Sunday, March 13, 2011

Getting Students to Follow Instructions

I think I finally figured out how to make students follow my instructions. For the first time ever, I got every single student in both sections of my Survey course to hand in an essay in the correct format. Not a single one of them created one of those cutesy cover pages that I hate. Not a single one used a bunch of different fonts to prettify the title. There weren't even any smiley faces in the essays.

The reason why it worked was that I said the following magical phrase, "Unless you follow this exact format, I will not give you a good grade." Threats work, people.

Then, unfortunately, I dropped the ball. After I bullied them about the format, I proceeded to talk about the importance of using correct terminology. I told the students that names of literary movements, genres, words like "plot" and "characters" have to be used correctly. I explained this, I included it into a PowerPoint Presentation, and created a hand-out explaining the terminology. I forgot, however, to accompany all this with a threat. As a result, I had to spend endless hours correcting horrible gaffes in terminology. (For those of you who are Spanish-speakers: several students referred to a plot of a novel as "la parcela" and to characters as "caracteres." I had specifically discussed these two terms with them on at least five different occasions.) 

Now I guess I'll have to add the refrain ". . . or I'll give you a bad grade" to every instruction I give to the students. The students I have in this course are really lovely. Great kids who are a pleasure to teach. Still, they don't seem to respond to anything as well as they respond to threats. I don't want to act as a bully all the time but I simply can't correct the same basic mistake in terminology over a hundred times in every batch of essays. My wrist is literally numb. So bullying it is.


Spanish prof said...

Go for it. It works. And I would add: "You can ask around to my previous students what happened when they did not follow instructions" (of course, if you made good on your threats before)

Natalie said...

Your posts on educating are always so fascinating to me. My mother is a teacher as well (retired now), and it does indeed seem that threats are the one thing that make students follow instruction to the letter!

Jonathan said...

It took me a while to realize where the mistake came from (a plot of ground is a "parcela.") For whatever reason, my students don't make that particular hilarious mistake. I had to fail someone on an MA exam for writing "cuento" when he meant "historia." Well, not only for that, but that would have been enough.

Pagan Topologist said...

I do not mind cute title pages with different fonts, etc., so long as the body of the work is in an appropriate format.

Clarissa said...

I discovered that if I let them loose on the format issue, then a huge chunk of a 5-page essay would be dedicated to gigantic margins, indecipherable smiley faces and sometimes even pictures of their relatives and pets. I'm not kidding. Some students will do anything to avoid writing the requisite number of pages. So now I strive for uniformity. :-)

Jonathan: So the "cuento" disease lasts into the MA. That's discouraging. After I forbade my students to use the word "cuento" when writing about Romantic poetry, one of the students used the word "epoca" every single time when she wanted to say "poem." I have no idea why she was reluctant to use the word "poema."