Friday, April 15, 2005


I’m not talking about students at prestigious colleges but about those at Community College of Denver (CCD) where I teach. And I do not mean all of the students at CCD, only many.

It’s crazy. Over the past few years I’ve noticed this trend – if, at the beginning of the semester, I convey to my freshman composition students that my course requires a seven-question weekly vocabulary quiz (for which I provide the words and definitions in advance of each quiz) and weekly homework, at least a third of the students will drop the course.

The vocabulary quizzes include words such as insipid, amalgamate, chaotic, discern and other such words. I give these quizzes to complement the homework which, typically, requires reading a 4-to-10 page article from an academic journal, writing a 2-to-5 page objective summary of the article and contacting me (via email or phone) with a question about the reading.

Because I only give pass-fail grades on these types of assignments, the students do not receive a penalty for their often underdeveloped reading and writing abilities so long as they put forth a good-faith effort in completing the homework.

I give the assignments as a means to practice reading and writing with the ultimate goal of improved skills in these areas. In theory, if the students come to class prepared (but only with their best efforts), then we (the class and I) can discuss what individual students did with the homework and what worked and what did not work.


That theory goes to shit when – typically – within the first three weeks of the semester a third of the students drop the course and many of those who remain come week after week without completing the homework.

I am not unaware of the other social forces at work which compete with the efforts of my students to do well in school. I nonetheless do not understand why so many students continue to attend college without, apparently, understanding that homework (solitary effort and outside-of-class-time academic work) is an integral part of learning.

What the hell is going on? Have students always behaved this way? Am I just becomming an old cranky bastard?

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