduced the score up to 25%, you can imagine how frustrating that it is to receive a reduced score for not numbering lines.

More importantly, the issue that I take with this practice more than any other, is that now my overall grade, which is supposed to reflect my achievement of the learning goals, is skewed because there are no learning goals in the course related to formatting or line numbering.  Actually, in reading the course goals, I absolutely learned and achieved, and it was reflected in the work I submitted.  Instead  of accurately reflecting my learning of the course goals, this grade reflects my inability to number lines on an assignment in addition to my achievement of the learning goals.  This is what happens when behavior and other elements are combined into a rubric for a task that do not reflect the learning goals of the course.

It happens all over the world, every day.  Especially in university courses.  Even in colleges of education who may teach the opposite.  And it kills the motivation and learning of students.  Some hoops are inevitable, but I hope teachers around the world will leave the hoops at home, focusing on learning instead.

***Caveat***  Now, I want to conclude by saying that the professor is not a ‘bad” educator or person.  Actually, I am learning a lot through the class in spite of struggling with the new online format.  This story is just to express one experience in a wide range of experience that I will have with the professor during the course.  Additionally, it allows me to reflect over time on my experiences with Purdue University.


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