Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Problem child

A student walked into my office yesterday morning. “I need to talk to you about the PR project.”

“Twenty-five minutes before it’s due?” I brace myself for some excuse as to why it wasn’t done after three weeks.

“Actually, it’s about my group, one of our members didn’t bother ever showing up to group meetings and didn’t contribute to the plan.” I take a deep breath. I’m hearing this a lot this semester. I ask what group the student is in and I look at my list.

“Was it K?” I ask. K had emailed me Friday, saying she only knew the name of one of her team members and couldn’t find his email address. K wanted me to give her the names of her other group members. This is, there is a Web site for the class and all the information she needs is on there.

“No, it wasn’t K. She has been helping out and was even there last night when we were finishing the plan. It was L.”

I sigh. I thought that L would have learned something from last semester. Instead, my Problem Child is at it again.

Rewind to last semester. L was in one of my classes. She missed the first test – never a good sign. Then it comes time for the PR Project. Remembering the disaster of a group project when I was in college – this girl and I did all the work and two other guys totally flaked – I had the students pick the members of their group. After the students picked, I received this email from L. She was new to the school and didn’t know anyone in class and had missed several classes because of various issues, and didn’t have a group and what should she do??? The next time the class met, I asked people to raise their hand if they didn’t have a group. No one did. L wasn’t there.

I the following month I must have received 20 emails from her. This is when I started referring to her as my Problem Child. She never did find a group, so she had to do the plan on her own. She didn’t want to present, which was 10% of the project grade. She continued to ask questions about the plan, which she would have known the answers to if she had attended class. She was almost like a gnat that wouldn’t go away. We got through the projects, and she continued to show up only sporadically for class. The semester ends and I think I am done with her. Knowing that you have to have at least one, I wonder who will be my problem child this semester.

Turns out, it is L. She emails me at the beginning of the semester saying she is retaking my class because she knows she can make a better grade. “Oh great!” I think as I read her email. Yet she starts the semester by showing up to class. “Maybe she is getting serious,” I think. Yet I notice that she spends more time examining her split ends than taking notes. I chalk it up to having heard some of this stuff before. She’s not emailing me like before, yet when it does, they are from left field – what did I know about the school health fair that she needs to attend for one of her other classes? I teach PR – I know nothing about these health fairs, why is she emailing me? She made it to the first test, but I would have thought she could have done better with just a little effort. But after that, she started attending class less frequently.

I look at the student standing in front of me. I can’t tell him that L is my problem child and I had thought she was changing but hadn’t. I know what he’s feeling – he and the other team members put in time and effort and don’t want someone getting a free ride off of them. It’s not fair, yet I didn’t want to let him know that this happens in the real world as well.

I take a moment to describe my evaluation system and how I use team evaluations to determine the individual grades of each group member. I tell them that the evals are totally confidential. I explain to him that he and his team members need to provide an honest evaluation and if they don’t, I can’t lower the grade. I gave the example of last semester when a group didn’t mark down their other members and everyone got an A when only a few deserved it.

The student thanks me and is on his way. I sit there for a moment and let out a deep breath. The project is worth 20% of the students’ grade this semester. If a student does not participate at all in the project and gets a 0, the best they can hope for will be a C in the class. There are more of those students than I would like to admit this semester. But what can you do? I think a minute about my problem child and wonder what is going on with her. I can’t spend too much time dwelling on it. I have a class of students waiting downstairs for me, wanting to turn in their projects. I can only help the students who want to help themselves.

Update: Within an hour of posting this entry, I received an email from my problem child. She said that she has been trying to reach her group for two weeks and no one is responding to her. She said that she did contribute to the plan (her group members said she sent two sentences which were unusable), but that they were presenting tomorrow and didn't know what to do. She wanted me to help.

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