Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It's not personal....

do it - procrastination concept
(licensed under a Creative Commons attribution)

It's seven days from the end of my online course, twelve days from the end of my traditional classes.   Two of my own kids have just finished online coursework as well.  I've been frustrated, impressed, distressed, and ready to shout, "Enough Already."  The majority of my students have done a great job.  But 10 are on the cusp.  The last week or two of effort will push them up to C or drop them to a F.

Then it hit me.   Just like the Tom Hanks character in the old rom-com,  "You've Got Mail,"  these kids were telling me,  "It's not personal, it's the way I do business."  So, in the midst of online procrastination, where I was seeing missed opportunities, the kids were seeing "Git-r-DUN" as a mantra for their success.

It irritated me.  I had worked hard all year to develop relationships with kids: didn't that translate to them doing their best on the courses?  No, it turns out, it doesn't always. It did, however, mean that they would try to pass the class, and move on....even if they had to come in after school, or work until 11:55 pm when the test closed at midnight.

So what do I see? Is this 21st century effort?  Is 6% an acceptable at-risk rate?  Are 90+% of my kids passion-driven or just compliant so I only had to deal with a few stragglers? Are these kids finding that the knowledge I have to offer isn't worth the cost?  Is the Project-Based Learning I am doing with kids valuable?  I will be reflecting on this during the summer, but I also will have the kids evaluate me before the end of the year to try to get the data.

My own children tell me that they are always running, and that it comes down to the ultimate purpose of what we are learning.  If learning is applicable to something else (a project, an application for the future, or even for graduation credit), it's worth trying on.  Learning facts, however, is easily tuned out because Reddit, Facebook, and a thousand other digital diversions take their place.

"C'mon, Mom," says one of my kids.  "You know I'll never use this stuff again.  I just jumped through the hoop to get the credit."   And it would appear her view echoes many students.  In my own classes, passing all the summative assessments, and passing equals high school credit; I always have a few kids who only aim for that goal.

But I want the classroom to be a dynamic place where kids are excited and challenged, rather than a place where they listen half-heartedly or put their heads down.   How can I translate that excitement?  How can I get better at what I do? Where does student interest finally trump student procrastination?

Judging from discussions with teachers this week, I am not alone in this frustration.  But I am grateful I have resisted the urge to be angry, as I know that will get me (and more importantly, my students) nothing.  Deep breath.  Go on.  Gather data you can reflect upon later.  But it's hard not to be upset.  We are in a profession built on relationships, on connections, and were were trained as content experts.

After all, in "You've Got Mail" Kathleen Kelly responds to the jibe,  "Not personal?  What is that supposed to mean? means it wasn't personal to you.  But it was personal to me."

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