Gave a little sermon the other day to one of my classes, as I just couldn’t get a response to a series of attempts to engage. It’s a small class, and they say morning classes are markedly different that afternoon classes, lower energy, quieter. But for the students to sit and do nothing, say nothing, in response to legitimate topic-related questions, I don’t think is fair, or responsible, and I told them so. I have intelligent, capable students, have dynamic personalities, and of course a number of very shy students who always find it difficult to give even a yes or a no in front of others. But lately they act as if they’re just bodies in chairs facing forward.
Told them something or other, from my stool behind the controls, where I sit when nothing much is happening or when I’m using the screen. To put themselves forth a little more, that I was only trying to help them connect more with these ideas, have them turn them over in their minds so as to better comprehend, that it was my job to do my best teaching, theirs to learn, and being in a half asleep state wouldn’t help that any. All the time I’m feeling that some maybe need a quiet time more that this discussion on photosynthesis, that I don’t blame them for not wanting to be the one who speaks into the quiet with an answer that might be perceived as wrong, or an attitude too compliant. Told them in case they hadn’t noticed by now, no one jumps on you for making mistakes, that I value participation itself, that everyone finds that more interesting than just me doing the talking or giving out worksheets. Then I went on, the choice, as always, up to them, and I wasn’t going to get all worked up over it.
End of quarter, and there’s a feeling in some of having given up–two or three per class, even though the grades they have are malleable, pretty much to the last minute, as I have told them all–to complete the work and earn the numbers, do this, talk with me, we’ll work on something alternative, whatever, just make the move. A few have, asking what they can do to improve their grade, handing in quiz corrections and late assignments, asking if this will do for that. Others, though I and the special ed teacher have filled notebooks with sticky notes to alert them to points that can be earned, added missing items, provided scaffolding for the more complex items, just let it go. One has done nothing but use their smart phone through the whole class, no response to any of my invitations. Though I go easy in them because they have an air of deep discouragement, and I don’t want to do any harm.
I’ve started meeting briefly each day with the special ed teacher, and feel we’re getting on better, being more of a team. She’s helping me enter a mindset that is more appropriate with the students who struggle most, that effort, completing, even attempt must sometimes be the criteria, rather than conceptual understanding or skill. Hard for me, as I have that sense of a need to be consistent with grading, and don’t want anyone to feel that sliding through barely engaged is a mark of success. Then I remember that these are not students who will be taking their A’s and B’s to apply to study science at college, believing their 3.0 is the same as someone else who got it at the big school. Success looks different for everyone, so the current code has to be re interpreted.
But I need to keep a special eye out for the students who can really grasp the subtleties, hose who gravitate toward the ideas, who really want to know. Maybe those three who asked to take plants home to grow, the one who said he’s interested in microbiology, another who wondered how seeds make it to the surface without light. Who knows but that some will go into science, some into camera work on scientific expeditions, some into artistic expressions of the diversity and beauty of living things, another into conservation work, just to be around the life sciences.