Recently I had an online student (unrelated to Beacon Heights Tutoring) who mildly complained when she found out that my course included due dates. In her message, she explained that she had taken other courses online, and with her busy schedule, she loved that she could work at her own pace; so it was a big disappointment when she realized that my course was different. I politely responded to the student's message by pointing out that, for many years, I allowed students to turn in late work without a penalty or reduction in credit, but that the task of grading the work of students playing "catch up" at the last minute had taken its toll; the policy had become unfair to me and my time. Still, the girl's point had resonated with me.
I asked my mother-in-law, a retired, veteran teacher, for her take on the issue. Not having due dates "doesn't teach them a lick of responsibility!" I agreed, but explained how I had taken a college course with a professor whose argument for accepting late work was: the work doesn't get any easier, so why wouldn't a teacher accept it?
Let me be clear: I believe that middle school and high school students who take courses online should have some flexibility. Self-paced learning is an effective model. However, my current policy matches that of the organization I work for: keeping assignment submissions open for 2 weeks after they become available. That's hardly a short amount of time for, at best, a few hours of studying and work. Furthermore, the organization has left the decision of whether or not to accept student work after this window up to the discretion of the teacher; it's based on the philosophy adopted by the educator.
Honestly, I'm still on the fence when it comes to this issue. Part of me feels that self-paced learning is still in effect in tandem with due dates. After all, students in a regular classroom have to turn in work on time, but they don't have the liberty of missing live lectures (direct instruction), or pausing a teacher's presentation until late in the evening. Not to mention, what is a student really learning when they check-in an online class irregularly? Is it not just another version of the late-night-book-report cram?
Whether you are an educator or not, I'm interested in your comments. Please leave them below.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of working with students with behavior and emotional issues. I worked in the afternoon, and the typical class size was around 3-5 when no one was absent. In one particular class, students had returned from the gym, and I was told by another teacher that there was a student who would need one-on-one help and would not be learning the same lesson as the rest of the class. We'll call him James.
James was the first to arrive, and he came in noticeably upset, sat down, kicked the chair in front of him and exclaimed that he was not going to do any work! The regular teacher kind of reassured him that everything was going to be okay and he could do it. Around this time I introduced myself.
James had a folder with individual work. He took out his worksheet and tossed it on the floor. I noticed as I was standing next to him, and let it go. I'm pretty sure James thought that I was going to pick it up. I didn't. James also might have expected me to rip into him for throwing the paper on the floor and demand that he pick it up immediately. I didn't. I waited.
A Little Background
Nearly 3 years ago when I was interviewed by the principal of a rural public school in Virginia, I was asked what my response would be if I had asked an uncooperative student to do his or her work and the student responded "I'm not doing this [expletive] work!"? I said that I would "probably give him a minute." This was one of my answers that the principal resonated with. It's one of the reasons I was offered the job.
My principal went on to say how good it was to hear that kind of response because a lot of young teachers (and some experienced) think that the proper way to handle that kind of behavior is to get just as emotional as the student and shout 'em down. A few incidents like that and one quickly learns that all that does is feed into their desires, and reinforce the behavior.
Remain Calm and Think a Few Steps Ahead
Reacting just as emotionally would have had me struggling with James for 30 minutes. I didn't. James picked up his own paper. A minute or two later as I was sitting on the desk next to his, I asked him a question I already knew the answer to: "So you don't like math?" He said "I hate math."
Lessen the Criteria
My next move was to lessen the criteria of the objective; the objective of completing with accuracy the front and back math worksheet that dealt with reading time on clocks. The front page had about 5 clocks with the little hand and big hand pointing to different times. Directions asked the student to draw a line matching each clock to the correct written and numerical times that were listed vertically down the paper on the left and right margins. To lessen the criteria, I first said to James, "You've got 5 clocks. Can you do 1?" James kind of grumbled initially, sat back on his chair, and a few seconds later leaned forward to begin his work.
He made some mistakes as he went along. We corrected them together. I'd usually point out how he did the previous clock correctly, and suggested he look at it again to answer the current problem. He worked diligently. He did, however, try to get out of doing the last section on the back of the paper, suggesting that he would work on it tomorrow. I asked "Why wait?" He finished with ease.
Reflecting on the whole event yesterday, when James entered the room huffing and puffing, my initial reaction was not "Oh, great, this should be real fun." Instead, I thought to myself, "This kid needs a minute or two to cool down." I was right, and my gut told me because of my past experiences working with otherwise uncooperative students (I say otherwise because it's really all in the approach). Somewhere in the middle of working with James he looked at me and asked, "Are you going to be here tomorrow?" I'm confident that was meant as a good thing.
Folks my age and older can remember the Schoolhouse Rocks "Preamble" song. When I taught in Virginia, I had students listen to the song and unscramble the Preamble, with a goal of cutting and pasting the purposes in order. By purposes, I mean the goals of the U.S. Constitution. Since the song lyrics are repeated 3-4 times, I typically suggested to the kids to mark the purposes by number, one after another (1 "...form a more perfect union", 2 "establish justice"). I teach the same lesson online, with one modification: students unscramble the purposes in a Word document. In-class or online, it's a fun activity that introduces an important lesson in U.S. history, and addresses the following question: why was the Articles of Confederation replaced? My video lecture below discusses the weaknesses of the Articles, and the purposes of the U.S. Constitution.
If there is one quote that could sum up 2016, it would come from the one and only, Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Despite a lot of pessimism about the future, I also remain very positive and hopeful. I know that education is still the only path forward for everyone. I know that reading daily is a habit with numerous benefits, and I know something important about myself that I didn't last January. If I'm not blessed, I'm extremely fortunate. I could have been born in a country with less than half of the liberties, securities and wealth than my own, and to a family that didn't value its benefits. We're not a perfect country, and 2016 was a less than perfect year, but I'm still looking forward to 2017. Happy new year!
I've been teaching online now for over 4 years, and one of the first downsides to the profession that I noticed was the student dropout rate. In the first year or two, once or twice a month I would receive and email with a subject line like "Jane Doe Has Dropped US History I," and I worried that it was my fault, only to discover that Jane had dropped every class in which she was enrolled. Worry aside, that's not to say there wasn't something I could do better.
Searching online I came across the book Excellent Online Teaching: Effective Strategies For a Successful Semester Online, and I was struck by how simple some of the fixes were to improve engagement. After reading the book and implementing some of the author's suggestions, I became less of a grading mule, and more of a teacher who interacted with students online, and responsive to the needs of students who, in many cases, are without the induced discipline, restraints and expectations of a brick-and-mortar classroom (one of the largest obstacles in the online education environment).
Four years in and I hear from students frequently, respond promptly, and the amount of students who stick with and pass my classes has increased substantially. I owe much of the success in my online classes to the author and the tips & strategies he shared. Teachers and parents alike would benefit from reading Aaron Johnson's book Excellent Online Teaching.