Sunday, 10 January 2010


My first Financial Accounting class of the new semester is tomorrow. I am prepared. I am excited. After 40 years, it is nice to feel such anticipation.

My goal for the first class is to convince the student that financial accounting is really important to them (regardless of their major), help them understand the topic in terms of the conveyance of financial information to decision-makers, and start helping them to understand that it is actually all quite interesting.

In my classes, normally about 11 percent to 24 percent of the students earn the grade of A. I like for the percentage to be small enough to feel really special, a genuine challenge. However, I also want the grade to seem attainable with a reasonably strong effort.

I am a big believer that students believe other students (“the grapevine”) much more than they will ever believe any teacher. So, at the end of each semester, I send an email to the students who make the grade of A in my class. First, I want to tell them their grade personally and congratulate them on doing such a good job. There is something about giving an A without a personal bit of congratulation that I don’t like. For those students who took up the challenge and made an A, I want them to know how pleased I am.

In addition, I ask them to write me a short paragraph telling me how they managed to achieve such an excellent grade when a large majority of the students did not. I only give them two rules: be honest and be serious. I use this feedback as my own personal student evaluations. I want to get a feel for how students go about doing well in my class.

More importantly, I want to use these little essays to guide the next group of students who come along. I cut and paste each paragraph into a Word document regardless of what the student says. Then, about three weeks before the semester begins, I send that document to my new students by email with a challenge: “I want everyone in this class to make an A. Here is what a bunch of students JUST LIKE YOU did to make an A in my class. If that is what those students did, I would take it to heart if I were you. They did it and so can you.”

I am always amazed that even the brightest person sometimes seems clueless as to how to be an effective and efficient student. In fact, some of my brightest students turn out to have the very poorest learning skills because they have never had a need (until now). Financial Accounting is a hard class for all of the students. I want to find ways to guide my students to be good learners. I believe these “How I Made an A” essays are great guides.

Here (below) is one of the essays that I got from a student at the end of last semester. It is pretty much typical. What messages was I glad to hear?
--Don’t miss class
--How to find answers to my questions
--Doing well is not impossible
--Don’t be afraid
--It is an interesting and helpful class.

I could (and do) tell all my students those things over and over. But coming from the teacher, they are probably ignored by the students who have heard those stories for their entire educational career. There is just something about getting the message from other students, especially ones who actually did well, that seems to catch their attention.

From Financial Accounting student (Fall 2009):
“The most important thing you need to get an A is to be prepared. Be prepared for every class. I understand that sometimes you won’t be that excited to read about accounting but it doesn’t take that much time and it’s worth it. Preparation is all you need here. Try not to miss a class, read the handouts every time and try to answer every question on them. Sometimes you won’t be able to answer them but this is the way to learn the stuff. Search through the book, work with some students from your class, ask Professor Hoyle. This is just the way learning works. As for the tests, just be sure to leave more time to study- 2 or 3 days was enough for me. Go back through all the handouts from Professor Hoyle and think about the material he could ask about on the test (although most time he covers all possible material). His tests are not impossible and he always curves them. Always, always, always be prepared and focused on the tests. They determine your grade. You will be perfectly fine if you don’t answer a question in class, but you will struggle if you start missing questions on the tests. Good luck and don’t be afraid! I remember reading these paragraphs several months ago and I was thinking that this class is a hell. However, this was my most interesting and helpful class. Professor Hoyle just wants to help you by giving you these. He wants to give you an A. Don’t let him down!”

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