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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Soka University Japan - Transcend Art and Peace
Created: January 28, 2003
Latest Update: January 28, 2003

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Site Teaching Modules Talking About Learning, Teaching, And Grading

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, January 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

On Friday, January 24, 2003, Susan wrote:
hey, your email is working. i've got a "ton" of students (over 160!!) this semester. my law and social change class had 21 students on the wait list and i couldn't turn them away (it runs counter to my thoughts on "inclusion" and if students want to learn, why should we turn them away, right?) but richard is gonna kill me for doing that. oh, well...

for rols (reports of learning), i've been using grid forms (a 5-week snapshot of the 5Cs). but with this many students, i don't see doing it that way. but on the other hand, i didn't want to throw out the "baby with the bath water" quite yet. i was trying to recall what you do -- having students meet with in your office to review their journal and discuss their learning. how many times do they drop by? how do you manage your large numbers? (i know -- by getting grades in a day late!! i'm sorry. i'm tired and couldn't help myself. am just joking with you). how long do your meetings with students or groups of students take?


On Saturday, January 26, 2003, jeanne answered:

OK. this is a bummer. You're nuts for taking 160 students, but look who's talking. You're absolutely right that I do whatever works and if that's turning grades in a day late, I really could care less. But if I'd known, I probably wouldn't have done it. Let's see if I can put into words what I did last semester.

I started a grade sheet where they could look up their grades. Except they weren't really grades, and I made that clear. That means, I think they got it.They were letter to grades I judged appropriate to the transactiion we had had. Which means that hat I said counted too. This gave them a sense of how I grade. After that they were on their own to negotiate with me how many A transactions would add up to an A in the course - and that depended a lot on how substantive and extensive their study and learning appeared to be. The grade sheet I'm referring to is Learning Records. I had 168 students last semester, not counting multiple courses with me. What I did on that page was list all their names, all classes together. That helped me identify where they were taking two or more classes with me, so that I knew who owed me more time and work. If you keep the classes separate, that's hard to do, especially with these numbers.

Then I got myself a notebook, and managed to carry it with me by the end of the semester. A big one, 8 1/2 by 11, and took notes on everything I could remember about class. I didn't take notes during class. That would have made us all crazy. If you're really listening to the kids, and trying not to take class time for straight lectures, you gotta be on your toes the whole time. It sounds exhausting, but it's kind of like love - the more you give the more you get. I also invited them to send me 25 words or less e-mails to remind me of what our transaction had been about. That helped me remember for my notebook.

I also was incredibly honest with the kids. If I felt like hell, I told them so, so they didn't think it was them. If I was so tired I needed to sit, I told them so. One, who was a shaman, tried to help me by taking some of the intense energy from me, but she had to stop when the students sitting near her complained that they were falling asleep from whatever she was doing. It was actually kind of cute. What it accomplished was that we really created a backstage in which most of the kids felt free to share and to listen, even when they disagreed. The only time this didn't work was when one of my student's fiancee drowned in a sorority hazing. We had a debate about sororities, and they were noisier than I could have imagined. One of them commented at the end of class: "Well, talk about illocutionary discussions! One would think they'd never heard of the concept." True, but even Maria Pia Lara insists, as does Hal Pepinsky that the anger, especially the hidden and suppressed anger, must come out first. Greeks and hazing are a real touchy subject for our kids these days, maybe more in our environment than in yours. But they never got out of hand, never turned ugly, never resorted to name-calling, and even took turns at comforting anyone who took it personally and seemed hurt or angry. Actually I thought it was pretty good behavior for such a hot topic.

I guess what I'm trying to say, Susan, is that this was at least the kind of classroom environment I was looking for. One in which they could disagree with each other and shout a little, but would recognize quickly that such behavior is not substantively supportive, and would back down readily and respect one another. In the next class, I pointed this out to them, and told them that I thought they had conducted a pretty good first forum on sororities and hazing. We talked about the pain of not being heard and the difficulty of hearing the Other. One of the sorority girls came up after class and said "thank you for making that clear. I almost walked out, and then I thought about what this all meant, and today you put it into perspective." I need to think all this out and write it up to give our students some sense of where we're trying to go and how we might get there. I'll try. But for now, I think I'll just invite them to share in this conversation with us.

Now what did I judge by, and how did I assign grades. You're much better than I am at keeping records, so I'll bet you could keep the kind of grade sheet I used. It really worked for me, but when the arthritis became crippling, I panicked and just gave up. It didn't matter so much then because I had pretty much assigned grades before I left for the Chicago ASC meetings, and I had planned to go lightly in the last weeks, since everything kind of piles up the students then.

I insist that they write, e-mail, I can't handle all the paper. But I do that because in all these years, when they come back, they always say I wish you'd mad me write more. Not essays and term papers. But something that would have made them more comfortable with writing. No one's ever going to ask them to write a term paper after school. But they are going to have occasion to write messages and maybe letters. That requires being at ease with writing. About the only ones I don't demand that of are the older students, and I'm talking 60s and 70s.

