Let’s play a little Jeopardy-style game. The category is “Grade Disputes, Questions, and Re-Considerations.” Here’s the answer:
A Delorean, a hot tub, a mailbox, and a phone booth
What’s the question?
“There’s one week left in the semester and I can no longer mathematically earn an A in this course – how can I get an A?”
(Bonus points if you can identify each movie referenced by the time machines above…)
Nothing can tarnish the end of a semester more than the sour taste left from dealing with grade disputes of this nature. I’m guessing this question, or some variation of it, is all too familiar to many of my colleagues. And so, as we embark on another semester, I’m suggesting that we spend some time up front addressing the underlying issue of grades so that we may enjoy the end of the semester even more. When asked on week 14 of 15 about what can be done grade-wise, there’s not much anyone can do about it, other than find a time machine (a Delorean, a hot tub, a mailbox, or a phone booth), go back to week 1, and plan one’s studying and work for the course with a better purpose to earn the desired grade.
Only one thing can be truly learned by the student in the moment they ask this question- plan ahead and plan better in the next course. So, like formative assessment, let’s see how we can help students address grade issues and goals within the course itself.
If you find yourself sometime in mid-April facing an anxious, well-meaning student who says something like, “We have only the final exam left in the class, and even if I get 100% the best I can do is get a B+ this semester. I really need an A for (fill in the blank job and/or graduate program here), so what can I do to get an A?”
First, explain to them that their only option at this point to earn an A is to find a flux capacitor (those aren’t easy to find), a Delorean (a simple web search can land you one of these), and some uranium (also difficult to come by). Then, start working on your syllabus for next semester and follow the steps above.
As an aside, I would be remiss not to point out that we do have a grade change policy on campus that prohibits grade changes due to re-evaluation of student work. Read it, bookmark it, know it, and utilize it. [Read the Stanford policy - Ed.]
What do you do to address student grade expectations early in a course? How do you focus your students on learning versus grades?
Time Machine movies:
Richard Freishtat, PhD, is Senior Consultant at the UC Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning.