## Monday, November 21, 2011

### How to make students fail

Here is a simple recipe to make students fail: create assignments densely packed throughout the quarter, and where each assignment relies on the previous one completely, so that it requires prior completion of the previous assignments before it can be started.

Then, consider the case of a student who has a bit of trouble with the course and who can only manage to do 90% of the work assignment in a given week.
On the first week, he will turn in 90% of the work.
On the second week, he will first need to complete the remaining 10% of the first assignment (for no credit), so he will only be able to turn in 80% of the work.
On the third week, he will first need to complete the remaining 20% of the second assignment (for no credit), so he will only be able to turn in 70% of the work.
and so on until the 10th week, when he will first need to complete the remaining 90% of the previous assignment (for no credit) and will then have no time left to work on the 10th assignment.
On average, for a 10-week quarter, his grade will be 50%, or a bit less if end-of-quarter assignments are weighed more heavily; that, in spite of having done 90% of the work overall.
Note that giving the option of turning in assignments a couple of days late does not help. The student is doomed.

Now, consider a student who only just manages to do the entire assignment in the time allocated, and imagine that after three or four weeks, there is one week when he is sick, or tired, or something, and only does 50% of the work.
Then, from that point on, each week he'll spend half the time catching up on the previous assignment and half the time on the current assignment, so all of his grades will be 50% from then on, and at the end of the semester his average grade will be 60% or so.

1. In the classes I have taken with cumulative assignments as you describe, after each hand in deadline a "teacher's solution" is released and you can choose to continue working off of your version or build on the teacher's version. Do you think that resolves the issue? I noticed many students continued learning about the old assignment while working off of the correct solution.

2. Carleton, your solution works well, but poses a problem if you want to reuse the assignments from year to year, because it opens a big cheating opportunity.

3. This is distressingly accurate.

4. don't you have any better research problems to work on?

5. Anonymous,
this has gone beyond the research phase and is now in the implementation phase.

6. This aptly describes the unforgiving linearity of high school math curricula (at least in Germany).

When I tutored high school students, I could see it happening all the time: a student didn't grasp, say, negative numbers quickly enough; the student would eventually catch up but by then the class was already learning fractions -- etc. Inevitably, the student would fall further and further behind.

I think IBL and Peer-Instruction methods can get deal with this best, but I don't how teachers would be able to adapt to a less liner curriculum (given the kind of training they receive).

7. [Oh dear -- too many typos in my last paragraph...]

I think IBL and Peer-Instruction methods could deal with this, but I don't know how teachers would be able to adapt to a less linear curriculum (given the kind of training they receive).

8. great .. thank you for this advice