Proposal: For my case study, I have selected Chris. Chris is an eighth grade student who enjoys playing basketball and playing his drum set. Chris is very bright and performs well on assignments that he turns in. Our classroom has a deduction of 10% for late assignments, so students may still do well even if an assignment is late. There are a few behaviors that I have noticed with Chris that make him a good choice for my case study. Chris and I have similar personalities, and he often stays a few moments after the bell to chat with me about what he enjoyed in the lesson, how school is going, or about life in general. With his friends, he refers to me as “his main dude.” However, he often lets work pile up and attempts to complete a mass of work in a short period of time. I have also noticed that Chris is very well liked in school, and is susceptible to talking during the class period. When I redirect his behavior he gets back to work, but I usually catch him talking again. His behavior does not disrupt the whole class, but it does hinder the ability of those close to him to complete their work. By the end of the hour, I hardly ever get Chris’ work that was supposed to be completed during class time. Chris is comfortable enough with me to tell me about his home life, and on a few occasions has gotten emotional when we have spoken. I do my best to comfort him, and I am always sure to tell him that I go out of my way to make him successful. I have made folders for each subject for Chris, labeling the pockets to separate classwork and work that needs to be turned in. These folders seemed to have little effect, since Chris is still missing a lot of work for each of his core classes. Overall, Chris is a good student who performs well on assessments. He loses points on in-class assignments and homework or other assignments that are not “mandatory.” I believe that speaking to Chris more directly about what needs to be accomplished during class time will have a more profound impact on the amount of work that is turned in. By channeling my efforts toward Chris on this case study, I hope to motivate him to buy-in to school. Step 2: One hypothesis I have developed as to why Chris doesn't turn in work but acts "buddy-buddy" with me is that I did not take the time to fully understand his home life situation. This plays into issues of creating curriculum that is culturally relevant and taking time to understand student needs, meeting those students where they are. After perusing the literature in the course library, the Landsman article "Bearers of Hope" really spoke to me and I thought of Chris while reading. This student comes to class, and often completes class work, reads along with the class, and does not disrupt. However, when the time comes to collect work, Chris never
has anything to turn in. I often tell him I saw him do the work, but he tell me he lost his papers or just shakes his head as if it is a mystery to him as well. I know it is not an organization issue because I made him folders for each subject, which he uses. When I ask to check his folders to see if the work is there, he allows me to look but the papers are always missing. Last semester, he turned a ton of assignments in at the last minute to bring his grade up, but it was too late to raise his grade from a D to a B. This is when I learned the most about Chris: I asked to speak with him in the hallway to settle the issue of missing work, and I simply asked, "What's goin on man?" I learned that only A's and B's are acceptable in his home, and that he faces angry parents (especially his dad). He had an emotional moment in the hall with me, saying that he didn't know what to do so he gave up. I trust Chris and can likely take his word for it. He was likely so overwhelmed with work that he just gave up on it all, but I want to make sure I'm giving assignments that kids care about and can relate to. For Chris especially, I cut him a deal and told him I would contact his parents so there would be no surprises when report cards came, and I told him he needed to be on top of his game as to "not make a liar out of me." His mom responded to my email and was very supportive. Landsman says to "'cut deals' with students, helping them find realistic ways to meet work requirements." In the new unit we started, Chris has turned in all but one of five assignments, so he seems to have taken out pact seriously. I also am incorporating student voices more in blogs and free responses. These strategies align with Landsman's idea that "given help, students will leap mountains for you. If you have done your job, kids won't fail" and that "when students feel that they have a say in their education and that education is not something "done to them," they become engaged." In Chris' case, this has been true. He is on his way to improving his performance in class, and I think I this hypothesis is likely the root of his struggles. In short, Chris felt as though there was too much "busy work" to complete; tasks he valued little and therefore put off. Once a teacher took the time to understand his situation and encourage his voice, he was more likely to participate. A second hypothesis I have generated is that Chris did not turn work in because he was more focused on building a personal relationship with me than he was on turning in work. Like I said before, Chris always participates in class and does classwork, but homework and major assignments were always missing. Although I would ask Chris where assignments were and note their importance, he would almost always play it off as not a big deal. I would see Chris in the hallway, before class, and after class, and he would consistently try to chitchat with me. I found this frustrating because he is a student to me first, and a "limited acquaintance" second. He would come after school and during lunch but when I tried to ask him to get some work done during this time he would exit the room. At that point I just threw my hands up and was asked myself "how do I reach this kid?" I tried some different things for our new novel unit, and so far they have worked. I’m trying to make my students find more purpose in their work, and give them the "why?" to rationalize our activities. Damon says, "some educators may worry that introducing the big "why" questions that help students find purpose may distract attention away from the subject matter that schools are expected to convey. The opposite is true: only
