04 July 2012

On an easy tutorial

I did a "recovery" tutorial today. The label varies across institutions, and indeed I don't think we use the term, but it's a tutorial for students who have failed an assessment and have another chance to "recover" it so that they can progress to the next year. They are often difficult, with students in argumentative denial, and so I prepared carefully (on a "just in case" basis because it was clear this referral was an outlier for this student), and cursed the fact that for some reason I couldn't get the commented hard-copy submission or even the Turnitin report. So I felt a little under-prepared...
    Interesting, isn't it? I feel under-prepared to uphold a judgement I--and the second-marker and the moderation system--have delivered on a piece of work. The rule is clearly "pass until proven fail". That may be an analogue for the judicial process, but in academe you used to be obliged to earn a pass. Or was that always a fantasy?
I met the student in the coffee-shop (I don't have an office any more). She greeted me by waving a printout of her work, and declaring, "Well, I've just read it again, and it's a load of total twaddle, isn't it? I can see why you failed it." (No mention of  family difficulties she had experienced at the time which meant that it was an achievement to submit anything at all.)

OK! No defensiveness here. On to stage two--what to do about it?
    This is tricky. How much guidance can one offer? Coaching to the goal is clearly not acceptable. Students need to get there under their own steam. But in many cases it's a matter of piecemeal revision--a bit more on this, some evidence for that, a more balanced judgement on the other. But sometimes there's a flaw at the heart of the piece. Somehow it has set off in the wrong direction from the start and no amount of patching will get it back. That's a tough judgement to give, and even tougher to accept.
She was there before me. "There's no point in messing about. It's back to square one. I need to re-write from scratch."

There followed a few minutes' discussion of the balance between theory and practice, and how she had failed to discuss theory in the context of practice and vice versa, and whether she could use an historical perspective to evaluate changing approaches to teaching and assumptions about learning...

I don't really need to see that piece of work.

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