I Need to Get an "A" in this Class

My recent post on grading student papers drew some comments from both professors and students both here on the blog and on Facebook. Lendol has convinced me to break out the department rubric and Christine has made me more sensitive to student concerns.

Now, as the new semester at Messiah College is about to begin, I offer Rob Weir’s list of the most popular start of the semester student comments and questions. I must admit that I have heard a variation on all of them.

“I need to get an ‘A’ in this course.”
I will never forget the psychology student who decided to take one of my history courses in the last semester of her senior year. She was a good student and an even better person, but I do not think she was prepared for all the writing and reading in an upper-division history course. With one paper and a final exam left in the semester she was doing A- work, but certainly had the potential to pull an “A” in the class if she really nailed these final two assignments. A week before the final paper was due she came into my office to tell me that she had a 4.0 GPA and if she did not get an “A” in my course I would ruin her perfect college career. Wow! I really think she expected me to respond to her statement with something like: “OK, no problem. I don’t want to ruin your life so I will be happy to give you the “A” regardless of the quality of your final two assignments.” Instead, I told her that if she was truly a 4.0 student she would step up to plate and write a darn good final paper and ace the final exam. While I think this student worked a lot harder in the final week of her college career than she had hoped, she did manage to get the “A” and I had the pleasure of informing her at a reception held the night before graduation.

“I need this course to stay in school and I’m willing to work hard.”
I don’t think I have ever heard this one, but I have heard variations on it such as “I need a good grade in this course to keep my scholarship” or “I need to get a ‘B’ in this course to stay on the lacrosse team.

“Is this course going to be fun?”
My answer: Of course it is. You get the chance to learn something! And then there is the variation on this theme: “Is this course going to be hard?” Of course it is! All learning requires hard work.

“If I miss a few classes, will it hurt me?”
When I get this question I refer students to the official attendance policy on the syllabus. But I also add that in a history course, where every lecture and discussion builds off the last, a missed class will always hurt you.

“If I screw up, can I do an extra credit project?”
I usually do not give extra credit for “screw-ups.” (Student readers: Do your profs offer you a lot of extra credit opportunities? I am curious?). But I am happy to work closely with students to try to help them do better on the next test/exam. I will, however, give extra credit to students who attend a lecture on campus that relates to course content. (And there are many at Messiah College–one of the many things we do very well!). I usually have them write a 1-2 page paper summarizing the theme of the lecture and connecting it to what we are doing in class. Professors: What is your view on extra credit?

Check out Weir’s helpful article.

2 thoughts on “I Need to Get an "A" in this Class

  1. John: Where did you find copies of Landsman book? Are you using a course packet? I love Fischer's response to Landsman's critique in the WMQ roundtable–something like: “Landsman only knows something about a small community of Scots in New Jersey.”

    That is an easy extra credit assignment if your students have been trained in the right databases–JSTOR, America: History and Life, etc… You can probably even Google “David Hackett Fischer and Ned Landsman” and come up with it.

    Good luck with the course. I am teaching immigrant America this semester as well, although mine is a general survey from Jamestown to the present. I treat it more along the lines of an American Studies-type class on the “American Dream.” This semester we are even going to watch The Godfather!


  2. I have, this week, offered the first extra credit assignment ever. I am teaching a class on immigration and identity formation in early America. Last week we read Albion's Seed (one student referred to it as “Ambion's Seed” in a typo–the most accurate typo ever!), and this week we are reading Landsman's Scotland and Its First American Colony.

    Since we were going to be comparing these two authors' views, I informed the students that “somewhere” there was a published debate between these two authors on this issue. Anyone who located it online, read it, and could summarize it in class would get a small amount of extra credit. Of course, the only student who took this information down was the one did the most preparation for that week. So I am guessing she won't exactly need it. I figured extra research might merit extra points.


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