An admission

As an educator, I don’t mind e-learning. Like, at all.

It makes me feel bad that that’s true, but it still is. Make no mistake; most teachers are killing themselves this year, especially those who are in hybrid situations. My personal situation has been helped immeasurably by the fact that I managed to snag a medical exemption to stay home full-time, so I can’t be dragged back and forth from my building, and as it turns out, if some of your kids are home and some are in school, it’s actually a lot more manageable if you’re at home rather than in the building.

But in all seriousness? I’ve always written most of my own assignments. I’m more than technically competent enough that that aspect of distance learning doesn’t bother me at all. And– and this is the kicker– I don’t have to deal with discipline, at all. Now, don’t misunderstand me; my kids are going to learn much more in a face-to-face, non-pandemic set of circumstances than they are in this; when I say I don’t mind e-learning, I mean from a “personal stress level” standpoint, not from a “student learning” standpoint. In person is clearly superior for student learning outcomes, but we can’t have that right now because of the slightly more important “keeping everyone alive” outcomes. But god damn do I like being able to get through a lesson without getting interrupted a hundred times, and I also have a number of students who are undeniably benefiting from the lack of distractions that, well, everyone else provides nearly constantly int he classroom.

I have a number of others who are suffering from the isolation and are simply not good at self-directing their learning, mind you; I’m not trying to minimize the effect they’re having on them. That’s part of the reason I passed everyone. I simply can’t expect a 14-year-old to be able to self-regulate like that in the absence of a parent standing over their shoulder.

But me? Personally? I mean, I”m stressed; everybody’s stressed. But as far as my job? I’m doing fine. I needed winter break this year less than I ever have. I can’t believe that that’s true, but it is.

Grading update

Quick post tonight, because my eyes are bugging me and my head is full of The Mandalorian but I don’t want to talk about it yet– I did, in the end, refuse to fail any of my students, at least for the semester. I decided any missing work would go in at 40% rather than a 0– 40% because it puts a little bit of a buffer between that and the 50% floor grade I’ve always used for work that was attempted but done poorly. After that, any student between 51 and 59% got bumped up to a D-, and then I did give the higher of the two quarter grades as a semester grade rather than an average. For most of my students that didn’t end up being much of a change; a B+ sliding up to an A- or maybe a D+ going to a C, but there were a few where it was a pretty staggering jump, and I don’t care. If you were an A student one grading period and an F student another grading period, it’s because something happened, not because you suddenly forgot how to add. That actually did happen with two students, and I gave both of them the A.

There were maybe twenty kids who still failed both quarters even with those changes, and those kids got an N, which is effectively a “no grade.” Basically every kid who did something over the course of the semester passed. I don’t know that I’m willing to go to quite these lengths to keep kids from failing in a non-pandemic sort of situation, but that’s the situation we’re in right now, so I’m going to adapt to it.

Thinking through my grades

My final grades for the quarter and for the semester are due … well, actually, I don’t have any idea when they’re due, but they’re going to be finished on Friday before noon. I’ve talked before about how much it rubs me wrong to fail any of my kids this quarter, and I’m currently thinking about what I want to do about my grades right now. Represented above are the actual current grades for my first hour students. The Q1 grade is what they actually received (you can see a couple, like Marge Simpson and Riri Williams, whose grades I nudged up a bit already) and the Q2 grade is their current grade with my current policies on grading– ie, nothing turned in and genuinely attempted receives less than a 50%, but work that is not turned in at all receives a 0.

(There are one or two kids whose grades go down slightly; this is an artifact of me doing this quick and sloppy and a couple of extra credit assignments causing weirdness. Ignore those.)

Ignore the third column of numbers, as it’s just their total number of points. The fourth column is their grade in the 2nd quarter if I change every zero to a 50%. The ones highlighted in yellow are the kids who would still fail the quarter under that arrangement. Highlighted in green are the kids whose grades would have been Fs for the 2nd quarter but move into passing range if I bring up zeroes to 50s. Homey DeClown should also be green; I missed him.

A couple of things stand out. First, note Bruce Wayne, who had a D+ during the first quarter and is pulling a hundred percent during the second quarter. Bruce has not suddenly become a good math student, and interestingly, Bruce’s sister’s grade also shot up. I am attributing this to issues at home during the first quarter. Notice also the grade of Montgomery Burns, who was a stellar student first quarter and who fell apart during second– also not, I presume, because all of his math ability suddenly leaked out of his ear.

I have no reason to believe that this class is any different from the rest of mine. We have been given the option of giving an N grade to kids who simply haven’t shown up; N effectively means No Grade. There is talk about high school students having to retake any grade they got an N on and it will not change a GPA. I am fully expecting them to back off on that requirement and I don’t actually know whether it applies to middle school.

