I just read Judith's question and Gene's reply as I'm trying to catch up on
e-mails from over the holidays.  I have been teaching a required
developmental writing course for many years and find that I can motivate
just about everyone to at least pass the course by using the following
structure which I hope can be translated into other course formats.

The class is highly structured with numerous individual conferences (often
during class while the rest of the students work colloboratively on their
papers or on in-class presentations).  At the get-go I emphasize my
confidence that every student can do well in the course if they just follow
the steps as they are laid out.  I give a list of assignments and then a
list with dates saying: you are behind if you have not completed assignment
1 by this date, assignment 2 by this date, etc.  Then I give a list of
grade eligibility: Complete 14 assignments to be eligible for an A, 13 for
an A-, etc.  Since it is a writing course, they must revise their writing
task to at least a "C" level for it to be considered "completed".  Then,
they only deadlines the students have is a last day to have papers approved
and a deadline for the "portfolio".  The portfolio consists of all the
"completed" papers with their drafts.  On top of the pile the student
places revised versions of the top three papers.  Those I evaluate for the
grade according to the student's elegibility (eg.a student completing 13
papers can make an "A" if the top three papers are of "A" quality.  The
lowest grade that student could receive is a "C" as papers aren't
"complete" unless they are at least a "C" level.  This sound complicated
but the students usually hav eno trouble understanding the process.  I have
a sheet I initial as work is completed and mark with a check for each of
the drafts, so the student has tangible evidence of her or his progress.

For some reason the structure combined with flexibility (due dates for
individual assignments are up to the student) seems to work for the
students.  In ten years of doing this, I've had only about five students
fail and they had failed in just about all their classes.

Sorry for such a long entry. I hope it makes sense.  I'd be interested in
people's responses.  I'm glad with some specifics to try to translate the
process to other courses, other disciplines.


Laura Symons
Academic Resource Center
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar, Virginia 24595
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