Great expectations

College students expect high grades if they show up for lectures and do the reading, complain professors. From the New York Times:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

“I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it” said Ellen Greenberger, the lead author of the study, called “Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors,” which appeared last year in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

“Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade,” reports the New York Times.

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Comments

  1. The hypotheses of the professors seems a bit off. Perhaps the students expect a B for trying hard, or even just attending the lectures not because of an increased sense of entitlement or increased parental pressure, or test preparation, but because that’s what they got in high school for trying hard, or just attending classes.

    I know it was a shock to my system at university to discover that I really had to study to understand something. It took several rounds of failing and nearly failing exams to get that through into my subconscious. I never complained to my professors that my grades were unjustified, but then I was doing engineering so my struggles in the exams themselves were enough to alert me to the problem – in a less transparent subject I could easily imagine that I would start off by blaming the professors.

    Though Jay Greenwood fails to understand the point of getting a “C”. The joke at engineering school was that a “C” was the best result as it showed you’d done just enough work to get into the next class without wasting potential drinking time on the far lower marginal payoffs from an “A” or a “B”. :)

  2. Trying hard should give some benefit of the doubt in some cases, but grades should mean something. I was a B student, barely high enough to qualify for grad school, where I was somehow transformed into an A student through even more grade inflation. Do I complain? No, because the grades matter much less than that which was learned. In many subjects, grades reflect the students’ ability to do busywork rather than their learning. That’s not to say busywork isn’t important, but in some cases it isn’t. In many classes, students who learn the work but skip the lectures do worse (gradewise) than marginal learners with better attendance.

    The biggest whining about grades was from students who were on scholarships, came from honors classes in high schools, were constantly told how brilliant they were (even in college honors programs,) and didn’t always produce good work. I wanted to tell them to buck up, but I was watching them to see if there was a way I wouldn’t fail those studio art classes I didn’t attend with regularity. (I have two failed classes on my undergrad transcript, and I’m proud of my alma mater to say I earned them.)

  3. Tracy W–that’s true, but professors are generally pretty aware of that phenomenon, and it usually disappears by the end of Freshman year.
    The NYT is about a decade late with this story.

  4. When I was a student, it took a while for me to understand that the ‘recognize the terms’ understanding that was sufficient in high school didn’t cut it in college. Now that I teach CC students, I tell them in the first few weeks of class that I give open-ended questions so recognition or guessing won’t really help. I explain that the test of whether you know something is that you can explain it or give an example, etc. They seem shocked at first, but as the semester goes on they say it gets a lot easier because they learn how to study and have a foundation for the new information Students who actually learn the material usually tell me that the cumulative final is the easiest test that they take since everything fits together. Those who tried to ‘fake it’ through the semester often wind up failing. Amazingly, the majority of my student usually do well.

  5. You ought to hear the complaints I get in my comp classes: “A D? I’ve never gotten a D on a paper before. I don’t like this. I’ve never been this bad at writing.”

    Snookums, you’ve always been this bad. You didn’t know because of a combination of two things: nobody ever told you (either because the teachers don’t know how to teach good writing skills because they weren’t taught or because they were under district pressure to raise grades), and I look for entirely different things than your high school teachers did.

    It really sucks teaching dual credit this semester. Those students want me to wipe their noses for them.

    I think it’s really a combination of related factors: the self-esteem movement telling them that they’re awesome, and that they’ve never been allowed to see just how bad they are.

  6. Boy, I’m really starting to understand how lucky I was to go through high school in the early 1970′s. We never had the slightest idea that just showing up would get you anything. You worked for your grades. Nothing could be simpler.

    This doesn’t tell us anything about today’s kids (which are, after all, pretty much the same as yesterday’s kids). Instead, it tells us loads about today’s educational system. We have totally failed a whole generation and I don’t see any way to make it up to them.

    I wonder if the folks who eventually hire these kids will figure they deserve 80% of their pay for just showing up? I bet not.

  7. Until the 70s, many- maybe even most- colleges expected that about one third of the freshman class would flunk out. To assist in the process, they had designated freshman weeder courses. At my state university, they were the freshman sciences and freshman English (combination of composition and literature). There were plenty of students (usually from competitive high schools) who did fine the first semester, since they had had the material in high school but failed the second because they didn’t study and got too far behind before they realized it. Grading on the curve was very common. I was in a clinical major and less than a C meant repeating the course, since safe practice was mandatory. I knew kids who flunked out as juniors and seniors. Tough luck, but the graduates knew their stuff.

