Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Day 127: One-Size-Fits-Some

Our Spring Break was Friday and Monday.  I wasn't ready to be back at work today, either physically or mentally.

The end of the marking period is quickly approaching and, with it, the traditional cries of "What can I do to get my grade up?"

My standard answer is usually "build a time machine, go back to day one and make different choices about assignments."

In reality, I'd be fine with them simply completing the first part.  If you're able to build a time machine, then clearly you have mastered whatever concepts I've been trying to assess and you can have the A.

This, along with my apparent inability to read a calendar properly, means that I am looking for assignments for my students, partially to pass time, and partially to give them the opportunity to boost grades.

As of this writing, the Astronomy class had 3 different assignments dealing with Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion.  All three involve graphing and answering analysis questions.

Many of the students worked, but many did not.  At least for today, I am not feeling responsible for the latter group.  As I have written before, a large portion of my students are seniors who need the science credit to graduate.  For multiple reasons, this only seems to occur to several of them right before the report period closes.

Two students accosted me in the hallway, threw their arms around me and escorted me down the hall, talking jovially the entire time as though I were their police sergeant and they wanted to talk me out of the meter-reader duty that I just assigned to them.

I used to think that school did a terrible job of helping students to understand long-term goals.  I'm not sure this is true.  The structure of school itself is designed around short-, middle-, and long-term goals.

Short-term goals are emphasized in terms of individual assignments, mid-term goals in terms of whole chapters or units, and long-term goals are in the form of marking periods, years and ultimately, graduation.

The problem is not that school doesn't emphasize these, but rather, much like most things in school, it uses a one-size-fits-all approach.

The current structure works well for many students.  I think, however, that when it doesn't work for a student, we look at how reasonable the system is and blame the student.

To be fair, there are many students who hold blame for their own short-comings, but even those students could be helped by examining how we teach about goal-setting.  I believe that if we allowed for a structure where students who work well under pressure, we would have many more successes.

I know that I would have been more successful under such conditions.  I work best with an approaching deadline and a specific list of tasks to complete.  This plays out in my home life fairly clearly.

My wife wants to clean the house, so she says "we should clean the house."
"Sounds good to me," says I.  Then I sit down and check my e-mail over and over.

My wife wants to clean the house, so she says "here are the things I'd like to get done today."
"Sounds good to me," says I.  Then I get to work on that list of things and I don't have to sleep on the couch!

Telling my colleague about my intentions for this post led to an interesting post-school.  His claim, to which he may have swayed me, was not that the system was the problem as much as our application of that system.

He claimed that the "system" was the idea that in order to accomplish something, whether that is complete as a task, learn a skill or develop an ability, one must think and practice with intention.  School then evaluates and provides feedback to students, determining if they have mastered that skill well enough to move on to the next one.

He further claimed that it is the various modifications and applications of this system that cause it to be effective (or not) for the educational development of students.

I fear that I have not does his argument justice and will be happy to edit if he so desires.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a kindergarten student who has been ruined by school.  You are MUCH more likely to find a 12th grader who has been.  Something happens in the intervening years that drives students from being the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, "please let me please you" 6-year-olds into the jaded, angry, "I can't wait to get out of here" 18-year-olds that we send into the world.

These are typical image results for "Kindergarten Classroom" and "High School Classroom" respectively.

How much of the change in attitude is due to hormones and how much is due to the mounting pressure of "getting them ready for the world," whatever that means?

School is not completely to blame for this as students, like all people, are complicated.  Many things happen to people over 12 years, but there seems to be a disproportionate number who blame (hate) school.

How much conformity is reasonable to expect in order to prepare students to survive in society?

What do we really value and how do we know if we are doing a good job at that?

Why do we send kids to school?

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