Thursday, September 4, 2008

Do we have to read the whole chapter?

Last month, thinking ahead to the imminent descent of students on the beautiful cities of Cambridge and Boston, Robin Abrahams (aka the Boston Globe's Miss Conduct), wrote her "Advice for Newby Professors" which include the line: "Pretend that you care."

Wow. It got me thinking.... and I was emboldened to post the following to the courseinfo site of my developmental psychology class...

Requests from the Professor: Don't ask me...

  • Don't ask me whether you have to read the whole chapter. You don't have to read the whole chapter. This is college. You don't have to do anything.

  • Don't ask me to help you figure out the minimum work needed to get a specific grade. My hope is that you are in class out of interest in the material. If you have a different attitude about the class, I advise you not let me know this.

  • Don't ask me what will be on the test, because I have already explained this on the syllabus: "Material emphasized in lecture and section will predominate on the test."

  • Don't ask me whether material in the textbook will be on the tests because the syllabus already says that the tests will emphasize material in lecture. Does this mean that the textbook is irrelevant? No. Material from the textbook which is relevant to themes discussed in lecture and section may appear on the tests. I promise you that we have no plans to test you on obscure facts from the reading in order to reward those students who read the textbooks. I'm sorry that a teacher once did this to you.

  • Don't ask me to change your grade after class is over unless a clerical error was made. I won't change it even if you'll lose your scholarship and be sent to Iran to submit to an arranged marriage. Yes, I once did change grades for this reason. But you guys wore me out years ago because I felt too empathetic about these issues.

  • Don't complain to me that there is too much reading, because I will advise you: "Let your interests determine what you read. If some material is boring to you, skip it and look for topics that are relevant to your interests." Don't let me see the look on your face which says that your goal in reading is to be able to take the test (see #2).

  • Don't ask me how to study because I will say, "I am very skeptical of studying because too often it involves attempts to memorize while avoiding learning" (with the goal being #2). If you are by yourself, emphasize reading for pleasure and to satisfy your curiosity. Try to connect course material and themes to issues in your own life. Group study is a different matter. If you want to "study", join a group of friends and ask each other questions. Each person can take responsibility for a topic and explain it to the others.

  • Don't ask me why you did so poorly on the test when you studied so hard, because I'll say: "No wonder you did poorly if you studied." Studying often leads to poor outcome. Try to read the text and lectures notes for deep understanding, and work with others so you don't get trapped into the illusion of understanding.

  • Don't ask me what I'm looking for when I grade a course project. This suggests that there is only one reason you would do a project (see #2). Instead, we can discuss what kind of projects will allow you to grapple with themes in the class while answering interesting questions and challenging yourself.

  • Additional advice

    Learn how to think like a developmental psychologist. Often course material may seem obvious to you, but all of the material we'll go over was not obvious at an earlier time in history, so you may want to ask yourself: "From the standpoint of progress in the science of human behavior and development, why was this empirical finding an important breakthrough?"

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