After reading through all of the reflections my students wrote after their WW2 speech projects, I found their responses fell into three general categories: (1) falling on my sword, (2) recognizing our class culture, and (3) the laziness factor. Although an alarming number of student refused to read their speech in class, approximately, two-thirds of my students delivered in front of an audience. They saw good speakers, they saw nervous speakers, and they saw several awe-inspiring, incredibly charismatic speakers.
All students were asked to complete a 30-minute reflection describing how they approached the project. A colleague, Bill Chapman (@classroomtools), asked me to analyze the reflections of the students who did not complete their speeches. I did not want to do this. I was ready to move on. After conducting this exercise, I am so grateful that Bill nudged me because I was ready to give up on some of these students. However, the act of reading and classifying the reflections pushed my thinking and I am ready to double-down on engaging these students (and parents) over the last few months of the school year.
Falling On My Sword
The “I deserve a zero” appeal was utilized by many students who had completed all of necessary the components for the speech, but then lacked the confidence to go up and perform it. Quite a few of my students fell into this category. Many openly stated that they would rather earn the 100 extra-credit points for a Courage to Care essay assignment than go up and deliver their speech. In retrospect, perhaps these students deserve an A for cost-benefit analysis skills.
This student utilized what I call the “falling on my sword” approach. Perhaps by accepting blame, the teacher will have mercy on me? This brown-nosing skill will no doubt prove valuable later in life, but it is unlikely to help the student pass classes with firm deadlines. I am glad the student recognizes that it is still not too late to improve his grade. The consequence for not delivering the speech in class means that students now have to deliver the speech to me outside of classroom hours (at lunch or after school). At some point, this 9th grader will learn that it is easier to finish his work on time than to chase me all over campus.
Recognizing Our Class Culture
This student has listened to my mantra of… turn in something, anything… most teachers will be forgiving and allow you to revise a poor assignment, but they will not allow you to do that if you miss the deadline and turn NOTHING in. I have experienced this many times in my academic career. Teachers don’t want to hear excuses why you couldn’t do it, but show us you cared enough to put in some effort and we may just give you the benefit of extra time.
This student gets some bonus points for recognizing that we spent three weeks of class time on this project. They acknowledge that the assignment was important to everyone’s grade, yet despite this keen insight, they still didn’t do it. I guess admitting you have a problem is always the first step. This brings us to our next category.
The Laziness Factor
“Laziness is something that I am trying to permanently remove from my system” leapt off the page. A cogent thought from an articulate student capable of doing thoughtful, grade-level work. A couple of things haunt me about this statement: (1) I have sat across from failing students and their parents countless times over the last decade of my teaching career. “He’s lazy,” say the parents, hoping I know the cure. The student nods “I’m lazy,” and adds a smile as if he’s now got an excuse for never doing any work. He has met and exceeded the parents’ low expectations. In truth, neither party knows how to solve the laziness question, which as it turns out is simply poor time management skills. (2) Both the student and their parents seem to be equally powerless in solving the laziness problem. How can students learn that hard work leads to opportunity if the parents have not committed themselves to addressing this issue?
Here, the procrastination proclivity pops up again and reminds me that teaching time management is just as vital as teaching content. Assigning project-based work where the students have a degree of control over what and when they produce may do this type of student a disservice. Explicitly showing students (and some parents) how to use a calendar, how to block out time, and how to reward oneself with cell phone, computer, and/or video game time after steps in a project have been completed may be a starting point. Sending home phone call/text reminders through an automated service like Remind may reinforce time management skills and create habits that students could use for the rest of their lives. Does anyone else have ideas for solving this vexing problem?