When Not Reading Is A Good Thing . . . And When It’s Bad

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter — this is the last full week of classes this semester. While doing some preliminary grade calculations, I noticed something odd.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I often structure my courses around reading responses. In my undergraduate courses this semester, my syllabi stated that 1) students had to submit a certain number of responses, but if any of these responses did not earn full marks, they could 2) submit additional responses to earn the maximum amount allowed for that portion of their final grade. For example, if reading responses accounted for thirty percent of the final grade, and fifteen responses were required, students could continue to submit responses after their fifteenth in the hopes of earning that full thirty percent. I said nothing in my syllabi about “the more you turn in over and above the required number, the more extra credit you can earn.”

Yet approximately a third of my students continued to submit reading responses after they had earned the maximum amount allowed — they were reading and writing even though doing so had no effect on their grade. It’s possible that some were doing this because they were so excited by the assignments, but I doubt it. Probably most, if not all, just misinterpreted the syllabus in a way that (at least in theory) benefited them in the long run.

I’ll offer up my darling and beautiful wife’s experience as a counter-example. She is also an academic, and her courses are also writing-centered. For one course, she built an extensive set of rubrics on the course’s website; a rubric was in plain view just below the directions for each assignment. Rubrics were also visible when students submitted assignments. Nothing to click on to open a pop-up window; the rubrics were right there, smack in the middle of the webpage.

In an end of the semester evaluation, she asked the class if they found the rubrics useful. According to what students wrote on the evaluation forms, not a single one of them had read the rubrics.

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