Positive Psychology

Young Frankenstein ArcingA brief post on a late-in-the-semester psychological technique that seems to be beneficial for both students and myself:

As I have written previously, I no longer focus on generating a normal distribution curve when assessing student performance. I grade on a 1,000 point scale, with an A equating to at least a total of 950 points earned during the semester. I include a large number of assignments that in total are worth about 1,100 points. Individually the vast majority of these assignments don’t contribute much to students’ final grades but they give students many opportunities to practice. They also provide students with tangible rewards for frequently engaging with the course material over a long period of time, instead of sporadically cramming for occasional tests or research papers.

Typically this system results in a large number of diligent students earning enough points for a solid grade before the semester ends, and earlier in the week I decided to send the following email to these students in one of the courses that I’m teaching now:

“I see that you have already earned X points in course Y. This equates to a final grade of [A-, B+, B, B-], which is an excellent grade in this course. You can take things easy from this point forward if you like, or continue to submit assignments as scheduled to improve your performance even further.”

Within a few minutes of sending the email, I received a half dozen excited and grateful responses.

Students appreciated my acknowledgement of their achievements, which makes them feel better about me, the course, and its topic. And even though some students will invariably reduce the amount of work they are doing in the course after receiving this acknowledgement, they will be less likely to feel anxious that they are harming themselves by doing so, and I will have less grading to do in the final weeks of the semester.