At any rate, of the six kids who would still be failing: Flash Gordon has been in touch all year, and I am absolutely certain that the reason he’s not been in school is that he’s been raising his siblings. He’s passing. I should have passed him first quarter, honestly. Peter Parker, as far as I know (and I’m cognizant of the fact that there’s a lot I don’t know) is the kid you’re thinking of when you talk about the kids who don’t deserve the bump they’d get from me fiddling with their grades, because they made their beds and they should sleep in them. Last year he was a smart kid who chose to fail and frankly e-learning hasn’t noticeably changed his grades. The rest of them have more or less been no-shows and would be good candidates for the N grade.

Also, I’m not averaging semester grades. The semester grade is going to be the higher of the two quarter grades, period. I’m doing that even if I don’t end up bumping the zeroes to 50s. The office can fight me on it if they want to; I don’t think they will and frankly it’s a fight that I think I’m well-positioned to win.

On reading the directions

This is a screenshot of the instructions I posted for today’s assignment for my kids:

I have a hundred and forty-two students on my roster right now.

Guess how many kids emailed me. Go ahead, guess.

Ten.

In which I give up

Wednesday remains Trainings and Meetings day around here, and as such I did not have any interaction with my students beyond responding to emails. What I did have was a very depressing Math team meeting where we looked at some data, reflected on the fact that the mid-year test had been (rightfully, mind you) cancelled and so we therefore weren’t going to get any updates on that data anytime soon, reflected further upon the fact that this particular assessment tool demonstrates that our students, by and large, appear to know nothing at all, and had a brief discussion wherein we were all forced to admit that none of us had the slightest idea what we might be able to do under the current circumstances to fix the problem.

(Nor can we be sure that the data captures the issue accurately, since the test was administered while the students were home, and we have no way of ensuring that it was taken seriously.)

One of the more entertaining fights in comments that I have had over the life of this blog was a post where I was complaining about my students performing poorly on a test about slope. Well, it is now several years later and I can confidently report that despite attempting to teach slope in a variety of different ways and with a variety of different strategies since then, my 8th graders still do not really appear to understand slope, and attempting to teach it virtually during a pandemic is … suboptimal.

Allow me, if I may, to further elucidate.

I have not yet actually introduced the formula for slope, which is complicated enough that I can’t reproduce it in WordPress’ text editor and would have to copy and paste an image. Instead, I’ve started beginning the unit with simply counting. Count the rise, or the vertical distance between points A and B, remembering (hopefully) that if you go down from A to B your “rise” is negative (this is confusing, because no one naturally thinks of something called “rise” as negative, and I wish the word was different) and then count the “run,” which is the horizontal distance between A and B and is always positive.

You will note on the above image that the slope of that line is -4, because you count down 4 squares to go from A to B and one square for the run, and -4/1 is equal to -4. I’m breaking this down in such a granular fashion that today was the first day we actually talked about negative slopes. Also, the reason there are no numbers anywhere on that image is that I discovered that some of my kids were simply writing down the number nearest to one of the points as (chosen randomly) the rise or the run, with no actual counting taking place. So I removed them on today’s assignment.

I have discovered that many of my students genuinely believe that there are five squares between A and B, because rather than starting from 0 they are counting the line A is actually on as 1 and going from there.

I have discovered– this is not surprising, but remains depressing– that a number of them do not include “left” and “right” among the concepts that are salient to them, and thus I must frequently remember to say “from A to B” rather than “from left to right.”

And I had a genuinely bewildering conversation with one of my kids, a kid who generally does well in class and has one of the highest scores in his grade on the test we were discussing earlier, absolutely cannot wrap his head around the words “uphill” and “downhill,” a set of terms I was using to distinguish positive slope (uphill, from left to right) and negative slope (downhill, from left to right) while I was talking. He consistently reported that any line was both going uphill and downhill at the same time, even when I made it clear which direction I was moving in. I eventually ended up creating this diagram:

He is color-blind, by the way, a disability that I have somehow never had to worry about in 17 years of teaching, so I have to make sure that color is never salient information in any diagram I do for an assignment, which is why one of the lines here is dotted. This can occasionally be trickier than it ought to be.

Anyway, I pulled this diagram together, still trying to work on this uphill/downhill thing, and asked him, gesturing with my mouse while talking, which of the two lines was going uphill when I moved from left to right. I even said “We’re moving from A to B on the dotted line, and C to D on the solid line. Which is going uphill?”

“Both,” he replied. And I swear to you, he wasn’t fucking with me. I tried a stairs metaphor. Which of these lines looks like you’re standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, looking up to the top? Both. You’re sure you understand the “left to right” thing we’re doing here? You’re telling me C to D and A to B both look like walking upstairs?

Yes. Yes, he was.

This kid’s not stupid. Not at all. And he wasn’t fucking with me; I could hear the frustration in his voice. He was trying to get this, as opposed to the dozens of my students for whom no set of directions can be short or clear enough that they can be expected to read or follow them. But I don’t have the slightest Goddamned idea where the hell the disconnect was happening.

Today was not a good day.