More Thoughts About ‘Helpfulness’

Tomorrow three of my four classes will be taking unit tests. I have always devoted the class day before a test to review. Over the past 5 – 7 years I have become more and more insistent that a review day should be a day where I am here to answer some questions that students come to class with and to help facilitate some meaningful conversation between my students. What many students seem to believe is that review day before a test is simply a time for me to tell them exactly what will be on the test. I always come to class on these days with some prepared questions in my back pocket and I always dream that those questions will stay there. That is not often the case, and it certainly was not the case today.

My Geometry class, the one I’ve been SO proud of recently, was in pretty good shape. We looked at our last HW together, they had some good questions about that but they could not really generate too many meaningful questions of their own. I displayed the review questions I had prepared and they perked up and were terrific in joining in the conversation. I just came away wishing that the class had been more about them and what was on their mind. In retrospect, perhaps it was exactly about what was on their mind. They are concerned about what I am interested in right now so that they can glean some important clues about preparing for tomorrow’s test. Sigh…

My two AP Statistics classes are in a different place emotionally than my Geometry class is. They are almost all seniors and the energy level that they brought back from winter break is distinctly different than the energy level I see in my Geometry students. I gave them class time yesterday to work on their own or with their neighbor on the review exercises at the end of their most recent chapter and my observation is that there were relatively small pockets of productive conversations. However, there were also quite a few incidents of aimless chatter, obsessive checking of their phones, silly debates, and general non-statistical conversations.

So, I feel that I am asking myself the same question I asked myself on these pages just a couple of days ago. How can I be less helpful in the standard sort of hand-holding way that my students want me to be while actually being helpful to them in modeling smart behavior about how to work, how to be metacognitive, how to be reflective, and how to be more self-aware. Trying to recall who I was when I was in high school is probably not the best exercise in answering these questions. I was a different person then than I am now. I am remembering through a distinctly tinted memory lens and I am not teaching four classes of teenage Mr. Dardys.

Gotta keep thinking and keep pushing.

3 thoughts on “More Thoughts About ‘Helpfulness’”

  1. Mr. D –
    I really dislike review days, because of the reasons you mention. I make a point to tell my students that their job on such days is to BRING questions for me, that I’m not going to make ones up on the fly. Most of the time I am able to keep to that, but sometimes it’s just easier to make up a question. I don’t know what the best solution is. Part of the problem, as you’ve talked about before, is answering the question of what the purpose of tests actually is. If it’s for students to simply regurgitate material that they’ve learned in the previous unit, then hey, they have every right to essentially ask for what the contents of the test are. If it’s for something deeper, then that’s part of the the “culture of the classroom” that students need to learn from day 1 – and by now, they should know what it is. Not that they always do, but…

    And teaching second-semester, post-college-acceptance-for-many, seniors is a whole other kettle of fish. 🙁

    1. Mike
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I spoke about this with a colleague in the building and he said he just dismisses the students if they do not bring questions. This feels like a reward for bad behavior to me, don’t think I could do that very comfortably.

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