Monday, June 7, 2010

Phasing out...

My classes have what I refer to as a “phased withdrawal” at the end of each term. Essentially, this means that assignments for the class are not due all at once. Instead, they have a series of deadlines for when particular work needs to be completed and to credit standard (earlier work is due earlier, later work is due later, for example). This is so that the end-of-year routine is manageable for the students, many of whom are balancing the needs of many classes all at once, and for their beloved teacher, who has learned that it lessens the stress of the students who aren’t going to make it if I can talk to them earlier rather than later about their need to repeat the course.

We passed the first of the deadlines last Friday. Currently (and with two weeks remaining), 18% of my current enrollment will not earn credit. This is an astonishing number compared to years past, when the average was under 15% at the end of the term. The number of students who are not ready to move on could, quite reasonably, top 25% in what time is left. That is truly alarming to me, especially given the amount of support I give my students.

I have to be honest in saying I’m not entirely certain what the problem is. Some of the total is a standard number of students who simply didn’t put the time, effort and attention into the course that they knew they needed to, but this is not a sizeable percentage -- roughly only a third of those not advancing. The other 2/3, I discovered today, is composed in large part of students who gave good effort in class, but did not have the foundational skills to support daily practice outside the classroom. Simply put, they didn’t have the study habits, time management skills or organizational routines they needed to do what I was asking them to do.

Is this year’s situation an aberration? In its sheer volume, perhaps, but not in terms of the basic underlying problem -- a problem that many high school teachers are faced with. We expect students to come into our classes with certain fundamental skills in place and, when they don’t, often the only thing we can do is say, “they don’t know what they need to,” and fail them. I am convinced of the need to support students of all levels in my classes, but the matter of fundamental skills remains one that is not easily resolved by in-class differentiation.

I decided today that, in retooling for next year, I’m going to invest some time in researching how to solve this problem. It just seems like one that is thoroughly preventable, and I cannot help but believe that a solution is there to be found. Before the end of the school year, I’m going to talk to my students to get their thoughts; they are often wonderfully astute and insightful about such things. I also hope to get some time to sit with my colleagues, who understand the particular flavor of the problem as it exists in my school. Finally, I’m curious to know what you, the blogging public, think. How can teachers better support students who need the basics, but not sacrifice the other stuff? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

1 comment:

the passionate hairdresser said...

I'm wondering if this is where "wifeness" needs to step in?? She IS the queen of organizing stuff! Katiekatherine's therapist feels some of these issues (which she also "suffers" from) are organizational in nature. I've tried to organize her (matching folders & notebooks for each class) & explained what was expected of her, check on her, to no avail. It will be interesting to see what her therapist has to offer...I'll pass on whatever she suggests for Katiekatherine!