Friday, November 18, 2011

Ways I hope my students procrastinate

So I was screwing the pooch working industriously this evening and happened to stumble on an essay on and frankly, I hope my students procrastinate the same way I do, because it's great: "The 7 Dumbest Things Students Do When Cramming for Exams".

And they do. All of them. And I did. In fact I don't think I ever did learn how to study, I just stumbled around in the books and hoped something stuck. No one ever told me any of this. is performing a public service. It should be required reading.

Here's one of my favourite bits:

The most common post-exam complaint is, "Why didn't the lectures just teach us how to do the exam?" For the same reason sex isn't just wetting a condom and throwing it in the toilet. Your professors are actually trying to teach you the subject. Exams aren't the point of education. They're the flaccid little appendix we still sort of need to test if people have been turning up ... The 7 Dumbest Things Students Do When Cramming for Exams |

That is it in a nutshell. The assessment is not the point. It isn't why I'm standing up there blocking your view of the blackboard three times a week. It's just supposed to tell you how well you've learned the stuff I was trying to teach you, and that was the point. In that ideal utopian world I retreat to in my head.

Trying to think how to introduce my students to this article without admitting I read, lest they think I'm just trying to look cool.


  1. Oy! My class this semester. A couple of hundred pre-X wannabes who don't seem capable of formulating any question other than "what should we study for the exam?"

    I think I'll even put a line on the syllabus that 'the exam is not the point'. Brilliant.

    Of course, with "outcomes based teaching", the admins are hard at work trying to make sure that the exam is indeed the point, the whole point and nothing but the point.

    * sigh *

  2. Apparently, great minds work in the same channels.

    My midwestern students are too reticent/polite/intimidated to ask "what should we study for the exam." Or maybe they learn quickly, and pass on their knowledge: my standard answer to that question is "Everything."

  3. This conversation reminds me of the Wiggins "backward design" stuff. We don't just teach them how to take the exam. But we should consider our goals and then (1) design the test to fit our goals and then (2) design our classes to teach and rehearse the competencies they will need to do well on the test. That teaching will - if we have designed the course right - be teaching to our goals and the test will measure our success. So in a sense, a good course can indeed teach "to the test" and offer concrete strategies for preparing for the test. On the other hand, that is not the only plausible approach and part of college should also be the struggle with how to absorb information and order it.

  4. Tell the students that one of them sent it to you.

  5. I did the nest thing. Still do, in fact--I don't enjoy grading papers, so I will clean (the house, my office)--an activity I also do not enjoy--before I will sit down with coffee/tea/vodka to get the grading done.

    I always thought that getting things organized in my physical space somehow helped me organize things in my mental space. Maybe it's just the placebo effect.

  6. Wait, highlighters aren't magic?

  7. has some insensitivity problems that cause me to leave and consider never coming back... but they also have moments of clarity and hilarity that keep me returning.

    This is especially good, perhaps a nice way to help students remember that we are all human beings and that they should stop doing stupid things like pulling all-nighters before the final.

  8. is usually quite consciously writing for a target audience they have constructed as undergraduate - age males. One can sometimes see where they've written the article and then gone back and inserted the penis jokes. I don't find the conscious "must put in a tit joke here to engage our target audience's attention" attitude as offensive as the unconscious pervasive sexism. But they've gotten better at walking that fine line, and they have at least one female writer who is very funny (Christina H) and whom they probably hired specifically for gender balance. Not that I visit the site every fracking day or anything. But I thought this article was especially good.

  9. I did do a course design workshop once that affected how I assessed things; realised I was teaching higher-order thinking and then testing on multiple-choice "which of these hamsters produces the finest fur? a) black b) calico c) albino d) none of the above", which was producing high but meaningless grades. So i bit the bullet and made half the grade dependent on papers, which made me unpopular, but at least the grades are a reasonable gauge of what they actually learned now.

  10. All I can say about "Cracked" was that it was the cut-rate "Mad" of the 1980s. That written, the online version occasionally has little nuggets. Occasionally.

  11. Fun game idea: introduce articles like this one to your students and then count up how many ask you if it will be on the exam.

  12. And in the 70s, Strelnikov, but we are dating ourselves. Mad was an altogether superior article, back then. Wish I hadn't given away my collection.


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