  8. “The NYT is about a decade late with this story.”

    At least a decade. And universities still have gateway courses, at least some departments do.

  9. I think this is partly the parents’ doing.

    My parents taught me: work hard, learn, do the best possible work you can do on things for the sake of the work. Go the extra mile.

    I did, and I was a pretty good student, so I got good grades.

    I teach college. I have some students who still have that “extra mile” mentality – who will do a good job on papers and projects because it is important to them. I also have students who have the “Gentleman’s C” mentality (except they call it “D is for Diploma”) who will get by on the least effort so it doesn’t cut into their time for drinking/fishing/being with their friends. But there are a few people – certainly not a majority on my campus – who have been told that everything they do is WONDERFUL! And EVERYONE’S A WINNER! And they can’t quite understand it when they earn Cs in my class.

    What Heroditus said – students who are bad have “always” been that bad; it’s just no one ever told them and standards were low enough they could get by.

    I wonder, if in this tough economy where jobs are more competitive than they may have been in a while, if it’s any favor to kids to let them go along believing that mediocre is “great.”

  10. Sue,

    I read this article and posted my thoughts on studytips.cramster.com — I’m really hoping to get some comments and responses from students. I don’t think the NYT article covered the full range of student opinions on this topic.

  11. And these are the kids who grew up with Star Wars? Didn’t Yoda teach them anything? There is no try.

    I don’t care how hard they try if the result sucks. Or comes to the wrong conclusions. Or gets the facts wrong.

    When everyone is an A student, no one is an A student.

  12. tim-10-ber says:

    Thanks for the article. I am going to post it on a local board in my city and see what comments we get.

    Speaking of the 70s — that is when I was in high school and college, too. We had to work for every grade we got.

    My question is what has happened? Why has our country changed to the “entitlement” philosophy? Why have educators changed and given kids credit for trying? This is crazy and I am always shocked when I hear the educators talking about giving credit for effort. What are educators being taught in the so-called ed schools? Whatever it is they are a huge part of the problem, too.

    Effort does not get you anything in the real world. Effort gets noticed/appreciated but no promotions, bonuses, etc. What gets one ahead are results — did you complete the project, do it well, excel, win the business, bring in a new client, etc.

    If kids do not learn results count in elementary, middle and high school they may never learn this in college. Yes, I believe competition should be part of education, too. I believe our public schools have softened up our kids too much!!!

    Geez…my sons get a zero if they do not turn in their work — as it he should. They get graded on the work they do. If they disagree with a grade or completely misunderstand an assignment I expect them to talk with the teacher to resolve it. My getting involved is a last resort. Isn’t this the way it should be — both in K-12 and college? Why would parents expect anything less? Why would students ever expect anything less?

  13. Physics Teacher says:

    Speaking of the 70s — that is when I was in high school and college

    Me too. I started teaching just 3 years ago. I can’t believe how much things have changed, and not for the better.

    Why have educators changed and given kids credit for trying?

    For the most part it’s not educators’ idea. It’s imposed from above although it’s not phrased “Thou shalt give credit for trying” but “Thou shalt ensure that every student succeeds” despite the fact that 90% of students are unprepared/unwilling. This means that they can succeed only at trying (sort of).

    If we didn’t grade on effort we’d have overwhelming failure rates and then we’d be replaced by someone who will grade on effort, if only to keep their job.

    Common sense (and experience) would dictate that the high failure rate will only be temporary and that students would work hard to avoid failure the next time over. But common sense is not a characteristic of ed schools or administrators. My boss loves to claim that a bad grade will cause students to become whimpering slugs who will just give up on learning. My experience indicates otherwise, but she doesn’t listen or care. Her training — from some school of educational leadership — trumps everything.

    What are educators being taught in the so-called ed schools?

    Absolutely nothing of value whatsoever.

    Whatever it is they are a huge part of the problem, too.

    Correction: They are the MAJOR problem, the one from which all other problems sprout.

    If kids do not learn results count in elementary, middle and high school they may never learn this in college.

