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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Sideways Editing

When revising writing that I’ve labelled “awkward,” students have a tendency to practice what I call “sideways editing.”  Instead of swapping out their initial phraseology for something more fluently developed, they rearrange the existing parts into an equally awkward sequel.

Here’s an example that I now use as an illustration in class:

First draft: The article had good ideas in it and related them to us good. 

is not substantially improved as

Second draft: The article’s ideas were good and they were related to the readers in good ways too.  

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Every semester.  As I go over the syllabus with a new class, there is inevitably the response from a few freshmen, “Why do you take attendance?  That’s for kids— stop treating us like kids.”

The only reason people would have a problem with taking attendance is because they want to ditch class with no penalty.  It’s time to learn that there is no such thing as an action with no consequence.

“But if I can pass the class without being there every day, why should I always come?”

To which I’d explain that that’s not the point.  A critical part of college—perhaps the biggest part, in fact—is inculcating professionalism in students.  Across the board, regardless of major, molding students into professionals may be the number one goal.

And that means attendance.

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Three examples from my experience as a teacher:

1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school.  His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming.  Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.

2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights.  The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.

3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.

Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point?  I wish.  I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.

Family structure and stability are so crucial to success.  That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research.  Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect.  And kids just keep paying the price for it…

 

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Sick Day Origins

Teachers: “It’s 3 A.M. and I’ve thrown up five times.  Maybe I should call in sick?  But the juniors have that big project due today, and I want to be sure I hold them to it.  Besides, a lot of them worked really hard and they want me to see their final product.  And I have two parent conferences I need to be there for.  And if I stay home sick, I’ll just have to go in for a bit anyway, because I’ll have to switch out half the materials for 3rd and 4th period for stuff the sub will be able to use.  And I have three kids coming in for detention today–no way do they get off the hook!  Plus, I’m doing my favorite lesson of the quarter with the sophomores and I don’t want to miss that, or push it back, or have a sub messing that up.  …Oh!  And I wanted to talk to those guys in 1st period about the game yesterday!  *sigh*  I’ll just go in.  It’s too much hassle to take a day off.”

Students:*Achoo!*  Sweet!  I have the sniffles.  I’m gonna take a week off!”

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Great truth from the movie Good Will Hunting.  A bit of language at the very beginning and end, but from 3:26-3:32 in this clip, there’s a ton of wisdom.

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Final Exam Follies

This semester I had three sections of a remedial college writing class, where the final exam is graded by a committee of the teachers, who get to put in several hours outside of class this week doing so.  Hooray, I’m on the committee!

Every college final exam always has that one person who stays to work on their test for an hour after everyone else has left.  They only leave because time runs out.  On Tuesday I had one such situation where the lights in the building automatically shut off at 10 PM.  The student cheerfully continued writing until I said it was time to go.

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A Teacher’s Week

I’m still tired.  Last week was a big one, work-wise.

For my main teaching job, I show up by 7 AM, and the last class ends at 2 PM.  That’s a 35-hour week.  Not bad.  Most years I sell one of my two prep periods and teach an extra class–it lowers class sizes for the school and boosts my paycheck–but this year my school didn’t do that, so I have even more productive time during the school day (but, alas, a lower salary).

I also teach part time at UNLV–usually two freshman writing classes per semester.  This time I have those classes on Tuesday and Thursday, from 5:30 until 8:15.  On those nights, I get home around 9:00.  I use the time between the two schools for office hours–grading papers, mostly.

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Every school send kids to the dean for fighting or stealing or drinking.  Then those kids get detention or suspension or some other punishment.

And then they just keep on failing in class.

My school not only allows, but requires teachers to give detention  for missing work and low grades during an extended lunch period.  Each subject has a certain day of the week (English is on Tuesday) and we’re supposed to hold students who are failing and make them do their work.

That’s right, we stigmatize failure.  We hold students immediately responsible for their choices to slide by and not achieve.

Any student who fails to show up will get an after-school detention with the deans.  That’s right, our deans support our teachers and help them get results by making kids accountable.

Do they get the message and become more self-motivated?  Not always.  They’re teens.

But they know that success is important to us.  They know what our priorities and expectations are.  That’s more than can be said for most schools.

“But you work at an elite magnet school for the arts!  Sure, they’e not all geniuses, but they all did have to apply to get in and have to keep their grades up to stay in.  Most schools don’t have that luxury.”