when students discover personal meaning in their work do they apply their efforts with focus and imagination." I have found this to be true: students are more responsive to big questions that challenge them, and I usually get nods when I tell them why they learn certain skills. Specifically with Chris, he says he understands why we do things. It is important to note that I haven’t shut him down socially from me, partially because I fear he will shut down and stop participating in class. Step 3: To respond to Chris, my unmotivated student, I could attempt to distance myself socially from him. He tries to be a friend to me, and as I’ve mentioned before, I want him to channel this energy into his work. A benefit of this approach would be that I wouldn’t be enabling his behavior anymore. If I don’t chitchat, he won’t think its ok to just talk to me without completing work. I don’t think it would be effective to just "cold shoulder" Chris, so I’m thinking of ways to be less social and more proactive about telling him to work first. If I ignore or shut him down cold turkey, he may stop doing work altogether. Some ways I can wean him from talking with me socially: say I can only chat before or after school (not during class time), I would love to talk about x, y, and z, but I need these missing assignments, or trade in missing work for social time (I will allow you to ask me 2 questions for each missing sheet you give me?) Maybe these would be some acceptable motivators for Chris. It sounds like I’m wheeling and dealing, but at this point I’d try anything to get the work in. Another strategy I could try would be taking some more time to go over what I expect for each assignment. Normally, my appeals to "common sense" are ignored (You need this for HS! You will use argument all the time! The fact we are even having this discussion proves you know some grammar!) so I’m trying to figure out a way to not make a generalized "teacher soapbox speech." I wonder if other interns have found that if you are clearer with expectations, the quality or frequency of completed work goes up. Chris had admitted that some of the time he doesn’t know what I’m looking for, so this would benefit him and the whole class. I always feel like I am clear on directions, but now I’ve been asking for the "8th grade version" of the directions (thanks to Phil!). This has allowed students to tell me how they interpret an assignment before they even do it, although I have noticed Chris has not yet been the one to explain the instructions to the class. I will try to find a way to make sure I am being clearer for him and for my class in addition to this explain-back strategy. Step 4: The step 3 solution that I tried to implement involved distancing myself socially form Chris in order to get him more focused on his work. The strategy worked at the start, when I would tell Chris “you don’t have time to chat because you have too much missing work.” He would give me a look and return to his seat. For the first time, he actually got some work out and completed it. Out of a total of 20 assignments, Chris was missing 17. He is now missing 13, which is an improvement. He allowed work to stack up but was still benefitting socially when I would talk with
him. I realize that I may have been part of the problem by enabling his lack of work completion. When I initially started telling Chris that I couldn’t chat, I saw assignments start to come in, but then the frequency of turned in work declined. I was considering talking to Chris about this, but just a few days ago, he approached me with another student. They both said they were worried about the missing assignments, and wanted to make a chart to track their progress of work completion. Additionally, they wanted to make it a competition between the two of them. When they told me this, I had to get over the initial shock. I could not believe that two of my most unmotivated students devised a plan on their own to get work turned in. I can’t help but think that they noticed I was harder on them, and figured that the way to earn my trust back was to make this plan. I agreed to help them track their progress, and am currently making up the competition rules and charts. I would say that my action plan sort of worked, but the results are not at all what I expected. Like I said, I was shocked that my students took this step on their own. My actions did address a hypothesis I generated, and may have influenced my students’ decision. When I took time to understand Chris I saw a minor change, but he would always revert back to not completing work. In short, he would “yo-yo” with doing work. I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reach him. His actions have shown me that once I was firmer with him and gave him space (space that he may not even know he needed), he took responsibility for himself and figured out a way to get caught up (with support from me and another classmate). My response to their plan was overwhelmingly positive, and I told them I would support them 100%. While it does create a bit of work for me, it is work I’m willing to do to get this kids to be successful. I am excited to see how it plays out!