Penalties for "non-quantifiable" course requirements?

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I require some things in my classes that don't have specific points attached to them. For example, when students are leading small-group discussions, they must provide me with an overview and discussion questions 24 hours prior. (I send extensive feedback so they can make revisions.) In my syllabus, I say that not doing this will have a "significant negative impact" on their leadership grade. Also, for classes with research papers, I require students to consult with me about their paper topics before submitting their proposals -- and I tell them they can't submit a proposal without my approval of their topic. (I don't just "approve" the topic, of course; I talk about possible angles they might choose in approaching the topic, help them formulate a research question, recommend sources, etc.)

In neither case do I have a specific penalty attached to the requirement. And until now, it hasn't been a problem. This semester, I have actually had several students (in a 3rd-year class, for chrissake) fail to do these things. The discussion leaders who haven't consulted with me have done very poorly. And the proposals from students who didn't consult with me? They suck.

If this is going to keep happening, I think I need clear consequences. For the non-consulting discussion leaders, maybe I need to decide they will automatically lose, say, 20 points on top of whatever s***ty grade they get? I'm less sure about how to handle the non-consulting proposal people. I've emailed both of them to say they need to meet with me. I could make them rewrite their proposals, but I can't really attach a late grade penalty to a revision because I haven't indicated anything like that in the syllabus. Similarly, maybe in the future I need to decide they'll automatically lose 20 points (or whatever) on top of the poor grade they'll get on the original proposal. Or maybe just using the "significant negative impact on the grade" language will suffice?

I wish I didn't have to deal with this crap; I feel like I'm already overly compulsive about crossing every t and dotting every i. It's so tiresome. But I suppose it's inevitable. So, forumites, how have you handled this dilemma, if you've dealt with it yourself? Any advice? Thanks in advance, as always.

For things like this, I list in the syllabus as:

Pass/Fail     (-20 point penalty for failure)

I always write something like, "Not graded, but these will push your grade up or down accordingly if your final grade is borderline."

For anything like a proposal, make it mandatory else they are not allowed to complete whatever is the next step. Well, they can complete the step, but they are not eligible to earn credit for it. So no points "off" for the preliminary step, but you don't let them proceed without it.

Students who don't provide the overview/questions 24 hours in advance are not allowed to lead discussion, and lose the opportunity to earn the points for that item. If they are to lead, say, four discussions per semester, then that's a zero on 25 points out of 100 leadership points (or whatever number scheme you have).


I can't really attach a late grade penalty to a revision because I haven't indicated anything like that in the syllabus

IMHO, a syllabus which includes language like "significant negative impact" would be sufficiently clear to allow me to (down)grade unacceptable work and/or performance. At grading time, I would simply exercise my discretion to determine the meaning of "significant" with respect to a given student's grade.

I suggest that you revise your syllabus to include the "significant negative impact" language for the non-consulting proposal people.

Bottom line: don't make the syllabus boilerplate more specific than necessary; every semester brings new situations; your language can allow you to preserve a decent amount of flexibility.


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