A Simple Conversation

It is a form of abuse to put a test in front of a student when both the student and teacher know the test is going to result in failure. What is the point? Where does that get us? Does it move the learning forward?

Yet as I do not condone the above, I am most certainly guilty of it. In the past I had students come to class that were not prepared to be assessed. They often had poor excuses to be honest: they skipped class, they did not do their homework, or simply forgot today was test day. So as the compassionate young man I am, what did I do? I shrugged my shoulders and wished them luck while in the back of my mind I was really thinking how dare you not take my course seriously.

The part that comes next is something that I will always regret and is the reason I am passionate about trying to improve my assessment practices. The unprepared student would grab the test, put his or her name at the top, slowly look around at the rest of the class feverishly solving problems and then slump in their chair. On a few occasions tears would even begin to fall. What did I do? Nothing…. The student would sit in front of that blank test for an hour, although I am sure it felt like an eternity, while I would watch.

I don’t care who you are, that was messed up. No kid should have to feel that regardless of the situation they may have gotten themselves in.

Now I have a simple conversation with each of my students to avoid this.

Before a student attempts a summative assessment we have a quick conversation known as a ‘hot seat.’ On the hot seat students get a chance to demonstrate one-on-one that they are ready. Sometimes I will grill them with some questions, I may ask them to tell me what they found easy/difficult in a unit, or they may summarize the big ideas. But the important part is how I usually begin. “So, how are things?” “Are you ready to go today?” “What can I do to make sure you are successful?” And 95% of them are good to go, but some are not. On the rare occasion a student will tell me he or she simply dropped the ball during a unit.  They may have not used their classroom time wisely, forgot to study, or maybe just found the content difficult and need some extra TLC. If that is the case then together we devise a plan of attack for how the student will prepare for their assessment and when they will be assessed.

The shock I see in their faces when I tell them that they aren’t going to take their assessment that day is unbelievable, they almost fall off of their chairs. The best part is 9 out of 10 times students use the additional prepare time to get back in gear and do well on their assessment.

Now I know some may argue that there are deadlines in the ‘real world,’ and I agree there most certainly are. But if the compromise is that a student recognizes his or her mistakes, comes up with a plan to meet the learning outcomes, and then executes that plan than I am a happy teacher. My goal is to help students learn, watching them fail just wasn’t helping.


About flippingmath

Math Teacher, Flipper, Blue Jays Fan
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6 Responses to A Simple Conversation

  1. I’m not sure how I found your blog, but you’re in my RSS feeds and I came across this post and just wanted to say that what you’re doing is amazing and I wish my teachers had that amount of compassion.

    I’ve putting notes together on how to redesign schools and education and this is surely going in.

    Kudos to you, good sir! Have a great weekend!

  2. I can’t tell you how much this resonates with me. I teach at a small private school and out of the 3 math teachers, I am the one that gets to teach the lowest level classes. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE being this teacher. I got into teaching for the ones who feel like they can’t do it so this is a dream job for me. However, there were too many days last year when I felt just like you described – tortured, annoyed, and frustrated as I watch a frightened, discouraged, totally defeated kid fail my test. I used to work for an online school where phone quizzes were required at the end of every unit before a test. I found myself missing those conversations! Your post is just the confirmation I needed. I’ll be implementing some kind of conversation before assessment next year. It just has to be done. I can’t sit by and watch them fail anymore. It’s too painful.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kate Shanto says:

    This sounds like an awesome idea and I definitely want to implement it into my classes, but, do you do the ‘hot seat’ the same day as the test? At my school we only have 40 min periods, I wouldn’t have time to do this with all 26 of my students the day of a test. How long are your class periods?

    • flippingmath says:

      Hi Kate,
      Thanks for the question.
      We have a unique timetable at our school. We have two 80 minutes blocks either in the morning or the afternoon. So on test day students usually see me for the hot seat the first block and take their test the next. In your situation I might suggest doing the hot seat over the previous two classes as students are ready.

      I hope this helps.

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