Sunday, February 23, 2014


Right now, I'm making lesson plans for my first period algebra 1 class.  Here is the first slide I decided to add to my presentation for tomorrow.

"Right now...

  • 4 of you have As
  • 2 of you have Cs
  • 9 of you have Fs
It's really easy for me to tell though without looking at my gradebook who is passing and who is not: those who are here everyday are passing.  Those of you who are absent two or more times a week are failing."

What do I do?  I can't teach students who don't show up.  When I make this announcement, most likely at least half my class will be absent and won't even hear the message I'm trying to convey.

Update: 3/8
The Monday after writing the above post I decided to try a new grading system in my class to see if that could help with attendance. I had been assigning homework and calling it homework, but I had been giving the students time to complete it in class.  Only if they didn't finish it in class would they need to do it at home.  I did this because I didn't want students to feel pressured to get the work done quickly- when I assign only classwork the slower and more careful students tend to get stressed out.  The problem though was that students were not using class time well.  When I asked them to work they said they would finish it at home, and then of course it (and the student) never came back.

I thought that maybe if I made their grade entirely based on them showing up and using class time well, then I would have more luck with both attendance and with comprehension.  Miraculously all the students did show up on Monday and I told my students that attendance was our biggest problem.  That those who were failing were failing because they weren't here.  I explained that I was going to make their grade based entirely on if they came to class, took notes and if they completed the work asked of them during class.  Immediately, I saw relief wash through the classroom.  I think because for the first time all year, they realized that they could pass.  That they could do what I was asking them to do.  The late homework, missed lessons and poor classwork completion had been weighing on them and had been causing them to avoid class.  It was easy for them to not show up because this class is first period and at our school, only freshmen and sophomores have to come to first period.  So my freshmen were hanging out with their Junior and Senior friends instead of coming to class.

They want to do well and only their guilt and lack of confidence had been keeping them away from class.  They constantly tell me that they like me as a teacher which is why I was so baffled by their poor attendance.  Maybe the fact that they do seem to like me contributed to them not wanting to face me when they thought they'd let me down.

Since changing my grading system two weeks ago, my attendance has sky rocketed.  They're all completing class work, asking questions and performing well on quizzes.  They still definitely lack initiative.  Since I require them to turn in an exit ticket to receive credit for the day's work, the end of class has gotten awfully chaotic as students frantically try to get my help because they don't trust their own abilities.  But they're trying and showing up now.  We can work on initiative later.  

I am torn about this no- homework system.  I have been following the homework vs. no homework debate and I'm more on the side of assigning homework because I've seen students grow so much from wresting with problems when they have no one around to help them.  They take better notes, ask better questions, and demonstrate much more mastery over the material than when I don't assign homework.  This experiment has reinforced my belief that homework does significantly contribute to learning because my other algebra 1 class to whom I still assign homework are demonstrating much more confidence with the material and are growing more rapidly.  Both my first and fifth period Algebra 1 classes are composed of low-income students who have failed algebra at least once before.  But my fifth period class has time earlier in the day (usually during lunch) to complete their homework so their homework turn in rate is good, their attendance is good and their learning is evident.  But clearly when students can't do homework and the not doing it wears down their self confidence and causes them to avoid class, the homework needs to be nixed because it's doing much more harm than good.

I guess this just reinforces my belief that there are no absolutes in education.  Every thing about teaching needs to be modified depending on the composition of students sitting in your classroom.  When students do homework it's good for them, but when they can't do it and are still expected to do it, it's bad for them.

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