In which that’s a new one

Periodically I’ll let my students work on a site called Quizizz. There are three Zs in Quizizz and I think I have them arranged correctly but I can never be sure; I think they change it from time to time. Quizizz is one of those sites where it’s best used with an entire class at once, but doing it asynchronously works just fine as well; the students are asked questions and provided four answers, and points are awarded based on 1) whether the answer was correct and 2) how quickly the answer was provided. You can also set the quizzes so that the kids can take them as many times as they want, which is fun for the more competitive ones. I typically will take it once and offer a small number of extra credit points to anyone who can beat my score, which is definitely a thing that happens, especially if I fuck up and actually miss one.

Quizizz also allows the kids to customize how their names are displayed, which sounds like it’s an opening for XxXMelvinThaRaper420XxX (Melvin does not know how “rapper” is spelled) to show up on your list of students, but they either have robust blocklists in place or my students have been displaying a rare level of self-restraint, because I can only think of a couple of times where it hasn’t been immediately clear who a kid was, and they’ve never used anything even remotely inappropriate. Usually they just use shortened versions of their first names and their real last names and it’s not a problem.

Until the last couple, when “Adam Thompson” showed up. I don’t have an Adam Thompson. I also don’t have an Adam or a Thompson. Adam was getting good scores, too, which made it weird that when I was posting announcements to our classroom stream asking who the hell he was, he wasn’t outing himself– after all, if I don’t know who you are, I can hardly put your attempts at Quizizzery into my gradebook, now, can I?

And yet.

Well, today I got a bug up my ass about it for some reason and I mentioned Adam in every single class I had and my instructional video. And I got this email just after school let out today:

And … well. I should have guessed; it’s my student with selective mutism. I haven’t updated y’all on her in quite a while; as you can tell, she’s perfectly willing and able to communicate in writing, which means that teaching her during a pandemic isn’t really all that different from teaching any of my other students. This is another manifestation of her social anxiety, though, and it’s a new one; she wasn’t doing this earlier in the year. I told her that now that I know who Adam is I’m okay with her continuing to use that name on future assignments if she likes; I see no reason not to allow it, and now that I know who Adam is there’s also no reason to mention that name again in class either.

I did have a trans boy in my class last year who let me know that he wanted to be called Ryan partway through the school year, and I’m intrigued that she (my current student, not my trans student) chose a boy’s name, but I don’t think this is a deadname sort of situation– it’s a pseudonym for her assignments, more or less the exact same thing as me using Luther Siler, which isn’t my name, for my books. That said, it is another knock-on effect for the same social anxieties that have led to her not having said a word since she was in 5th grade, so I’m going back and forth on whether I should pass this up the chain and let the counselor or the psychologist know. I know the last time I mentioned her one or two of you had previous experience with kids who didn’t talk, so if anyone has any suggestions I wouldn’t mind hearing them. I don’t think she’s in danger or anything like that, I’m just trying to decide if this is something that should be alarming at all. I’m leaning toward no, but I’m not done thinking about it yet.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

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