Skip to main content

The class before (Thanksgiving) break

An alum who is in a new teaching position responded to my rant on the Thanksgiving shuttle by asking what my advice is about the class on the day before Thanksgiving, and more generally, about the day before any break. It’s a difficult issue, since you don’t want to penalize students who need to leave early for good reasons [1] but you also don’t want to penalize students who have decided to stay for class.

There are a variety of options that I’ve used of have seen colleagues use.

  • Make it a light class. The students who stay learn a bit more, but not as much as they would learn in a normal class. That isn’t great for the students who stay, but at least they learn something new.
  • Make it a heavy class, with core concepts students need to pass the class. This approach penalizes students who have, in effect, indicated that something else is more important than class time. The extreme version of this model is to put a high-stakes exam or quiz on the day before break.
  • Cancel class. This approach seems unfair to students who have made the decision to stay for the day, perhaps because they have other instructors who have chosen one of the other options [2].
  • Treat it as any other class day.

Whatever option you choose, you should make it early in the semester and announce it to students. Some of you may choose to miss class on the day before Thanksgiving [5]. You are expected to master the material from that class day before you return from that break.

What’s my strategy? It depends. For morning classes, I generally use the treat it as any other class day approach. For afternoon classes, I sometimes take advantage of the Pause for Breath days that I generally include in my syllabi. The day before break becomes a day in which I go over recent homework problems and other student questions. I find that students find those days useful, but not strictly necessary. So students who attend get a good benefit and students who miss are not overly penalized.

Of course, I don’t manage to do it every year. This year in CSC 151, I scheduled project work time for the day before Thanksgiving. It’s not ideal, but students do need time to work on their projects, and I think most will be in class those days. What did I plan for CSC 301? A discussion of the exam they recently completed [6].

Of course, Grinnell alums think more broadly about implications. And so I also got a followup question. I don’t have it in front of me, but it went approximately like How do I prevent discussions in the days immediately after break from being negatively affected by the students who missed class before break and therefore are not on top of the material? [7]

That’s an easier question to answer. Students are responsible for the days they miss, even if the day is right before break. Make the topic of the class before break clear and provide them with self-study resources. Indicate that they are expected to complete those materials in preparation for the class after break. Give a high-stakes quiz immediately after break [8].

Or, if you’re at Grinnell, ask the students to self-gov the issue.

[1] And yes, I accept I saved a few hundred dollars as a good reason.

[2] I think Cancel class should be handled at the institutional level. There’s no reason that we can’t just decide to give everyone Wednesday off [3].

[3] Okay, the Faculty Red Tape is one reason. Let’s see … It probably has to start with Curriculum Committee. They’ll want to develop some models and get feedback, first from Executive Council and then from a broader group of students, faculty, student affairs professionals, and the rest. At some point the proposal will go to the faculty. Some will say Duh. That’s obvious. Why have we waited so long? Others will say My syllabus is so perfectly crafted that I cannot give up a day. [4]

[4] Yes, folks said something like that the time we discussed canceling class on MLK day.

[5] Or whatever break it is.

[6] Will I have it graded by then? I think the review day is good incentive to get the grading done.

[7] The alum phrased it better.

[8] Once you have tenure, you can employ the Bruce Voyles approach: Students who don’t pass the quiz are deemed Goats and get to have a separate discussion without the benefit of their prepared peers and instructor.

Version 1.0 of 2017-11-14.