I'm in the weeds with this issue: arguing with my students over assignment parameters

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Lindsay.Lou, Nov 23, 2008.

  1. Lindsay.Lou

    Lindsay.Lou Companion

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    Nov 23, 2008

    I'm at my wit's end with my 9th graders on the issue of what's expected for any given assignment. No matter what the assignment is, they immediately start arguing with me about the nitty gritty.

    For example, if I assign them a one-page essay response on a test, I get:
    "Can I double space? Can I leave a space between paragraphs? How many spaces? Can I put my name and date on separate lines? What if I write small, does it still have to be a whole page? What if I'm completely done and I still have one empty line? If one empty line is ok, what about 2? etc etc etc"

    Then, as people are turning things in, they start with the "Hey! If his counts as a page, mine should. Mine is only one line shorter than his!"

    So, for a first person journal that they did, I decided to be SUPER specific about exactly how I wanted it. When I did this, though, they act like I'm being ridiculous and overly-strict.

    This goes on for every.single.assignment I give them. It's starting to drive me mad. We've spent upwards of 15 minutes going back and forth over what's expected! I've thought about assigning words (i.e. 100 words) but then they're just going to focus on counting words the whole time and not what they're doing. Plus, I don't want to do all that counting myself!

    Any tips/advice? :confused:
     
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  3. ELA 11 12

    ELA 11 12 Companion

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    Nov 23, 2008

    Not knowing your teaching environment, it sounds like the students are having fun at your expense...and bet it is less than 5 students who get the class going...

    You might also trying using a line like this, "You can write a great response in 30 lines and a great response in 100 lines. The fact is that the assignment requires 45 lines." Then walk away or refocus the class on another more pressing task.
     
  4. adventuresofJ

    adventuresofJ Comrade

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    Nov 23, 2008

    Post an example? This font, this spacing, these are the margins. Anything that does not conform to these standards is a 0. If it is had written they must start at the left margin for every line and it must be front an back, no skipping lines.
    I do agree that they are waisting time and just doing it to keep from actually working.
     
  5. chemteach55

    chemteach55 Connoisseur

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    Nov 23, 2008

    I would make a set of parameters for each assignment and let them know that your decision on any rules is final. Do not allow them to argue with you--make sure they know that all final decisions are yours and whatever you decide on an assignment is final.
     
  6. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    Nov 23, 2008

    I think every time you answer their questions it gives them more feed for the fire. Give an inch they take a mile...

    I remember college profs doing what you did and thinking it was super strict too, but at least they know what to expect. If they are going to complain about one line of typed writing, then whatever. Just hand out the specifications and tell them that if they have a question, to see you after class. Don't take questions IN class as they are a waste of time! See how many come to you AFTER class or during LUNCH! It sounds like they are trying to get out of doing actual work in class.
     
  7. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    Nov 23, 2008

    My assignment instructions are often longer than the assignment itself. My kids learn quickly they are not negotiable and if anything is missing it is returned to them as a zero.

    The only reason this works though is because the kids trust, ultimately, that if I ask them to do something it is for a good reason. Maybe you didn't establish enough purpose with your early assignments so they are questioning your reasons now.
     
  8. Lindsay.Lou

    Lindsay.Lou Companion

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    Nov 23, 2008

    Thanks for the tips, guys. Basically, I think I need thicker skin, because it just GETS to me when I'm really specific and then they say stuff like "You're going to give out a zero for ONE missing line? geeez, that's ridiculous..."

    I'm going to stick with the specificity and tell them if they'd like to complain or discuss the parameters they can stay after school to do so.
     
  9. catsos2

    catsos2 Companion

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    Nov 23, 2008

    Do you have a rubric for the kids? It sounds like some of them might be focusing too much on the length requirement and not on the depth of the topic. I've taken classes that went to two extremes --

    I had one class that was very specific about the parameters of the paper. I can still remember the details:
    1 inch margins on all sides,
    double spaced,
    12 pt times new roman font,
    your name, the class name and the page number in the footer (12pt) - one line only,
    the name of the assignment and the date in the header - (12pt) one line only.
    The teacher also gave us an example of EXACTLY what he expected. I imagine that all of his papers came in looking alike.
    The instructions looked just like that - not long but very specific. These specifics were given to us in the original syllabus and, as far as I know, there weren't any questions about it (I'm sure I would have heard about it if there were...).

    I had another teacher that WOULD NOT give us a length requirement. Her only requirement was that we cover the topic sufficiently. It drove some kids nuts, but I liked it. She didn't care if we took one page or 10.

    I, personally, would probably fall somewhere in the middle. "Give me a minimum of five paragraphs with five sentences each."

    Also, if you decide to assign a number of words requirement, you don't necessarily have to count them - What's the difference between 98 and 100, really? If you DO want to make sure that they have 100 words - you could have the kids email it to you so that you could check it in Word.
     
  10. teachin4ever

    teachin4ever Cohort

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    Nov 23, 2008

    My seventh graders do this when I assign writing assignments, and I know it's to try and get me flustered. I simply say, "The paper should be one page long. Use your discretion when choosing font, font size and margins. If I don't think it's long enough, you'll get marked down. If you have any doubts as to whether or not it's long enough, write more."