    My by-the-book boss has a stock answer for this: “they are not in college”. Many are only months away from college, yet I have to treat them like 1st graders. Apparently this makes sense to education experts. What happens to them when they actually get to college is something that the ed schools and administrations completely ignore. “Success” is getting good grades and awards throughout high school. The remainder of students’ lives is completely below the radar.

  14. What we are seeing is the fruit of the 60′s counter-culture movement. Our country was founded on a hard work ethic that valued responsibility, selflessness, and success… resulting in our progress through the 20th century.

    Unfotunately, the coutner-culture movement in the 60′s broke that cultural focus. A sense of selfishness developed amongst teens and twenty-somethings, illustrated by the free love movement.

    Now those hippies and those that came of age in the 70′s and early 80′s are the parents of today’s college students. Rather than instilling their children with the positive values that have served our country for the past 200 years, they largely ignored their children due to their own narcissism. Combine this with a sense that problems are always the fault of society and not individuals, public schools have been forced to recognize the only skill students, as a population, are left with – whining about how hard they tried.

    The ed schools have been infected with the same attitude. If students fail to succeed, teachers are encouraged to find ways to build enthusiasm for learning, rather than holding the students responsible for their own failure.

  15. The fundamental problem is a disconnect between what the students (who pay the tab for the professors, by the way) want and what the professors want.

    The students want a degree. Why? Because society as a whole has decided that everyone should go to college regardless of interest or qualifications, and that it is impossible to perform any job without getting a BA first. The students understand that they have to jump through hoops for four years, listening to bafflegab from luminaries such as “professors at Wisconsin [who]emphasize that students must ‘read for knowledge and write with the goal of exploring ideas.’” They also get (have to) to take seminars which “include the conventional, like a global-warming seminar, and the more obscure, like physics in religion…which are meant to help students think differently about their classes and connect them to real life.”

    The professors want to think that their courses in, well, physics in religion, for example, are interesting and vital. And if the damn students would just pay attention, they would develop “a genuine interest in their field, grades would take a back seat, and holistic and intrinsically motivated learning could take place.”

    Nice thought, if you’re not paying $50k/year. But it is a perfect example of taking people who would probably rather be almost anywhere else, forcing them to sit and listen to obscure topics, and then trashing them for not showing the proper level of enthusiasm.

  16. Lightly Seasoned says:

    The expectations at college should be a bit of a shock. Not an enormous shock, but more should be expected than what we expected in high school. I often have my sophomores from a regular/non-tracked class sign up for my advanced placement course as seniors. The first month is a big shock for them because my expectations are so much greater (I repeat this endlessly to their parents at conference night). After the shake up, they adjust. Of course I didn’t grade them so hard as sophomores — they were in a different stage of their development. Although I’m pretty darn tough on them as seniors, I would hope college would be tougher (not my experience, though — they all come back/email me and tell me how easy it is).

    While it would be lovely if students landed on our doorstep fully prepared and perfect, that’s not how it works. We’d then be unecessary.

    (My students do NOT get credit for showing up — have had plenty of kids with near perfect attendance who achieved F’s — but I would be quite thrilled if they did the reading.)

  17. Physics Teacher – there are techniques for motivating students to learn when said students start off not being willing. The key idea is to positively reinforce said students whenever they do learn something. At first you may have to positively reinforce them for every little bit of learning, but you can scale that back somewhat over time.

    See http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2007/10/how-to-effectively-manage-classroom.html for some description of how to do this.

    The shame is that school administrations don’t check that teachers are trained and supported in the use of these techniques.

    As for unprepared students, they should be put in whatever level of class they are prepared for. I think you could make a case that it’s educational malpractice for school administrators to not do that.

    Note, I am blaming school administrators here, not teachers. This is a system problem, not a teacher problem.

  18. Physics Teacher says:

    Physics Teacher – there are techniques for motivating students to learn when said students start off not being willing.

    In light of the current topic, how exactly does this prepare students for life beyond high school?

    If you get a job making fries at McDonald’s you’ll likely be bored after a while. Perhaps even after 20 minutes. Yet I doubt that your manager will strive to motivate you beyond simply threatening to fire you.

    Even more amazing, the students who don’t feel like doing math problems for an hour straight (who supposedly need all this motivation) have no problem working 20 hour weeks at menial jobs, week after week, and year after year. If they need all this motivation in school why don’t they need it at work?

  19. Physics Teacher says:

    One more thing….

