Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The struggle between freedom and responsibility

This is a 9pm one take post.  It kind of rambles.  Hopefully it makes sense. I'd love your thoughts.

In my honors class, I'm struggling with the balance between asynchronous "work at your own pace" and "here's the deadlines, you need to meet them".

Here's what I'm doing now:

Students have their WSQ chart with "deadlines" for when certain WSQs need to be submitted and when we are going to have our discussions for certain concepts.  They are expected to be keeping up with the pace of the class in terms of being introduced to the content...

However, I try to be flexible with the students and understanding if they are a day behind or if they just couldn't get the WSQ done for some reason.  My mantra is, "You can work ahead, but you can't fall behind", but I definitely have students who are a day behind here or there.

The problem is that they don't catch back up. 

I want to give them that little bit of freedom.  I want to relieve a little bit of stress in their lives if they have a lot going on one day/week.  But I also expect them to take responsibility and make sure they get caught up instead of always being a day behind.

Because of the freedom I give my students, I'm already sensing some students are starting off the 2nd semester taking advantage of that freedom.  They aren't working 100% in class, they are very unfocused, and there is no drive or desire to make sure to get their work done... they'll "get it done later". (That doesn't mean they aren't doing ANYTHING in class... it just means they are behind and aren't making any effort to catch back up, they are just going with the flow at a slow pace).

Tomorrow is the first test of the 2nd semester.  Students have known for 2.5 weeks that they must:

  • Finish 6 PQ assignments
    • All PQ assignments were supposed to be completed by the end of class on Friday.  On Tuesday when I saw my students again after a 3-day weekend, I had some students who hadn't even begun PQ6
  • Submit "Collaborative Answer Key" (a picture of ONE of their PQ problems to share with classmates)
    • Collaborative Answer Key submissions could have been submitted for over a week and a half as students worked out problems.  I had received less than half by class time on Tuesday.
  • Take 6 Concept quizzes
    • Concept quizzes are supposed to be taken the day after they practice the assignment to assess their true knowledge, comprehension, and application.  I had at least 40% of the students on Tuesday who hadn't even started them.  I used to "demand" that certain quizzes be taken certain days, but again I like giving them the freedom (and thus responsibility) to take the quizzes when they are ready for them.  However, when they wait until the last day to take the quizzes, they (and I) don't get the formative feedback needed to make corrections and provide support before the test.  Most of them don't see it that way, so I need to do a better job of explaining purpose (like most things).  However, it also causes me stress because I'm sitting here the night before the test seeing horrible errors that should have been caught way beforehand.  However, students do great when they are working in groups, able to ask questions, and able to refer to their notes.  They think they don't need the help.  That is why the quizzes are so vital - can they really do it on their own?  If not, where are they struggling?  If they never take the quizzes with time for feedback, how can we discuss that?

I don't want to "enforce" quiz days because it goes against one of my goals of relieving student anxiety and, again, giving them freedom and responsibility for their learning.  But if they can't manage it on their own, do I need to re-think that?  Also, it's not all kids, so how do I enforce it with some and not with others who don't need it?  I have to do this with my lower Alg1 kids, but I feel like my honors 11th-12th graders should be able to handle it.  Have I gotten too lax??

Maybe I'm just tired and frustrated tonight.  Maybe they will surprise me greatly on the exam tomorrow.  Honestly, from what I've seen, I highly doubt it.  Regardless, we need to talk about "you can work ahead but you can't fall behind" and talk about what that really means.  Making no progress is not an option.  For example, I have a student who consistently is behind but consistently blames it on going out of town for extracurricular events many weekends... but this student does nothing during the week to try to get ahead or caught up.  Once in a while, that is okay... but when it becomes a consistent habit, it just doesn't cut it anymore.  This student is taking advantage of the "freedom" I am giving and not taking "responsibility" for him/herself, his/her actions, his/her commitments, etc.  The excuses have to stop and responsibility must be taken.


That comes to students not taking tests with the rest of the class, which was a total bust first semester.  Those students never ended up catching up and were my only F's.  Pretty much all A's and B's with a few C's... and then some F's.  Only 10 total I believe out of 95 - but still way too many when these students were capable of passing but just didn't have the inner drive and dedication to succeed.

