If we would just listen…

…we could learn a great deal.  This morning, several students asked for my help on an assignment.  Each quarter, the science teacher requires the students to keep a grade sheet.  The sheet itself has rows and columns for them to write the name of the assignment, the points possible, the points earned, as well as a column for cumulative points possible and cumulative points earned, and finally a column for percent.  The students have been fighting us all year on this assignment.  Each day, the teacher tells them what to write and then they go over it again the day it is due.  I spend a great deal of time the day before it is due working with students on this task.  This teacher and I have often wondered aloud why the students are so resistant to this activity and why is seems so difficult. 

I was working on the grade sheet with a couple of my students and one boy was loudly complaining.  I kept asking him what the trouble was and he was having a difficult time expressing himself.  Finally, I broke it down and asked him very specific questions about each aspect of the assignment.  Here is the end of our conversation:

student: “It’s not the right way.” 

me:  “What’s not the right way?”

student: “These.”

me:  “What’s ‘these’ mean?”

student: “The up and down rows aren’t like the grades he puts on our papers.  I hate this.”

me: “You mean the columns aren’t the same?”

student: “Yeah.  This first one is the total points.  The second one is the points I got on it.  On my assignment, the one he gives us back, it’s written with my points then a line then the total points.  I can’t do this.  I hate him.”

OOOOOOHHHHHH!  I finally understood.  On the graded paper, the score was written as points earned out of points possible (a fraction) while on the grade sheet it was written the opposite.  I immediately emailed the science teacher with this bit of information.  I haven’t heard back so I don’t know if he thinks it is important or not, but seriously, how hard is it to switch the titles of columns and print off a new one?

In thinking about this incident, I am inclined to think that I just need to take an extra two minutes to really listen to my students and ask very specific questions.  Junior high students are notorious for their inability to communicate and when you add frustration to that equation, it just compounds the problem.  Maybe if I start taking an extra two minutes, we might get somewhere…someday…somehow.

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