    I can understand the need to motivate when it comes to smaller children. But once you are a junior or senior in high school you should have the understanding that not everything in life is fun and interesting ALL THE TIME. A lot of things are tedious, maybe even boring, but they need to be done nonetheless.

  20. “But once you are a junior or senior in high school you should have the understanding that not everything in life is fun and interesting ALL THE TIME”

    You’re assuming those juniors and seniors aren’t doing macaroni art projects for their classes. It took me a while to catch on, but I finally understood that when students who hadn’t been able to come to class or do the work came to office hours and asked if there were “extra credit projects,” they meant putting glitter on construction paper.

  21. Physics Teacher says:

    You’re assuming those juniors and seniors aren’t doing macaroni art projects for their classes. It took me a while to catch on, but I finally understood that when students who hadn’t been able to come to class or do the work came to office hours and asked if there were “extra credit projects,” they meant putting glitter on construction paper.

    I’m assuming that you’re a college professor and not a high school teacher. If so, then you’re frightening me. I didn’t know this madness extended beyond high school.

    I myself haven’t touched construction paper since about 4th grade. And even then I didn’t care for those projects.

    The current situation is driven by things like block scheduling (for which you need to plan half the period to go to some sort of infotainment), and different levels in the same class.

  22. I agree with the comment about heterogeneous grouping (aka differentiated instruction) and block scheduling being part of the problem. One of my kids had two years of block scheduling and even in honors classes, half of the period was wasted – he HATED it. I also have a teacher relative whose high school switched to block format, and he felt that the only way to cover a whole year’s material in a semester was to use lecture format, and very few kids could/would keep up with either the lecture itself or the out-of-class reading/assignments. The reality of differentiated instruction meant that the class pretty much had to be aimed at the lower points. The administration also pushed group work, portfolio assessment and high grades for all. No honors courses were allowed and all special ed students were mainstreamed. The end result was was a significantly weakened curriculum; drastically so for the would-have-been honors students. Needless to say, college-bound students were never challenged enough to develop any study skills. My relative took early retirement.

  23. I agree with Orthodoc. Kids are encouraged to go to college by every influential entity in their lives. It doesn’t matter how most of us do in college anyways for the jobs we find ourselves in. What’s important is that we don’t find ourselves the only one in our peer group without a degree. There’s a class thing going on. Many kids only want to make sure they have the right credentials for good white collar jobs since anything else has been sold as less than desirable.

    For the jobs that do require rigorous learning, those kids and those professors take their classes seriously, I hope, anyways.

  24. Physics Teacher – as for how this prepares students for life beyond high school, the way it prepares them is that if it all works well they learn whatever you are teaching them, and then they have it in their brains and can use it in later life.
    If what you are teaching has no use beyond high school, why are you teaching it even to the motivated students? (I am reading the word “use” in the widest sense here, not confining it to things that earn money).

    As for the real world, at McDonalds they pay you. That’s the positive reinforcement. And I don’t know about your job, but if an employer stopped paying me, I’d stop working for them. And I suspect most other people would be the same. Adults do need positive reinforcement.

    As for a junior or senior in high school, yes, that’s a good understanding that not everything in life is fun and interesting all the time. However, around the world Governments have, rightly or wrongly, decided to require compulsary education up to a certain age. Clearly politicians think that kids have no right to decide not to get an education. And generally what Governments require to be taught are things like history, English, mathematics, not just “understanding that not everything in life is fun and interesting all the time”. If you are an employee of a public school, as you are paid by the government your professional duty is to try to accomplish the government’s goals using the most effective methods known by your profession (within the bounds of your contract, I’m not demanding that you devote your life to the job). If you think that they’re wrong, feel free to campaign against compulsory schooling in your free time.

  25. Physics Teacher says:

    Physics Teacher – as for how this prepares students for life beyond high school, the way it prepares them is that if it all works well they learn whatever you are teaching them, and then they have it in their brains and can use it in later life.
    If what you are teaching has no use beyond high school, why are you teaching it even to the motivated students? (I am reading the word “use” in the widest sense here, not confining it to things that earn money).

    You seem to be conflating two different issues together. I never said that the content of what I teach has no application. But making everything “interesting” has no application beyond HS and turns kids into lazy bums that expect even more entertainment down the road.

    One of the most useful things that ALL these students can learn in a physics class is unit conversion. It’s useful not only for future engineers but for future nurses, warehouse workers, etc. Unit conversion is not interesting, exciting, or even difficult. It’s tedious, and most people simply refuse to do it.

