Pedagogy Students and Teachers page 3

Shaping Student Attitudes (continued)
I do not collect student work at the completion of a problem. Students are responsible for their work until the end of the term when they present it at review. We left the last week of the term open to give students time to redo and prepare their work for reviews. Students know that if work can be improved, it is their responsibility to do so before the end of the term as poor work counts against them. Students who do not redo work that should have been redone are graded down or failed. This shifts considerable responsibility onto students, and their reaction is an accurate reflection of commitment, initiative and desire to do well.

In criticizing student work on a one-to-one basis, first ask the student what seems to be a problem or what they think can be improved. Asking before telling is to the student’s benefit. In a critique, the asking can first be directed to the person who did the work, and then to the entire class. The teacher can then summarize and add comments on whatever was overlooked. A similar approach is to point, or circle, with the finger a problem area and ask the student to see if they can identify and resolve the problem. Usually their first response is that they do not know. When prodded or it is suggested that they respond intuitively, it is amazing how often they correctly find the problem. This procedure helps students to build confidence in their own judgment.

Teachers have to beware of students who become overly dependent on them and not allow this to happen. There are students who want the teacher to define every aspect of the problem so all they have to do is follow directions. Teachers must always leave room for students to make mistakes. Students learn more from correcting mistakes and making refinements than from any other aspect of problem resolution.

Teachers who do not fail students who deserve to fail lose the respect of other students. When teachers do not have the respect of students, they have lost much of their effectiveness as a teacher. In my thirty-five years of teaching, the students who were dropped because of inadequate talent could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are so many different career options in Graphic Design based on skills as well as creativity, that there is always a place for a hardworking student. Causes for student failure are invariably some combination of being uncommitted, undisciplined or poor attitudes.

Teachers should be direct and honest as possible with students about their work and abilities. As mentioned previously, the most important aspect of honesty with students is to make clear that criticism of work is not criticism of the individual. Most of the time, teachers can be blunt in their remarks as long as they keep it professional and not personal. Albers often said that teachers must be good actors, and that there would be times when a teacher might be angry but should be supportive instead. Or, there would be occasions when a teacher might affect anger even though not angry. I do think teachers achieve more by controlling their emotions. Showing true anger often negates a learning situation when it is most needed.

Honesty with students carries over into grading. Evaluation of student work in many programs is greatly inflated. Undeserved high grades deny students any sense of achievement. Most students are not fools,and they know when they receive an undeserved grade. Students tend to be contemptuous of teachers and courses where every student receives high grades.

The basis for grading is standards, and they determine the quality of instruction. Poor teachers usually set low or no standards. Standards are based on achievement that faculty believe students should accomplish at any given level. Often standards are based on professional practice and what can be anticipated as required for professional success. Again, if faculty relate to the less significant levels of professional practice, the standards will reflect that level of achievement. In education, standards should be set at the highest levels of professional practice.

Standards are a factor in other aspects of Graphic Design education. There should be defined standards for admission of students into the program. Standards also apply to the hiring of new instructors and appointment of leadership.

My experience has been that grades at the introductory level are uniformly low, – mostly in the C range with a sprinkling of B’s and perhaps one or two A’s. Grades generally rise as students progress through the program. University grading systems that do not permit half-grades create agonizing situations for both teachers and students. There can be a world of difference between a C- and C+. When C-, C and C+ are all recorded as C, it is difficult for students to accept or teachers to explain.

At Arizona State University we were not permitted to use half-grades, so on our grade sheets at review we do record the pluses and minuses in order that students understand our evaluation of the work. Half-grades were approved more than eight years ago by all the required parties. They have never been implemented because the university computer/software is so out of date that inputting half-grades would cause the system to crash. It is inexcusable, even shameful, that the university has delayed this long without even setting a target date for a new system.

Students have to know that education is the first priority and conduct themselves accordingly. Especially in state universities, far too many students are working excessive hours at outside jobs and there is serious conflict between job and school. Many of these students are spreading a four year program out over five to seven years, and this is very much to their disadvantage. On our application form, we asked students if they planned to work at an outside job, and if so, how many hours. Students who were accepted into the program but indicated outside commitments in excess of twenty hours, were told they would have to make a decision, – school or job. Many students cannot handle even twenty hours of outside work, – it depends on the individual. We never accepted an outside job as an excuse for incomplete, poor work, missing class, required lectures or field trips. By making our position clear on outside jobs, students knew they could not use it as an excuse. I think it is important for Graphic Design programs to have explicit policies regarding outside commitments and to rigorously enforce them.

I found value in periodically sitting down with a class and discussing all these matters with students as candidly as possible. This helped them to better understand where teachers were coming from in terms of how classes were taught, reviews conducted and what was being required of students. My experience gave me a perspective that students did not have, and many students were interested in what and how changes had occurred. Student input was often helpful for me in better understanding their priorities.


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