‘Final’ Projects & “I’ll finish up…really”

“Oh, and I need (deserve?) an A.”

In most of my classes, I’ve learned the hard way to not give students too many points before they get to a final exam or final project. Yep, in one of my first semesters, I did just that. Students who turned in all the weekly assignments had enough points to get a B in the class. Yikes! Needless to say, most of the student taking the final exam were those who didn’t complete all the weekly assignments. So how do I get students to complete all the assignments and think ‘completion’?

In the “Pathways to Prosperity” study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011, it states that only 29 percent of those who start two-year degrees finish them within three years, and just 56 percent of college students complete four-year degrees within six years.

The United States has the highest dropout rate in the industrialized world, according to a Harvard analysis of data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Oh, there are high-profile cases of dropouts-made-good like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, but the majority who don’t finish are not so fortunate.

I’ve tried a lot of things- incentives, including food, prizes, free assignments…it seems if they aren’t going to finish, they aren’t going to finish. So, what to do?

Here’s what I’ve tried this semester:

  • $1 Million Bill (fake) – for being engaged in class and contributing to the discussion (my call). If they get $10 Mil, they get a prize. The prize can be a drink at the snack bar, homemade cookies, YC logo cups – it can even be a kazoo.
  • Late assignment coupons (not new, but Mark Shelley is on the right path). I just want to see the assignments; even if they are late. Yep, some points may be taken off if they are really late, but I’m getting at least something.
  • Early Alert system – this has really helped for students who have seemed to fall of the surface of the earth. One student missed 2 weeks of class, did not respond to any of my emails, or calls. She just had some family stuff and ‘forgot’ to call or email me (!!)
  • Personal notes – One student was quite surprised that I mailed her a note that I was concerned about her. She said it was the first note ever from any teacher (!!). Yep, I felt good about that one.
  • Have fun in class! For one class we went outside. For another class we had it in the snack bar. For another class we took a short walk during class and had our discussions that way.

I’m happy to say that out of 20 students, I’m finishing with 18, and they are all passing at this point. I’m going to stay positive and believe that they will all complete successfully.  I can’t guarantee the “A”, but most will be pleased with their grade.  Did what I do in class help?  Perhaps.