Teaching as an adjunct can be a lot of fun. It is also challenging. As I have encountered a number of situations, I realize such a blog can be helpful, both to me and to others.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Non-Graded Assignments

I am learning that it does not matter what additional comments you make to students, if you tell them an assignment is not graded, many of them do not take it seriously. The first public speaking assignment I give my students is to deliver an icebreaker. This is a speech of self introduction. I tell them I do not want it to be an autobiographical outline of their life, I want it to let us know something about their personality.

This is a non-graded assignment. It is non-graded for a number of reasons. First off, I do not think it is fair to give students a graded assignment during the first week and a half of classes. I also tell them I want to let them read my critique of a non-graded speech so they know the things I look for and what I consider important.

I explain that they can use the same topic for more than one speech, so they needn’t worry about using a topic, something related to their personality, and not being able to use it on a graded speech. The speech is supposed to be one-and-a-half minutes to three-and-a-half minutes. I also tell them, and it states in my syllabus, while it is not graded per se, it does count towards the class participation grade.

I had one student deliver the speech and during his speech say, “I really did not put anytime into preparing this speech. I figured since it is not graded, I did not need to waste my time”.

I wanted to write in his critique, “I really did not put anytime into this critique. Since you felt the assignment did not warrant any thought on your part, I decided the critique did not warrant time on my part.

At least this student, and some of the others who only spoke for thirty seconds or so, completed the assignment. There are some other students that still have yet to deliver the icebreaker; three in fact, two in one class and one in another.

In my class that meets twice a week, the person who volunteered to speak first was not in attendance when the speeches were given, and also missed the next two sessions. Upon returning I was told that she was not feeling well for one of those sessions and then her daughter was not feeling well (but I did not get any call before she returned to class as my syllabus states should be done).

The second student in that class did e-mail me and call to tell me she was undergo some test at the hospital and she would be missing a few classes. Both of them returned to class on the same session and both asked to hold off one more class session before delivering the speech. Guess what? At the following session, neither student was in class.

As for my student in the class that meets once a week, she was not registered for the class until after the first two weeks went by. My guess is she probably registered for another class that was cancelled due to low enrollment and she needed to find something else to take its place. The third session she was in class and I explained the assignment, letting her know she would be speaking the following class. Again, guess what? She was not in class the following session.

Folks, just because I am not putting a grade on it, it does not mean the assignment is unimportant. Moreover, as I told them and as is stated in the syllabus, this is part of the class participation grade. 5% of class participation is based on whether or not they successfully complete the four non-graded S/U assignment. Another 5% is based on actual participation in class, during class discussions. Some students may be in for a surprise.