Recently, I asked my freshmen to respond to several prompts intended to assess their understanding of various literary concepts at the end of a unit. There was nothing more to study—nothing left to prepare for in advance. Simply, show what you know. Although I was doing committee work across the hall, expectations for the sub and students were clear: complete your responses by the end of the class period and place your papers in the basket. Students were welcome to interrupt my meeting and ask a question. Splendid.
When I had a break, I checked the basket to see what my students produced. The basket was full…of incomplete work.
In response, I experienced all stages of the teacher frustration cycle.
Shock: What the…?
Worry: What happened to my wonderful students? Where did I go wrong? Haven’t I taught anything during the last month? Have I failed to prepare my learners?
Examination: How did some meet the requirements but many not even come close?
Anger: How dare they not complete several simple responses?
Resentment: Seriously? Only a couple kids stopped in during intervention time or after school to complete the test. Do they expect to be gifted more class time tomorrow after seeing all the questions? What an entitled generation.
[Spite: Time to teach them a lesson! Make it hurt!]*
*At this point, I remembered one vital detail. We have established a healthy learning environment built on trust. Spite teaching will destroy weeks of progress. Learning is not limited by increments of time; nor is it measured by compliant behaviors. I decided to look closer at the underlying issue and replace the 6th stage—spite—with three different stages to produce more positive outcomes.
Introspection: Time to reflect. What’s really going on here? How can I turn a potentially negative consequence into a positive learning experience? My assessment prompts are strong and still valid. Even if students go home and prepare responses, what’s the worst that can happen? Everyone produces a quality argument and I have more to read? Everyone learns?
Next steps: Now what? Brainstorm all possible solutions, regardless of how outrageous they may seem. How can I create an unforgettable experience?
Growth: How can we turn our failures into an opportunity to learn? Got it!
The next morning, students sheepishly entered the classroom. Word had (somehow) spread that I was not pleased. There was a blank sheet of paper at everyone’s seat. They looked around and asked, “What are we doing today? Will we have time to finish the test? Am I really going to fail?”
My only response: Better start stretching. Today is not going to be a typical class period… Continue reading