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I just finished grading exams, and I am experiencing the same confusion I do every time I grade exams.  I make a conscious effort to be very clear about what will be on my exams.  There are even terms and definitions that I clarify: “This is how I want you to word that definition.”  I put the content on the board.  I explain ad nauseum that these items will be on the test.  I review these items.  After most of the students miss them on the first exam, I review them again, on the board, in class activities, and in homework.  I tell students that these items will show up on the next exam.  I review them yet again.  HOW DO THEY STILL MISS THOSE QUESTIONS???  oops.  sorry.  didn’t mean to shout.

I made the “second-time around” questions worth double points, and told the students ahead of time that they would be heavily weighted.  And I have students who are desperate to pull up their grades now that we are in the final reality check weeks of the semester.  And yet.  Yes, not everyone missed them – half the class got the questions right.  But HALF THE CLASS DIDN’T.

And it isn’t just the fact that they are missing the questions – what is getting to me most of all is that I feel so hugely removed from all of these students who are not taking the trouble to lock down those points.  Their “student-ness” is so very different from mine.  I was such a meticulous student – if I knew items were going to be on a test, I made it my business to learn those items at least well enough to spew back whatever was necessary on test day.  So many of my students don’t have that habit, or that value system.  I don’t think my overweening need to please my teachers was necessarily a good thing for my character or the development of my spirit, but it certainly served me well in the academic world.  I am ambivalent about teaching to the test, even when it is my own test.  But shouldn’t they learn to play this game if they’re going to be in college?

I am going to once again utilize one of the very best lessons I ever learned in grad school – when you have a question about teaching, ask the students.  I have started carrying quarter-size sheets of scratch paper with me to class for impromptu polls, and I think on Monday I am going to do a survey to try and find out why so many students still missed these questions, and what we can do about it.  If I find out anything useful, you’ll see it here first.