T Sale's Blog

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Doing the Compliance Dance

As we belatedly polish off fall semester and begin spring semester, I keep realizing how mired I still am in giving assignments and asking questions oriented more toward compliance than toward understanding. Just today in my English 10 class, we spent 20 minutes discussing the literal events of a story, and just the last two minutes talking about the meaning behind the events. In part, it was me asking questions designed to “catch” students who hadn’t read the story (and I did catch some), and in part it was starting with simple questions to get the discussion rolling and then keeping on that track too long. I’m trying to shift the balance from “check for (literal) understanding” to “check for (deep) understanding.” It would help if there were some kind of implant we could install in students when they arrive at AHS that would make them care about every story I teach; I’m still struggling with finding just the right questions to ask to spark interest. I think it’s the hardest part of constructivist teaching.

By the way, for each student I “caught” having not read the story we were discussing, I asked why he/she didn’t read it. The typical answers were “I forgot” or “I left the story at school.” I wonder: are there questions or other “anticipatory sets” powerful enough to eliminate those excuses?



  • At Tue Jan 16, 08:57:00 PM 2007, Blogger Karl Fisch said…

    This is a tough one for all of us, I think. I guess one question I would toss back to you is, "What was the purpose of 'catching' the students who hadn't read it? Did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish by 'catching' them?" (Okay, that was 2 questions, sorry, here's another one.) "What would've happened if you had simply skipped to the deep part after a very brief literal discussion to get things started?"

    In a perfect world, the stories - and the discussions - would be so amazing that they would hate to not be able to participate because they hadn't read the night before. Do you ask them an intriguing question before they read each night? Would the 16-year old Terry find these discussions - and stories - worthy of his time? If not for the stories themselves, are there other ways to convince them to participate? Are you sick of my questions yet?

  • At Mon Jan 22, 05:03:00 PM 2007, Blogger Ms. Kakos said…

    The implant idea is a good one, I think. Perhaps it could also make students start flashing bright red like a light bulb anytime they try to lie.

    I have to say that I've lost interest in "catching" students who haven't read. When I feel like discussion is lagging, I'll have an "honesty check" where they put their heads down and raise their hands if they're caught up with the reading (I stole this partially from Anne and partially from Ray and Karen). When half the class (or more) is behind, I ask why. If it's their problem--laziness, too many activities, etc.--they tend to admit it, and they have to come up with their own, personalized plans for change. I try to relate the situation to a real-life situation, like what if all of you showed up to your business meeting and told the boss that you left your briefcase in your locker or didn't have time to call the clients last night? If it's my problem--I've been assigning too much work or have been unclear with assignments--I'll compromise.

    Otherwise, when it comes to plot, I review based only on their questions, and I grade them on their annotations. So they figure out quickly that if they don't understand something, they have to ask a question about it.

    I know that this doesn't answer the tough question: How do we motivate students who don't care and don't try? I do think that every student cares--I really do. And I don't think that plot checks and quizzes are the way to motivate them. Hmmm...I don't really have a good answer to this question. I guess I just try to find a personal "in" with the students who don't try, so that maybe if they'll be willing to try for me as a temporary fix until they're willing to try for themselves.

    Thanks Terry. As always, I love reading your posts.


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