That changes nothing.  Bottom line: students will not take academics seriously if we don’t.  If we want improvement in our schools, we absolutely must make academic success our top–our only–goal, and zero in on it with passion.

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College Textbooks

A recent article includes college textbooks among the biggest consumer rip offs in America.

Yup.

Releasing superfluous new editions is a favorite trick of publishers.

Why do we need brand new algebra books?  Has there been some major breakthrough in the field of algebra lately?  Some paradigm-shifting, cutting-edge research totally redefined that field and now the algebra books from 2010 are hopelessly obsolete?

Ditto for Shakespeare.  What could possibly cause a legitimate demand for new editions of Shakespeare?  It’s not like he’s written anything new lately.  We could literally use the same Shakespeare textbooks we had 300 years ago.

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As the new school year starts and I assess what my new students need, I find myself growing ever more convinced of the wisdom of these two great axioms of educating:

  • Nobody ever became a good writer before they were a great reader.
  • It is far better for students to write five 1-page papers than to write one 5-page paper.

Friends, instruct accordingly.

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A Secret About Classroom Crowding

Everybody knows that classrooms are overcrowded.  Many would be surprised, though, to hear how bad it is: some classes will start this year with upwards of 50 kids in them.  Shocking!

But don’t worry.  It’s not as bad as they say.  Really!

Most of those explosive numbers are in remedial classes.  One of the reasons why kids end up in those lowest-level classes is because of their chronic truancy–many of them won’t bother to show up a good deal of the time.

So in a class of 50, maybe 40-45 will show up on any given day.

And with all the transiency and disciplinary measures that will always accompany lowest-level classes, by the end of the school year that 50-kid roster will be down to about 30.

The 50-student class will exist far more often on paper than in actual seats in a classroom.

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Some current received wisdom: failure is good for us because it’s a strong teacher, and American kids today don’t get to experience it enough because they’re bubble-wrapped through life.

Both ideas have a lot of truth to them, but there’s another that needs to get out there, too:

American kids do still experience failure–constantly–but it’s been completely neutered.

Young people don’t fear failure, nor do they learn from it, though many of them will fail test after test, class after class, all the way through their school career.

Why?  Because what happens after those failures?  Increased practice?  Shame?  Loss of privileges?

Nope.  Nothing.  After the vast majority of daily school failures in this country, for the average teenager, life will proceed normally, as if nothing bad had happened at all.

We, as parents and school personnel, not only don’t hold their feet to the fire, we actively intervene to soften the natural consequences of failure.

In a climate like that, how could students possibly be expected to learn anything about academics, much less life?  Where’s the incentive?

If anything, they learn that failure is harmless and that hard work is pointless.  These lessons would prove terrifying in the real world if the real world itself weren’t increasingly so bent on maintaining that status quo…

 

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I find that most students, at first, want to call any old description a metaphor.  After I give a definition and examples, when I ask for their own examples, they give me things like, “The dog is old.”

“What two things are being compared there?” I ask.  They pause, then say, “Dogs and old.”

To help alleviate the confusion, here’s little graphic:

metaphors

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Saw this online yesterday.  Really want one for my classroom.  Really.

fallacies

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Kids With Dead Moms

As a follow-up to last week’s bit about sick kids, here’s this: it’s surprising just how many kids out there have lost parents.  In some cases, both.

This last school year, I had three students whose mothers have died.  There may be more; those are just the ones I know of.  Another student had lost his father.  They’re holding up well, all things considered.

Especially in poverty-heavy areas, students are likely to be raised by someone other than a parent.  Grandparents raising kids isn’t uncommon.  About ten years ago, I knew a girl who was being raised by her great-grandparents.  Each of her parents, at different times, had just decided to skip town and go enjoy life.  She wasn’t stable.

Also not uncommon are single moms who can’t handle their sullen, violent sons, and who ship the boys off to live with dad to straighten them out.  It usually seems like too little, too late.

Variations on family failure just find different ways to hurt kids.  I once had a student whose father molested her.  I actually met him at a parent conference once, and never would have guessed it, though I don’t know what the signs would have been.  After he was arrested, she withdrew because of the shame and ended up moving away.

Another year there was a class with a young woman who had been crippled in an attack that also killed her little sister, a tragedy instigated by a drug deal her mom was involved in and which went sour.  That one had a happy ending: she got adopted by a great family who loved her.

 

 

 

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