When students don't take the test with the class, they are given a make-up date.  It's on my schedule and my calendar, usually about a week later.  However, I did nothing to hold the students accountable between original and make-up test dates.  They had to start the new unit with the class (so they didn't fall further behind), but tested with a new version on the make-up date.  The only reason they would not be prepared is if they didn't take advantage of all the time given to them in class and tutoring opportunities available.  For example, we have done nothing new all week - just practice and review... test tomorrow.  If a student isn't ready, then what were they doing the last 2 days to get ready?  I did not see a lot of urgency during class time from any of the students who have contacted me saying they don't think they'll be ready...

My only thoughts is something like, "If you don't test on the class test day, you must come for ____ outside of class tutorings before the make-up day".  I might try that and see how it works - tutoring is big at our school anyways so it's not something new for the kids.


Okay, I need to get to bed.  If you got through this, I'm impressed.  And wondering if it made any darn sense, so please let me know your thoughts.   

I want to give my students that freedom.  But I also want them to take responsibility for that freedom and not take advantage of it.  I think that is the line that is not clear right now.

Remember... these are my Honors kids.  Juniors and Seniors.  Great kids, smart kids,... busy kids..., but totally capable kids.  But, like most teenagers, I'm giving them an inch and they are taking that mile...

The only question is - how do I make it more clear?


  1. I am happy that you are posting the struggles you are going through as you work through this process that I am trying to start up right now. Sometimes people only preach good and make their successes not believable. I also wonder if you are being too hard on yourself for the F's because these students may have failed in a traditional setting as well. Definitely following your journey as I start mine.

    1. Thanks for the comment, John. It's easy to talk about the good, but we have to be honest about the bad because we need to grow... thank you for following my journey.
      My bet is over half of these students would also have failed in traditional, but it's still tough - I think as teachers we never feel like we do enough but it comes down to the student choosing to succeed and take advantage of all the resources available. If anything, I just hope they learned from the first semester and will start off better this semester.

      Thanks for reading :)


  2. I have a philosophy similar to yours. I like to give my students freedom. However, I also realize that giving them more responsibility is another lesson to learn. As hard as it is, sometimes failure is the lesson they learn. I know that may seem harsh. I give them all the room they need to make things up and sometimes that creates a whole host of headaches for me. I don't think I fully appreciated the value in letting children fail until I had my own. I watched as they tried again and again to stand up on their own. Each time they fell, they learned something new and that helped them succeed in the end. Who will be there when they are in college to make sure they get their work done?

    1. Thanks for your comment - you make a very good point. I think as teachers sometimes we work so hard and forget that the students have to work hard as well and sometimes, like you said, learn from a "failing" experience and hopefully become better/stronger students/people because of it. Your comment encouraged me... thanks :)

  3. This is my eighth year of teaching high school chemistry. I have tried the entire spectrum in terms of holding kids accountable for doing what I ask -- when I started teaching, I graded every problem of every homework assignment every night. Over time and as a result of lots of conversations with a trusted colleague, I have let up on the reigns to the point where I don't check or grade homework assignments ever. Kids can do as much or as little of them as they feel is necessary, and I supply them with the correct answers so they can check their own work. I have found that most kids attempt most of the homework every night, so I like the policy because it gives them some freedom and has made them realize that homework is important because it helps them to better learn the information, but not because I told them they had to do it. On a recent test, however, a number of kids struggled after having lots of resources available to them in the form of practice problems, review worksheets, etc. A few kids have asked to re-take the test or do test corrections, neither of which comes up under normal circumstances. But this time I am going to allow them to do a re-take if they ask, but they will need to jump through some hoops first: they will have to come meet with me outside of class time to talk about what went wrong during the last unit and they will need to complete all the problems on the review worksheets I have given them before I will give them a re-test. I am hoping that this will re-emphasize the importance of keeping up with the work along the way...and I hope it will, ultimately, lead them to better mastery of the material despite floundering the first time through.


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