Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scary Stuff

Well, I took the plunge, if only briefly: I unchecked the 'count this towards final grade' box in my online gradebook.

This meant that while I was still grading, still testing and still teaching, my students did not have a posted average that they could access online. Their reaction? One class seemed pretty nonplussed; one class nearly took my head off.

"There are our grades. Don't we have a right to know what they are?"
"We need to know what our averages are so we know how we're doing in class."
"How are we supposed to improve if we don't know our grade?"
"How are we supposed to apply to universities if we don't know what our average is?"

I was surprised by the reactions, and by which students seemed the most outraged: the students who were the most disengaged in class. Of course, this likely confirms my worst fear- that these students are disengaged in class because they truly see no connection between what goes on in class and what their grade is. As in, they only 'turn on' on the days there is a test. Oh, my breaking heart.

Yes, motivation and engagement and interest are my job (at least, that's what Twitter tells me most nights) and honestly, I don't think I'm doing too badly on that front. (And the war metaphor rears its ugly head once again). What is with all these parenthetical statements? Ugh, hopefully regular blogging help refine my writing style.

Anyway, my little rebellion didn't last too long; I was quickly told to stop messing around with my gradebook by the assistant principal, and I don't really mind. For a few days it felt like I was having a professional identity crisis, and while I recognize that discomfort and resistance create change and stuff, it was still an uncomfortable moment. Anyway, the moment has passed. I think my point was made to the students- it turns out that a lot of them heard me when I told them my fears point blank: that they were addicted to their grades.

Next post: The Intervention...


  1. I wonder if the disengagement with live classroom interaction is a parallel to consumption of media habits. I work in radio and I know my teenage children listen occasionally but they PREFER to create their own entertainment experience by choosing the songs they want when they want them.
    Maybe students' 'educational consumption' is the same as their 'entertainment consumption'. They prefer to do it on their own time-table, at a time and place of their choosing. Is it possible the teacher has become the provider of the 'guideline' ? Are students thinking: Growing up with the internet, I'm trained to find whatever I want when I need it. Give me the broad picture and I'll fill in the details when I need them (in time for the test).
    Is that your challenge? You'll always need to be the navigator of the ship, but how do you get more hands on deck keeping her afloat?

  2. The word that is most popular with teachers and educational types nowadays is 'facilitator' vs. 'teacher'. I'm not sure if I agree with that word though, since I don't think my role is necessarily that of making things easier for students.
    I think my challenge- everyone's challenge- is (to borrow your metaphor) figuring out where the ship is going. Tests that check for knowledge don't seem to mean much anymore when everyone can and does Google everything. I teach English, and so many students think that Sparknotes and Wikipedia are the quick versions of my lessons, but I truly don't care about the name of the protagonist's dog- but it seems that the students want me to test that because it's memorizable.
    One thing I changed right away in class after this experience was the kinds of questions I was asking in class. And every day I try to talk less.
    How much can I customize the curriculum? I'd love to offer the students independantly chosen novel studies, play studies and things that like that. I already give them a variety of short stories to choose from. Still, it's not the same as listening to music or changing the tv channel. Though, maybe it's not supposed to be.