Emotional sink of teaching

This semester I had all assignments be “learning experiences”.  That is, the assignments were not graded in the traditional sense.  When the students turned in assignments (often self created) I provided extensive feedback for them to consider as they continue to learn.  Then, four times throughout the semester I met with each student individually to discuss what they’d learned so far and what they could continue to work on.  During these meetings I helped students become more and more adept at self-assessing.  Their final grade was self-assigned.

Why was this emotionally draining?  Well, to start, this took an unbelievable amount of time.  I was still providing feedback on all of the assignments as well as meeting with every student for 1/2 hour (sometimes more) at four different times throughout the semester.  Also, the students fought me on this almost the entire time.  Some students claimed this assessment to be “inappropriate”, others thought I was being unfair, and still others thought they could better write about their understanding, rather than verbalize it (newsflash, you can’t).  Additionally, these meetings themselves were emotionally draining experiences.  Several students broke down, others simply shut down.  The verbal and mental finesse I had to use at times seemed mind boggling.

I am confident beyond any percentage that the students learned more this semester than last.  But how long can this last?

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5 Responses to Emotional sink of teaching

  1. bwfrank says:

    I can empathize with a lot of this. I will say the first time I did something like this I over did it. I gave too much feedback and nearly burned myself out. My wife will tell you: it was bad. Really bad how much time I was spending. What I can say is that you do get better and more efficient at giving that kind of feedback. I have learned that more feedback isn’t necessarily what students need–it’s caring, insightful, and “action-inducing” feedback.

    The second thing that helped was a shift to having students do more peer feedback. Of course you have to spend time modeling and scaffolding this, but it pays big dividends. I could say a lot more about this.

    I have not done self-assigned final grades. But I did refuse to put any letter or number grades on any assignments. I also refused to discuss grades in class. However, I did make it clear to students that I would be happy to discuss grades outside of class. This distressed some students. Haven’t quite figured this one out yet.


  2. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    This happened in class recently:
    me: “Who can retell that back to me?”
    me: “XXXX, how about you?”
    XXXX: “I get it and know it but I can’t figure out how to say it.”
    me: “then you don’t know it”
    All: slow nods

    I can totally empathize with you about the draining nature of both getting them to verbalize their understanding and providing thorough feedback. On the feedback side my compromise is to do screencasts instead of face-to-face meetings but only recently have I asked students to screencast back to me to try to make it more of a 2-way conversation. I say compromise because I know doing all that in person (though still possibly recorded with a LiveScribe pen!) would accomplish our goals better but the scheduling etc is just too difficult.


  3. bretbenesh says:

    Hi Jerrid,

    I am about to dive into this sort of feedback system, and it is great to hear a dose of reality after hearing all of the great things about it.

    I am about to plan my classes for the fall, so this post was very timely. Basically, I am reading that I should put up some limits on how much time I devote to feedback. I really like bwfrank’s idea of “caring, insightful, and “action-inducing.” This fits with what I have been reading in “Assessment For Learning: Putting It Into Practice.”

    Second, I think that I am going to use Andy’s idea of using screencasts instead of meetings. I asked my school to install Jing on a bunch of computers, so the students now have access.

    This was a great post—thanks for starting the discussion.


  4. Jennifer says:

    I’ve done this with moderate success. I give massive amounts of feedback and it never feels like enough (bwfrank’s story resonates with me). Then students provide self-assessments every three weeks in which they self-assess, set goals and strategies to meet goals by the next self-assessment. At the end of the semester, they ‘make the case’ for their grade using criteria for the different grades that I’ve given at the beginning of the semester and drawing on the ‘evidence’ they’ve produced throughout the semester.

    Some students *love* it…others find it anxiety producing – though they understand and buy into the logic of it…and, yet, others don’t take it all that seriously. To deal with this last group, I’m going to (a) spend time at the beginning of the semester working with them to articulate what the standards ought to be for the end of the semester grades, using my current criteria as the starting point and (b) penalize those who opt to not do the end of the semester articulation for the grade or those who only opt to say “I worked hard, therefore I deserve an A” or “I did all the assignments, therefore I deserve an A”

    I echo the peer evaluation idea. I think that working more of that in will not only lighten my load, but will provide very valuable opportunities for thinking about the material and learning.


  5. Hillary Hamlin says:

    Hi Jerrid,

    I am back again! Reading over some of your blog post and I found this one to be quite interesting! I know trying something different like feedback can be mind boggling, but it really seems like you take your work serious! I can only imagining after getting off having to go home and do it all over again, I know soon I will begin to get the taste of it! I am sure that you do get better and more efficient at giving that kind of feedback.



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