Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 123: Migraines and Man-Hugs

On my sick day, I graded the geometry quizzes and was VERY disappointed.  First, I was disappointed by how few of them were actually turned in on time.  I feel as though my students are taking advantage of my willingness to let them turn in late work.  I don't mean "take advantage of" to mean that they are utilizing the flexibility for the purpose of creating a better product.  The work that comes in late does not seem to be of any higher quality than work that comes in on time, which leads me to the second disappointment: the scores.

The class average was about a 50% with no problems being singled out as overwhelmingly wrong.  Incorrect answers were scattered throughout the test.  After putting in the grades that students earned, along with zeroes for the assignments that haven't been turned in, there are 12 students with F's and another 9 with D's.

For all intents and purposes, this is an honors course.  We had a discussion today about the lack of effort.  Also, how it isn't just in my class.  I've spoken with their science and social studies teachers who tell me similar things.  The quality of work with these students has dropped off precipitously in the past 2 months.

Instead of going over the questions with them, I did the following:

I wrote the number 1-20 (questions on the quiz) on mini post-it notes.
I folded them up and put them in a box, going around the room having each group pick one at a time.
The four remaining numbers were mine.
The groups were take their 2 problems, come up with solutions and explanations for each.
During the second half of class, the groups presented their work and explanations to the rest of the class in 2 minutes bursts.

Since the numbers were chosen randomly, a few groups got problems that everyone in the group got wrong and had to solve them before them could explain to the class.  Overall, I was very pleased with this activity and plan to do it again.  The next time, however, I need to change a few things:

  • Leave more time for presentations (2 minutes per problem this time)
  • Give more specific directions on how presentations should be done
  • Perhaps have giant paper to hang up around the room so problems can be displayed for viewing after presentations.
The pre-algebra classes did a cumulative  review, working in partners, for the period.  A large portion of them were on task.  The pace at which they work, however, is incredibly slow.  I don't think this is due to lack of understanding and much as the fact that they are easily distracted.  As a result, it takes three times as long to do a problem and they think they are bad at math.

In reality, they are bad at attending to a task.  It doesn't even seem to matter what that task is.  With the variety of activities that I've tried, to maximize engagement, I've noticed that the same kids are consistently off-task.  This leads me to believe that it's not necessarily the task that needs to be modified as much as a vital skill that needs to be honed.

Students need to be taught about attention to task and task completion, regardless of the task given to them.  My students who consistently do what I ask of them say that when they hate what we're doing, they still do it just to get it over with.  I think this is a vital insight and if it can be taught, it should be.

Period 8/9 had maybe 10% of the students doing what I asked.  Even with directions written on the board, several wasted at least half an hour asking what we were supposed to be doing.  Then sat there with their books closed from the remainder of the period.

I let several students bait me and ended up calling several parents during the period.  I'm beginning to wonder if there is a game going to see who can give the greatest level of disrespect to teachers.

During period 4/5, I got a migraine.  I get occular migraines.  Those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, let me explain.  A typical migraine is like a VERY bad headache.  They can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.  Occular migraines are slightly different.  There is little to no pain associated with them.

I just go blind for a bit.

It starts out like an afterimage that slowly spreads across my vision, leaving "holes" in what I can see, making it difficult to read, or do anything that requires my eyes.  If I take some Advil right when I notice it, it usually only lasts about half an hour.

But it is a scary half hour.

I am very glad that today was not a "lecture" day.

I pulled aside a student who, by all rights, should have an A and has been slacking lately.  I told her how concerned I was and asked if there was anything I could do to help.  She said that she didn't know what was up, but had been out of sorts.  She appreciated my concern and promised to let me know if I could help.

Then, I pulled aside the student in pre-algebra who was at the center of my bad week last week.  The situation had resulted in a 3 day suspension for him and I felt we needed to talk about it.

I told him about what a great he had done when we first came into my class and how sorry I was that things had gone off the rails the way that they did.  I told him how much I liked him and I hoped that we could start over with a clean slate.  He said he'd like that and I didn't detect any anger or sarcasm.  We shook hands on it and when he went in for the "man hug" I obliged.

He is a good kid and I do like him.  Things just got way out of hand and I'm hoping this is the first step to getting both of us back on track.

1 comment:

  1. Whoah with the man-hugs! No way!

    Actually my first year of teaching I was so scared all the time that I probably never would have hugged anybody, even if their puppy died in their arms right in front of me. (Well, if their puppy died in their arms, I wouldn't want to hug them because they wouldn't be able to hug me back, because ... okay, enough)

    Anyway. I want to share my day a little here because some of what you shared above sort of resonates. I also have a lot of students who kind of stare and don't ... they just don't follow directions very quickly--I guess next year I'm going to make a big deal out of that at the start--just the little habits of good students. Following directions. "When I say get out a piece of paper, the best students get out a piece of paper." That kind of thing. I'm not trying to create an army of order-followers, but the struggling students are the ones who just stare off into space or who are overcome by their own lethargy and inertia. When you talk about attending to a task, this is what I think of. It reminds me a lot of the word ATTENTION, which is a big important word in some mindfulness talks I've listened to. If we could teach our students to ATTEND to the present moment like a nurse attends to a sick patient or like we all would attend to our sick relatives, I think we'd have pretty awesome students.

    Your Period 8/9 is my Period 6. The majority do nothing and then there are some who bait me.

    ... (took a break from writing this comment to watch videos and veg for a few minutes)

    ANYwhoo, what I guess I'm finding is that ... the progress I'm making does not come from getting them to go from 10% participation to 12% participation--although that is where most of my energy has gone--to pushing them, cajoling them, making deals, just trying to push that 10% to 12%. And so most of the time, we're all frustrated with each other and nothing good is happening.

    But today, I was relatively successful because I wasn't trying to argue or cajole. I'm starting to see that argument is wasted breath, and that the best I can do is to design lots of tasks and keep jumping from one to the other. My old habit has been to stay on one task, and when I sense they don't get it, I work on it a little more until I'm frustrated and they're frustrated ... And what I'm starting to learn is: teach it, assess whether it worked, linger on it IF SAID LINGERING IS PRODUCTIVE, and then move on. That last part, that moving on, is what I'm just starting to get the idea about--I had no idea. I always beat every lesson to death.

    It's not just academic lessons, either. It's behavioral lessons. My strategy up till now usually involves a lot of cajoling, pleading, and then ultimately accepting defeat. Now I'm still accepting defeat, but I'm getting in their face and getting loud every so often too. And the epiphany is that the argument is not going to be won or lost right there. It's going to continue, one battle at a time. So I better brace myself for the long haul. So today, my class participated at about a 10% level, but this wasn't really bothering me (the grace of God allowed this--tomorrow it will probably drive me crazy and I will make a fool of myself fighting it). It wasn't bothering me, and yet I did yell and stomp and so on, and some (not all) of that yelling and stomping was effective.

    You can read more about this at my new site,


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