    Then I move on. The ones that really aren't sure usually come and ask me after class. I've never had an issue.
     
  11. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Maven

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    Nov 23, 2008

    I tell mind that their papers have to be long enough to tell everything they need to tell. I'll sometimes given them an "average". For instance, I'll tell them that usually a piece of personal writing is anywhere between 2-5 typed pages.

    There is a state-required rubric for all writing pieces, and they use that. Length/font/margins aren't mentioned.
     
  12. Teacher Chele

    Teacher Chele Habitué

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    Nov 23, 2008

    An example and a rubric are both great ideas. Don't let them (or their parents) question you. You are the teacher. There is a difference between being compassionate and getting run over. You can do this.
     
  13. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Nov 23, 2008

    FYI, for whatever you decide to do: When you count words in an essay, you don't have to actually count every word...I count the words in 1 sentence in each quadrant, get an average, then count the number of lines and multiply. It's pretty accurate...
     
  14. pxydst07

    pxydst07 Comrade

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    Nov 23, 2008

    I agree with the other teachers about setting your specifications and taking questions after class. I just have to wonder if you were in the restaurant industry at one time. I've never heard "in the weeds" until I was tortured by waitressing!
     
  15. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

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    Nov 23, 2008

    When they start throwing questions at you, tell them, "These are the requirements for the assignment. If you need any further clarification, you may see me this afternoon between 3:15 and 3:25." Period. The odds are they won't bother coming back!
     
  16. Historyteaching

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    YOU are the teacher. YOU set the parameters and the guidelines. NO DISCUSSION NO ARGUMENT. By arguing with them you are fueling their fires and they know you will or could possibly give in just to 'shut them up.' State your requirements, show them a rubric and that's final. Students LOVE to compare their scores with each other then try to split hairs over who got what grade and why. It doesn't matter what THEY see, you are the ultimate grader and final.If they are truely unsure of the requirements have them meet you after class. The others can do it or get a zero.
     
  17. Luv2Learn

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    Nov 24, 2008


    Finally the post I was looking for :thumb:
     
  18. Lindsay.Lou

    Lindsay.Lou Companion

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    Nov 24, 2008

    Waitress/bartender for 6 years! :p
     
  19. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Nov 24, 2008

    My classroom is not a democracy. It's a benign dictatorship. This is what I tell my students the moment they start to argue, and they know the "discussion" is over. It's really quite simple; you lay out the rules and they follow them. Failure to follow the directions is a failing grade on the assingment.
     
  20. JustT

    JustT Comrade

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    Nov 24, 2008

    You could always throw the argument back at the student and ask them what grade do they expect from the assignment and why. (easy way to pick on their decision making qualities for the grade of their work)

    Ok, I only do this to some students who think they deserved an A because they gave up 4 hours of Xbox time.
     
  21. Historyteaching

    Historyteaching Cohort

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    Thank you. I admit it took me a while to get that in my head, thankfully I have a retired teacher as a mom!
    If you give in on something like a grade, they will try to get you to give in on everything. I have students trying to negotiate how many notes they take, how long lecture is..every single day. I also let them know that the classroom is my domain, my kingdom. It is not a democracy it is a dictatorship-I'm Queen Ms A. Yes I am fair, yes I will 'hear', but I am the final. If something is truly unfair, I will, of course, speak with them on it. I had this happen about a month ago, I gave the student the opportunity to give his argument and we would speak about it-he said no..I was the teacher and I was right. I always tell them when I turn graded papers back, I'm human-sometimes I may mark something wrong that is right. If I do let me know-I'll fix it.

    If you show them a solid bona-fide rubric BEFORE they start the assignment, keep it up on an overhead, smartboard, heck post a few sheets on the dry erase/black board, then they KNOW exactly what YOU expect from them. It is there for them to refer to, give them all a copy. Laminate it if you must. That way you can say, see "johnny", according to the rubric you have missed this and this therefore your grade is ..... however, 'sarah' may not have written as much but she has these that you don't so her grade is... Actually, scratch that, its none of their business how you grade another student's paper and you don't have to answer or explain yourself to them about others' grades. I'll get off my soapbox.
     
  22. coffeeteacher

    coffeeteacher Rookie

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    Nov 25, 2008

    I get the same attempts from my freshmen. I tell them this is how it is in high school, so they should get over it. They don't know any better, so most of them dropped it. There are always a few who try to argue, but I just say "I've already explained that" and move on.

    I started the year with specific length requirements, but now that they are beginning to understanding how to correctly respond to questions, I have removed the length requirement. My instructions now are to fully answer the questions with support from the text.
    For major assignments, I give them rubrics before they begin so they know exactly what is expected.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2008
  23. each1teach1

    each1teach1 Cohort

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    Nov 25, 2008

    yeesh..mine do that too. When I get their papers, I can see where they've marked their number counts every couple of words and many of them will stop in the middle of a sentence if they've reached the required word count. It's very irritating.
     

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