Sunday, June 05, 2011

Mr. Silva-Brown's Report Card, Part Four "Analyzing the data" 2011 edition

What should I take from the data that the students presented me?

-First thing that comes to mind is the issue of quizzes and homework.  My interpretation of what students, and parents, want regarding “homework” is essentially “busy work”.  It is work that is fairly mind-numbing to do, easy to grade, and presents little or no opportunity to learn a damn thing.  It is why so many kids are now entering the Independent Study program.  It’s packet work.  I don’t do busy work, though many parents call and complain that too much of the student’s grade is based on tests and quizzes.  Well, a good 80% of a student’s grade is in fact based on assessment, and I have no problem with that.  The argument could be made that it favors those that don’t have test anxiety.  I’ll argue that test anxiety is more often than not a very convenient excuse for lazy asses who don’t want to do the work.  A teacher can look at trends of a student and see obvious test anxiety.  But what 2-3 quizzes a week show is that the student is learning, and retaining, information.  Many questions on quizzes are reused from previous quizzes.  I did some homework that was engaging and most of it was turned in half-assed or not turned in at all.  I’m not about to engage in busy work now or in the foreseeable future.

-AP U.S. History has every right to want more hands on activities and less lecture.  However, until the College Board figures out how to have more depth and less breadth, than I need to make decisions that get info across quick.  If any other APUSH teachers have ideas, I’m all ears.

-As you can see, the issue of hands-on activities varies from response to response.  Some say I don’t do enough, others say I do plenty.  I’m not about to get rid of Direct Instruction (using Power Point mixed with multimedia), and I loath the argument that it doesn’t have a place in Education.  Many students want lecture, just good lectures.  Not those that last an entire class period and bring forth nothing engaging.  Still, I want to find a more meaningful question for each section.  I’m lucky to teach a very relevant topic, and a good quest for an answer is missing from each unit.

-The ego question is interesting.  I think I could come off as having an ego in my classroom because I’m very clear and consistent with how I want things done within that class.  The class is not closed to thought and debate by any means, and those that say so (a couple of evals did) either were not in class enough to really care or are lying.  The line between a totally open environment and one with boundaries is interesting.  There are some teachers that have so few boundaries that the kids basically rule the class, essentially dictating policy that often is counter to the best practices of educating young adults.  I think this creates an interesting dynamic when those types of students come into my classroom with the “I’m the boss” attitude and all of the sudden realize that they aren’t.  Yes, I’m the boss.  Yes, I expect that you prove to me that you can get the job done.  And yes, it won’t be the last time someone will tell you to do something.

-I care for my students.  But sometimes caring for Seniors means that if they want to dig, you ask nicely why their digging and then step back and let them go.  Most will figure it out.  Others won’t.  That’s part of growing up, even if it means they might not graduate high school.  This year I had many students that wanted to dig.  While many parent conversations were good, some hinted that I didn’t care for students because I didn’t allow them to do what they wanted.  “My kid wants to play sports, give blood, be the student body president, take three AP’s, party on the weekends, be in a half-dozen clubs, cut class, and have all those rights beholden to Seniors.  Why don’t you just let them get an A and enjoy their last year in high school?”  Well, the answer is that I don’t have any control over the rest of it so I don’t prevent them from doing anything.  The thing is, very few students can engage in all those activities and do well in my class.  However, the best do figure it out.  They make good choices.  Most don’t, and they make bad choices.  Giving blood or coming to my class, which is the better choice?  I never say one is better than the other, I tell the student to make the choice.  They might not like the fact that they have a B because they didn’t get all the instruction they could, but that’s part of the consequence.  It is something that we as a society need to take a closer look at. 

What do you think about the student responses?  Your thoughts….   

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