SBG & Student Struggles

Today was frustrating for me. I recognize that it’s one of those things where one bad experience, even in an otherwise very good day, just turns your day bad. I’ll try to explain concisely.

A student, let’s call the student J, didn’t want to take a quiz for which he was absent during his “study hall” (we call it Academic Support) because he had homework which was due the next period.

My furious personal thoughts: “But you’ve known since last week that this quiz was to happen on Friday and when you were absent during my class on Friday you told me that you would take this on Monday and now it’s Monday and you’re refusing to take the quiz!!!”

So I told him “No, you have to take the quiz first”. He responded with “Okay, give me the quiz, I’ll just write my name on it and give it back to you”, knowing full well that students can retake quizzes for full credit. Not only that, but he knows that I will hound him and force him to retake the quiz until he does better, so from his point of view he “doesn’t have to worry about it.”

I confided my frustration with a fellow teacher.  This teacher does not use SBG and has deadlines for students that are immovable. He pointed out that for my class, failing the quiz was a “chronic” problem, whereas finishing the homework for this other teacher, who had deadlines, was a “crises” problem. The student views the latter as more immediate and therefore more important, whether rightly or wrongly so, so when given 50 minutes to do work, the student will choose the latter. This teacher confided how some students, who don’t do their work, are relieved to find out that they missed a deadline because it’s no longer hanging over their head. He confided that he would rather them be incredibly disappointed rather than relieved, and I wanted to shout “But is this what is best for the students?!? To be left off the hook???”

My first thought was “okay, how can I move my work to ‘crises’ level for the student without setting a deadline because I believe in retakes for students and a growth mindset.”[1] So I sent a long e-mail to the single mother of this child (who I was informed had been in the hospital last week), asking for the student to study at home and to come in to my tutoring sessions here a school. My next thought was “how can I make the student’s life miserable so that he caves in and studies? He’s already 4 quizzes (weeks) behind his peers and I need to get him to study on his own at home. So I’m going to require him to bring his lunch into my classroom and study. Want to goof off at home and not study? Okay, you’ll lose your lunch here at school.

But do I really want to make an antagonist out of this student? Just because he’s frustrated me once several times, should I make him view me as his enemy? One of the things I like about SBG is how it’s easy to show the students that we’re on their side. This is tough for me to do, but perhaps it’s the “tough love” action that I need to take. As long as I do it out of care for the student and not spite, then it can and will be the right thing to do.

While I’m on that, I need to look back because there are other students who haven’t pushed my buttons but who are doing just as poorly in class. I need to mandate that they come to tutoring as well (I’ve done this for a few students…). I think I’m going to make a sign-in sheet for the students so that’s one less thing I have to keep track of. Then again, I’ll have to chase them down if they’re not there… but at least I’m doing what’s right.

Any ideas to help out with this situation? [2]

[1] Actually my first, first thought is “all teachers should allow retakes/extensions of deadlines so that this doesn’t happen!”.

[2] That felt better just to get that off my chest. Thanks, #MTBoS



Filed under Teaching

4 responses to “SBG & Student Struggles

  1. This seems familiar, and I know how frustrating it is. I have started working all retakes into my other tests and quizzes, so the whole class retakes it at once on a schedule rather than at any time. This has helped me. It is awesome to see others fighting for their students. Great work!

  2. AppalachiaRising

    I’m just starting my fourth week of a first-year experiment with SBG. I have also run into problems with a lack of urgency to turn in assignments on my student’s part.

    And I’m torn.

    On the one hand, I want my students to grow in all sorts of way, and heaven knows they need to improve on their discipline, motivation, and time-management skills. BUT, on the other hand, many if not most of their difficulties stem from a lack of engagement, motivation, and sense of ownership over their own learning and growth.

    Here’s the thing. I’m okay with my class not instilling “discipline and adherence to deadlines” as its primary goal. I want my students to develop into better readers, writers, problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. (I teach English and American History to 11th graders.) Ultimately, I want them to be empowered individuals. But they need to be able to listen, think, and express their thoughts; if that empowerment is going to be anything real. And yes, it’s true that teaching them the importance of immovable deadlines (which life is full of), is important too. But we all have to choose our battles.

    Having said that, how do I get kids to make up assignments? I’m only four weeks in, and this is all an SBG experiment of a first-timer, but I’ve been tentatively thinking about these practices for years. Last week I printed a spreadsheet with all their scores on the skills I’ve assessed so far. (1.Reading, 2.Thesis-Writing, 3.Grammar/Mechanics, 4.Writing Style, 8.Discussion*). I gave each student a random ID number, and posted it on the wall.

    As you can see, I highlighted missing assignments in orange, and highlighted “3” or higher skills in green. I’ve gotten a lot more assignments back since then. Habits take time to build, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

    So yes, it bugs me a lot when I see kids goofing off when I know they have missing work. But my hypothesis in conducting this experiment is this: That students will take more ownership over their own learning and work output when a missed assignment can be made up. But we shall see. My first unit test is in three days. Midterm comments are due two days after that.

    • Thanks for replying so thoughtfully! I totally agree with this statement of yours:
      “Here’s the thing. I’m okay with my class not instilling “discipline and adherence to deadlines” as its primary goal. I want my students to develop into better readers, writers, problem-solvers, and critical thinkers.”

      One thing that my principal has jumped on board with is required tutoring. I’ve got a few students who are so far behind that we’ve pretty much said, “you’ve lost your privilege to play on the playground at lunch time–you have to come inside and study with Mr. Newman”. Of course, that means I lose my “free time” as well, but I think it’s much better spent helping students learn. I’ve also gotten into the habit of frequently giving re-quizzes alongside new quizzes, so students know they’re going to see the same thing over and over if they don’t pass it over and over. (Well, not the *exact* same quiz.)

      The last thing I’ve done is parent contact home–both in the form of sheets that parents have to sign to keep track of student study habits, as well as just calling or e-mailing home. That’s helped in some cases, and I can definitely do a better job of contacting home.

      I like your idea of the public reminder of “hey, you need to turn this in”, yet using the student IDs so it doesn’t shame them. I wonder if I could do something like that. Then again I frequently have them get online and check their standards so they *see* what they need to work on.

      Thanks again for your reply!

  3. Cheryl

    The beauty of SRG is students learn on their time (within reason). Don’t hound the students to get their work done. Let the grades talk. My students know that if they’ve been present, they need to take the quiz/test. However, if a student has missed several classes, and in this case you said mom was in the hospital, say “Okay, you can take it _____, but you need to use class time today to get caught up.”

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