The Argument for Front-Loading

Do you go crazy at the end of the semester? Do you students go crazy? Is everyone exhausted and tired? Do you have a lot of grading to do? Do your students have lots of papers/projects/exams?

My students are definitely going crazy. They definitely are exhausted and tired, and they have a lot on their plate to do.

I am tired, but only because it’s the end of the semester and I’m ready for a break.

You know what I don’t have? I don’t have a lot of grading to do. I do not have a bunch of paper/projects/exams to read and respond to. In fact, we were done about two weeks early as far ass assignments go.

Yes, this is possible. And, I think it’s worth it. You know how I do it?

I front-load. That’s it.

Front-loading means that my class is top heavy. In the spring, we do most of our work by spring break. The first 2.5 months are bit intense. Students are completing assignments, there’s a lot of reading of assignments and grading to keep up with, and there’s a lot of reading for the students to do. But bit by bit, week by week, I start to taper off.

In April, we slide into home base nice and easy.

There’s several reasons to do this:

  • Students (and you) are fresh at the start of the semester. No one is overwhelmed or tired yet
  • I get the best work from my students during this time frame. By the end of the semester? They are so overworked that they can barely see straight (my interpretation). Why would I want us to do serious thinking at this point?
  • I don’t mind doing the work upfront. When we hit the last month, I am always glad I did. If I have to do all this work, I’d rather do it at the start than at the finish. Most of my students appear to agree

Now, what about the final exam? I’m sure that in some classes a final exam makes perfect sense. In my class, it doesn’t. I have my final exam be writing a blog post because it fits with the scope of the class. However, writing a post isn’t worth a whole lot of points. It’s not going to make you or break you to take this exam. It’s hardly worth your time. I don’t do exams where the grade is worth a significant amount of your overall average. I’d rather you be doing continuous and meaningful work all semester long than one big thing at the end. Like I said, this makes sense in my context.

I am required to give a final exam. However, I pointed out to my students that they are not required to take it. In fact, they can choose to receive an F (zero points) on the final if they wanted to. Since their grade is based on total number of points accumulated, then the final exam is just one more item in which to earn points. The final isn’t worth that many points when you put it in context of earning points continuously over the course of the semester.

When I explained this to my students, most appeared to not have considered taking a zero before. I told them if they were happy with their final grade, then what would be the point of taking the exam? If you have an A in the course, would you show up and do extra work just so you could get more points on that A? Why would you do that? Exactly. I’m not expecting much of a turn out for the final.

Two Years Ago

One Year Ago