Posted by: unlikelygrad | September 15, 2009

teaching strategy #1: scare ’em first, then be nice

As I’ve mentioned before, I met SL (my last PI) in his very first semester of teaching. I thought he explained concepts well, and I did well in his class, but it was clear that others weren’t really getting it. The problem? He assigned homework but didn’t collect or grade it. (He didn’t have time! No grading help at large state universities…) I did the homework anyway–that was the reason I understood the concepts. I also read the assigned readings. Needless to say, I got the only A in the class–the class average was a C.

The following semester, I was working for SL, and got to hear first-hand accounts of his class. “I just went in there and scared them,” he said. “Told them that if they didn’t do the homework, they’d fail the class. I figure it’s probably better to be mean up front and be nice later.” The strategy ended up working well; just as he predicted, the class average went up considerably.

It’s clear that one of my current professors has the same teaching philosophy. In his page of expectations for the first quiz, he mentioned that he wasn’t interested in exact figures, but rather qualitative information. We studied accordingly. The actual quiz, however, consisted of drawing two figures TO SCALE. Judging from the amount of griping I heard afterwards, I wasn’t the only one caught off guard!

Needless to say, when the study guide for the second quiz mentioned “no exact numbers,” we disregarded that information and learned all sorts of numbers! And guess what? The quiz was completely number free. Ha!


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