If they'll do the dialoguing, that works. But there has to be something substantive to dialogue over. I put examples up under Writing and How to Get an A. That should help. But they'll really need to take the time to read those examples and use them. I think it helped a lot when they realized that we could take some class discussion time for their talking, and demonstrating their learning, and that it helped when several of them shared their ideas. My office last semester was positively raucous. And they liked discovering that it counted when I helped them out with theory and added to their ideas. Then they just sent me a brief e-mail reminding me of what they had talked about so I could put it on my learning records sheet.

I learned that my question, "What did you learn?" scared the hell out of most of them. No one's apparently ever offered them a blank check to write their own grades. So I started designing prompts. The best example I can give you of that is the one I put up this week on : Received a request from a law student today, to help locate information on philosophy and law. Decided it offered a good example of conceptual linking for all of you. Conceptually Linking Philosophy and Law. Now, judging on the extent of their attentiveness, and the questions they asked, I would have given them an A for that transaction. It didn't matter that I produced most of the answer. If they confirmed what I thought they were confused about, we all learned. But that A would need others in which they did more of the work. Does that make sense?

Mostly, we had a lot of fun in our discussions last semester. And they retain that. Victor Rodriguez just e-mailed me to say that he liked the article on Why the President Won't Wait on the War. He was a student two or three years ago. That's learning.

Oh, and your students should know that I added to this today, January 28, 2003.

Susan, I'm gonna finish this later online, ok?

love and peace, jeanne

On Monday, January 27, 2003, Susan wrote:

this is helpful. glad you jotted these ideas down. i have an idea of how to modify all this to fit parkside students. thanks!


On Tuesday, January 28, 2003, Susan wrote:

i was wondering if this is what i have to look forward to when i "retire."

On Tuesday, January 28, 2003, jeanne answered:

No, no, we'll have it all done by then. I'm taking a break. Whew! love and peace, jeanne

On Tuesday, Januuary 28, 2003, Susan wrote :

are you sure it will be all done before i "retire????" (can we put this up so we have documentation? Ha! Ha! Ha!) now is this what you called "transparency" then?


On Tuesday, January 28, 2003, jeanne answered:

Well, actually, yes. This is a pretty good example of transparency. Instead of pretending mysterious and esoteric knowledge that none would dare question, we are laying out the logic and theory behind our pedagogy. That permits us to see things, like my recognizing how stupid "What did you learn?" sounded. Kind of like "Where are you going ?" "Out." And being that honest and transparent, maybe one of the students will tell us, and it won't take us so long to figure out that we're scaring the hell out of them, and maybe we can teach them more effectively.


love and peace, the red queen in ti-i-ired

On Saturday, February 1, 2003, Susan wrote :

okay, i made it through the second week with the dear habermas pc workshop for all three classes. i get so impatient because the "process" of teaching students this learning/teaching approach is a time process itself. the learning/teaching module is due in all three classes on monday. but students have been communicating with me that they're "getting it" more clearly and students who've had me before have been great at helping the new students. my question of the week to you: how do you keep the number of email messages down? i'm averaging 100 emails a day. i like that students are communicating their learning to me but there should be a way to "sort/weed out" what kinds of emailings are not necessary. what do you think?

On Saturday, February 1, 2003, jeanne responded:

Need to know what they're writing about. Point out to them that you don't need to know everything they do. Grades aren't based on all their reading and learning, but on a small sample, usually derived from "tests. Instead, we are giving them the opportunity to choose transactions with us in which they control the subject of the transaction and the timing of the transaction. We then extrapolate from what they have shared with us to what the universe of what they have learned with us. Yes, I agree with you. They are "getting it." And yes, I agree it does take time. But so would it take time to learn to walk on the moon. But, wow!, what a view! I think between you, you'll all sort out a slower pace on the e-mail. This is a new realtionship and you're all testing it out. But I'd also suggest that you have a notebook like mine, that you jot down the transactions you remember, and that all of you rely on the time you spend together to conduct some of these transactions. 100 e-mail wouldn't be so bad if they said no more than remember we talked today about transactions and transparency. You could then check to see that you had recorded that transaction and send back an immediate "got it." What you don't want to do is to have every single transaction you have with students recorded. That's overkill. For my students I've suggested three recorded transactions over the semester. I think that's enough for records to show how the grades were assigned, and it also leaves them time to dialogue with you, if they need to edit their transactions for a better grade. By the way, remember the Chronicle article on relationships and school? Relationships to Encourage Education Some critical discussion of a study summarized in the Chronicle of Higer Education These transactions ARE elements of the kind of relationships that miserable article suggests are needed. But you should still cut down from 100 a day. That's a little too much transacting. Got a date with an artist, Michael Salerno, this afternoon, so Arnold and I have to go now, but will go into this more when I get home. love and peace, jeanne