4 tales out of school

Here are four tales out of school, as relayed by parents:

Hatshepsut and Thutmose

Four questions from a study packet for a middle school World Civilizations class:

A. Nubia developed trade routes over land because:

  1. there was not enough wood to build boats
  2. the Egyptians controlled the Nile
  3. the cataracts prevented river travel in Nubia
  4. Nubians only traded with West Africans

B. According to legend, who united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt?

  1. Hatshepsut
  2. Menes
  3. Amon-Re
  4. Thutmose III

C. Thutmose III was all of the following except:

  1. a conqueror
  2. an educated man
  3. unmerciful to the defeated
  4. a great Pharaoh

D. What was the kingdom of Kerma known for?

  1. great poverty
  2. skilled archers
  3. delicate pottery
  4. ironworking

These are just a sample; most of the items in the packet are similar. Students have to ‘learn’ these because they’ll be quizzed on them.

It’s very hard for me to see this kind of schoolwork and not think that vast amounts of student time are just being wasted. And I’m the first to admit that I did this when I taught 8th grade. I didn’t know any better, but that didn’t make it right. There are lots of great higher-level concepts possible in this unit, such as the inter-dependent relationships between people and land, what influences where civilizations develop, and so on. But I don’t see those concepts here (and I wasn’t ever taught to focus on those as a teacher or student teacher).

[Correction: I've been informed that students did get to learn/write about some of those higher-level concepts too. That doesn't remedy the multiple-choice items for me, but it does help me feel slightly better.]

Study hall rules

In a high school cafeteria, there are flyers about study hall that say (among other things):

  • Students may eat and drink as long as they clean up after themselves.
  • Students may listen to music as long as they have headphones.
  • Students may talk quietly.
  • Game/Card playing, laptops, or any other such devices are not permitted in Study Hall. I-Pods are for music only.
  • NO CELL PHONE USAGE!

In other words, you can eat snacks, hang out and talk with your friends, and listen to your music during ‘study hall,’ but you can’t use what may be the most powerful learning devices that humanity has yet invented.

Assessment reliability, validity, and parent (dis)trust

An e-mail exchange between a parent and a high school teacher…

Parent

Dear [teacher], I would like to find out how to get a copy of my son's exams for his Algebra 2 class. My son's name is XXXX XXXX. He informed me that he is not allowed to take them home. I am very surprised by this. I don't know how I, as a parent, am supposed to help him if I don't know what he is not understanding. Also, it is very helpful to students to have their exams to study for the final. I am happy to pay for copies. Please let me know what I need to do. Thank you.

Teacher

I am attaching a pdf of our departments rationale for keeping students' tests on file. In addition, students are welcome to set up times when they may review a test in the math study center. When exams are returned, they are welcome to write down a question in their notes to which they may refer later.

Parent

I am very disappointed by this policy although at least the department lets parents and students look at their old exams. I appreciate not letting them come home until all students have taken the exam, but it seems that waiting a week would be fine. The "needing copies on hand" can be dealt with by letting a parent pay for a copy to take home if requested or by scanning and emailing. As for the issue of not wanting to make up new problems, math is one of the easier subjects to do this in so I'm really surprised.

I hope that students have been informed of this policy; I as a parent certainly haven't been by any department. My son didn't seem to be aware of it though, but that could be a teenage thing. What times are available for me to come in and look at the exams? Do I make the appointment with you to get the exams or go through the math study center? Thanks for your help.

In other words: No, we don’t trust you or your child (and/or we can’t be bothered to make an alternative assessment); if you are willing and available to take off work and come down here, we’ll show you what you want to see and you can take some notes but you may not have even a copy of your child’s work.

No computers for you!

It’s December and some upper elementary students have yet to use a computer this year for anything other than typing practice and to look up things in the library catalog.  [I’m not sure there’s anything to say about this except to sigh in dismay]

Wrap-up

Four tales out of school. Four tales that could exist in most districts in the country. Four tales that illustrate the disconnects that often exist between our schools and the caring, empowering, relevant, meaningful, modern learning environments that we should be creating for students and their families. Got one or more tales to share of your own?

5 Responses to “4 tales out of school”

  1. What sad tales indeed, and all too familiar.
    Here is a gem for you: I am a school library media specialist. I know a technology teacher who doesn’t know what is a wiki. When I showed her how to log in to my wikispace, she couldn’t remember her email address. I walked away with a slight headache…

  2. I had to do a double-take to see how my e-mail exchanges with my son’s Geometry teacher last year got onto your blog. 🙂 Then I realized they hadn’t; it just happened to be a near-duplicate of my experience. Frustration does not begin to describe my feelings as I went back and forth with the teacher, attempting to understand how my son kept failing Math tests without getting to actually see them.

  3. My middle school daughter was learning about Africa in her social studies class. Her teacher left out everything related to apartheid,genocide or Nelson Mandela, but instead tested and graded the kids on their ability to memorize the names and locations of 35 African countries. Points were taken off if they didn’t spell the names correctly on the test. A complete and total waste of time.

  4. I have to side with allowing students to have their tests after all students have taken it. Personally, I give my students all their graded work including tests. I record all grades in a gradebook as well as on Powerschool so I have a backup. The parent in the email exchange made some valid points: old tests make good study guides for final exams, and allow the parent to see what their child is not comprehending so they can help or get their child help. Another thing I do is have my students correct their work and they get some of the points back. They cannot make a 100 just because I fear some students would take advantage of the policy, but there are always exceptions in extreme cases. I want my students to learn the curriculum, and if they did not get it the first time I will reteach, regrade, and replace (the grade).
    Amanda Lake

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    […] for my kids. I’d rather my children have a Conspiracy Code-like Social Studies experience than a Thutmose III multiple-choice worksheet Social Studies experience. And so […]

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