By Michelle McClendon
I almost feel as if my students break up with me sometimes. I got a variation of the clichéd “It’s not you. It’s me” line the other day when a student told me “It’s not you. It’s the class.” He had asked me to sign his grade report, which always gives me an opportunity to discuss the student’s progress. I again expressed frustration that he is so incredibly bright, but he is not doing well in my class. His explanation? “I tend to focus more on the classes I find challenging and slack off on the classes I think are easier.”
His grade report backed up his assertion. Under Principles of Calculus, the instructor had written “great student” and had reported an A/B grade with two absences. Under Public Speaking, I did not write anything and reported a C grade with six absences. As I said earlier, he is a very smart student, but he has never demonstrated (in my class) that he is a great student.
As the last official drop day approached, I noticed two other students in this student’s class had withdrawn. They found the course too challenging. How do I bridge the gap? I think this will be the next question to explore after I figure out how to build rapport.
Until I decide how to build the bridge, I will continue to have different expectations for different students. My students are aware I assess them differently. Yes, I have a rubric that outlines, objectively,what I am looking for on speaking assignments. But, I have students who have participated in the national debate tournament mixed in with students who have never given a speech in their lives because they’ve found alternative courses to take. Should I really treat these two students in the exact same way? If we are expected to differentiate instruction based on our students’ needs, I think I am justified in differentiating evaluation based on the individual student’s needs.