Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Everything I know I learned from a fortune cookie...

This year, among many resolutions made in the haste of New Year’s Eve, I resolved to cook more and order in less. However, in the wake of a cold and rainy three day weekend at home with three children (who seem much smaller and less destructive outside the house), I caved. Yet, despite my lack of resolve, I found it an educational experience nonetheless. Why? Because my fortune cookie held the Secret Essence of Academic Support (in its slightly stale and crumpled state).  It said this: “correction is one thing, encouragement everything.” (It also informed me that my lucky numbers were: 5, 12, 17, 33, 36 and 45 and how to say the word “egg” in Mandarin).

In the last two days I have seen over twenty panic-stricken first year students. I have received some e-mails from professors confessing the large number of unsatisfactory grades they distributed this semester. Some professors are just not stopping to chat as usual. I knew it was coming, but, like the cold of winter, (which is finally here) I am always surprised when it arrives each year.

The first question the students ask me is always, “what did I do wrong?” Sadly, that’s probably the one question I cannot answer without more information. I could guess-and it would be a fairly educated guess-but the answer really lies in the conversation that students need to have with the professor that gave them the grade. Why speculate when the actual truth can be easily uncovered? Students, however, are extremely reluctant to do this and while I understand why, it needs to be done.

Often I can convince a student to make an appointment with a faculty member with a small and simple truth: let’s find out what the problem was, make a plan and fix it. If the problem was the multiple choice questions, then we’ll practice those; if it is was issue spotting, then we’ll practice that and so on. And I think the part of that simple truth that is most effective in relieving students of the despondency that comes with unsatisfactory grades is the plan making.

Facing the music (that is, looking at the exam itself) is only the first step, because it involves correction, and it is (as the wise and crunchy cookie tells us) only one thing. What we can do in Academic Support for our students is provide encouragement, and that, says the cookie, is everything.  (ezs)

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