24 January 2013

What's the more important skill?

I was updating grades today and happened to look at my class averages for the marking period, something I very rarely do unless someone questions me about it.  I teach 6 sections of chemistry and my averages range from 88 to 95.  Then I was sad.  Not sad because I felt they were too low, but sad because it forced me to second guess every class policy.  Specifically here is what is under attack:

  1. If a student fails any assignment, they have the opportunity to retake it.  We go over the material they got wrong and then they take an alternative version of the assessment.
  2. The students are allowed to ask me to check their HW before submitting it for a grade.  Any mistakes I find can be corrected, allowing them to correct misconceptions and misunderstandings before major assessments.
  3. Students can use any resource they want to solve a problem on an assignment (except Tests) including other students, as long as that other student explains how to do the problem completely not just what the answer is.
  4. There is no memorization.  Students may use any reference sheet they want on all assessments.
  5. No points will be taken off for handing an assignment in late.  Period.  No questions asked.
  6. Students may choose when to turn in assignments.  If they need an additional day or two of studying before taking a test, they can have it as long as they complete all required assignments by the end of the marking period.
Am I doing a disservice to my students by not being harsher?  Am I preparing them for the "real-world" with these policies?

Last week, a former students asked if he could use my room during lunch to help people from his Pre-Calc class on their HW.  While he was explaining some concept (I couldn't tell you what it was as it all sounded like Chinese to me), the female student turned to him and asked how he understood the material so well when no one else in the class understood a word the teacher was saying.  My former student turned to her and said "If there is anything I don't understand from class, I just look it up on the Internet and watch some instructional videos from YouTube."  I taught him that!!

So what's the more important skill?

Is it more important that I put pressure on my students to get the work done fast or give them freedom so they can get it done right?
Is it more important that memorize every fact from the curriculum or that they know how to find the answers if they get stuck?
Is it more important for them to be punished for not understanding something as fast as others or reward them for making the extra effort to learn it to the same degree?

I am afraid my colleagues are going to find out about my class averages and there is going to be trouble.  So, dear readers, please help me figure this out.

Am I doing what's in the best interest of my students?