Friday, May 8, 2009

Sometimes it happens that way

It happens every so often that I will give an exam that, for whatever combination of reasons, the students are not universally prepared for and, whenever I try to grade such an exam, it will be apparent almost immediately that something is amiss. I see a lot of mistakes (and not consistent ones), for example, or there are a lot of doodles or scribbles or “AAACCKK!!” notes on them. There are other tools that I think all teachers use, as well. For example, many of us teachers have students that we use as benchmarks for the rest of the class. We look to them to see if what we’re doing makes sense to anyone. Sometimes they’re the adepts in the group, but I’ve found that it is often just as valuable to pick the student you know will struggle with whatever I’m showing them. If the struggling student gets it, I can be fairly sure the rest of them have it down, as well.

Last week’s exam was on days of the week, months, seasons and how to say, write and read a date. As units go, this is a simple one in my class; there’s not a lot of vocabulary to memorize, and the concepts involved in doing dates are fairly straightforward. I reviewed these on Monday, and said, “Here’s the vocab. Go, and memorize.” Lest you think this might be harsh and unsupportive, I should add that this is not normally a directive outside their abilities. They have been trained since October to do exactly that, and to come and find me if they’re having problems. On the whole, my students have no troubles with my handing them something and telling them to put it in their brains.

Not so this past week.

It could be the fact that spring is here. It could be that we’re reaching the end of the school year (7 weeks isn’t really the end in my mind, but they’ve already got Short-Timer’s Disease). It is also possible that, with everything else going on in their other classes, Spanish just slipped their minds (it happens, trust me). It might also be that on this occasion, I needed to hold their hands a bit more than normal. That’s when we go back through the exams, and we look at the performance of the benchmark students. It took me a day to review all 65 exams (only 2 of which hit the “B” level standard that is passing credit), and another couple of hours to look more closely at the benchmark exams. After all that, I came to the conclusion that all of the reasons described above probably had something to do with the spectacular crash and burn of last week’s exam.

So, what to do?

There are a couple of options: I could…

1. Yell at them and tell them to get on the stick and do their damn jobs, lest they fail my class, not graduate on time and be forced to endure the eternal wrath and ridicule of the adults in their world.

2. Tell them it’s my fault that they didn’t learn it well, take responsibility for their failure and reteach the unit.

3. Say to hell with it, pass them all and move on.

How many of you teachers would be tempted to go for #3? Go ahead, you can admit it. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.

If a poll were taken among those of you who know me, however, it would show overwhelmingly that I would follow the first option, and you would be partly correct. Only partly correct, though. I did, in fact, talk with my classes. I explained what happened with the exam, and asked them to be honest in telling me how many of them felt like they’d prepared for it the way they should have. There were a few who owned that they’d slacked, but many were surprised that they hadn’t passed. They wanted to see the exam, to see what they’d done wrong.

This is a good signal that I need to follow option two, and so I’m going to go back over trodden ground next week. Do I mind doing this? A little, but not because they didn’t get it right the first time. Truly, it has more to do with the fact that I’m running out of time. I still have 3 units left to cover before they start their Exhibition presentations, and I’m down to less than 1½ weeks to do them all. I’ll have to sit down with my calendar this weekend to strategize about how to fit everything in.

Sometimes, it just happens that way.


Laurie B said...

Hey Mr. Wayfarer,

The best teachers have the hardest rows to hoe. It probably isn't easy for you, but I believe that your students are learning a whole lot more about life in general than the average public school kid might.

Your kids think and don't just spew back. You teach your kids to have critical thinking and speaking skills. Your heart is huge and you help kids become loving and caring adults. Good job all around on that.

Anonymous said...

BEW has a term project that is required as a power point presentation, along with a printed report. She offers suggestions for the pp, and has concrete improvments on the paper. All the student has to do is to make the corrections and resubmit the paper.

Some do, some don't. I guess that passing with an C is almost the same as passing with a A, except the A will garner a letter of reference and the C gets a "who's that?"

You teacher folks are amazing. As a business manager, I would not tolerate the crap you all have to deal with. Tell your kids if they aren't going to college, they might be employed by me. They had better wake up and get on track. Working life is a bit more rigorous than they are use to in school and the job requires being on time and ready to go.

Slackers don't cut it. Even creative learners should have a plan. Start somewhere and work your way up. Ask for raises more often than you think you should, it'll pay off.