Irrecoverable Failure

Ed Nuhfer and Pat Hauslein
The course is an Earth Science for Teachers course. The content is outlined in a popular 16-chapter introductory text. Licensing for teachers specifies a certain block of content to be covered, which is about 12 of the 16 chapters. The professor gave two high-stakes (counted for grade) quizzes to prepare students for their first test, over four chapters, which is an essay exam. Quiz grades were low, so the teacher chastised the class about being unmotivated and urged them to study more. Students go through their first essay test and the class average is a 43. Some have single digit scores. One student says "I feel like, what's the use?" The professor feels she is doing well and is maintaining high standards. However, several students go back to their Education College and complain about the course. The Dean of that college contacts the professor to learn about the problem and to seek a resolution.


Bill Bruihler, Robert Butler, Cinzia Cervato
A collision has occurred between students' backgrounds and understandings of class expectations and those of the instructor. With such disastrous results on early quizzes and the first examination for most students in the class, it is most likely that the instructor has unrealistic expectations of student performance. Unfortunately, the situation as stated is beyond repair. The key is to avoid this situation from the outset.

So how might this instructor have better prepared for the context of this teaching assignment? Instructor needs to understand the level of Earth Science content knowledge that these future teachers will be held accountable for and how they may use that content at various grade levels. The instructor needs to seek advice from colleagues in the College of Education about what level of Earth Science content knowledge is appropriate for this class and what pedagogical approaches would be most effective. Possible approaches include:

  • Being transparent with students about pedagogical approaches.
  • Posting Study Guides for the tests, including examples of kinds of questions and expected answers.
  • Offering exam review sessions to coach students on the style of exams.

More Responses

Written at the October 2007 POD workshop

We appreciate the high standards you are maintaining in your classroom. It appears that the lines of communication could be more open, as the students don't feel comfortable with the results of their quizzes. Can I help you discuss with your students what they need to do in order to be successful? I believe that if we work together, our mutual students can succeed in your class. We are encouraging our students to consider how they can create an atmosphere of trust and respect in the classroom, and this may be a great opportunity to work together to create that relationship in your class. The students have some ideas that they would like to share with you to help the situation. Perhaps we could work to clarify your learning goals and create a rubric for your quizzes and exams that the students can reflect on. A discussion about their goals for the class might be useful including returning to this reflection periodically during the semester.

Irrecoverable Failure  

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