    If you doubt its importance consider the case of Dennis Quaid’s children receiving many times the dosage of medication in a hospital or the case of the “Gimli Glider” in which the pilots and ground crew screwed up a conversion and a jet liner ran out of fuel in the middle of a flight.

    Teaching unit conversion by making it “exciting” is like teaching kids to like vegetables by overcooking, mashing, and then mixing them with chocolate syrup so not a hint of vegetable flavor remains. Does that sound like a good way to make kids appreciate vegetables? I don’t think so.

    As for the real world, at McDonald’s they pay you. That’s the positive reinforcement. And I don’t know about your job, but if an employer stopped paying me, I’d stop working for them. And I suspect most other people would be the same. Adults do need positive reinforcement.

    And if I gave zeroes for omitting units these kids would learn the drill too. Except if I did that kids would complain about the failing grades and I would be called into the office.

    Thank you for proving my point.

  26. I second the motion about unit conversion.  Not only is failure to understand it the cause of many accidents, that inability (and the various incompetencies which leads to that inability) is responsible for the persistence of many of the destructive myths going around society; they can be trivially refuted by anyone with a bit of knowledge, but most people don’t have that knowledge and (worse) don’t take the refutation seriously because they don’t understand it.

  27. Unfortunately says:

    [Tracy W -If what you are teaching has no use beyond high school, why are you teaching it even to the motivated students?]

    Because NCLB states that students must take a yearly test to prove they know certain, specific things. Every state has an exam. Oh, there is also ‘the administrator demands it so it is done’ version of that as well.

    I will say that I’m finding it amusing that ‘real world’ examples keep being used. The ‘real world’ examples I see where I live/work are parents on heavy drugs, welfare, and foodstamps. The typical student I deal with couldn’t care less about an education, they are there because if they are not, they will be hotlined and the state becomes involved.

    As for the ‘positive motivation’ aspect, if children are bribed enough with candy, pop, treats, rewards, etc, they seem to somewhat care. But again, the parent doesn’t understand why their child does poorly (very low education runs through the generation), so they scream, and report the teacher to the administrator, who truly doesn’t want to waste their time with trivial matters (because there was a recent fight, truancy, bus issue, etc don’t you know?) so they lay down the ‘bottom line’ and everyone leaves unhappy.

  28. Physics Teacher, I talked about the value of your because you said “In light of the current topic, how exactly does this prepare students for life beyond high school?”
    I know you never said that the content of what you teach has no application. That’s why I asked my rhetorical question. (Also, since your screenname is Physics Teacher, I had a strong suspicion that you are a physics teacher, and thus were teaching a subject that is useful past school. My knowledge of physics is part of what allows me to support myself in reasonable comfort by doing work that I find interesting in and of its own right).

    I am not sure why you are going on about making everything “interesting”. I am advocating about positive reinforcement for students who are unwilling to learn. Did you read the articles at the link I provided? There are plenty of ways of providing positive reinforcement apart from making the subject itself interesting. Methods include praise, food treats, beating the teacher (as in the Teacher-Me game), giving students “free time”, for example the teacher palisadesk in the link I provided, in the third part, uses positive reinforcers that include the class earning time to do something fun “such as a team Jeopardy game (using information from the subject they’re learning — call me Machiavelli)” http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2007/10/how-to-effectively-manage-classroom-iii.html

    As for unit conversion, yes, I agree it is very important, and failure to get it right is possibly fatal. That to me however is a strong argument for using positive reinforcement to ensure that students learn it. I’m generally in favour of learning from natural consequences up until the natural consequences start including death or permanent injury. If one of your students doesn’t learn unit conversions, and then winds up killing themself, they’re not going to be able to learn unit conversions in the future. And if they kill someone else due to their ignorance, that’s even worse as it prevents the innocent person from learning anything in the future.

    Yes, you could give students a zero for omitting units. But you say your school won’t back you up on that.

    And some students don’t care if they get failing grades (when I went through school in NZ, the important marks at high school were mostly what you got on the external exams (the main exception being Art), which were set by an external authority, which then sent in people to administer the exams (handing them out, looking for cheating, taking them back in again) and marked them independently. Internal assessments were checked by external auditors. In NZ there wasn’t much pressure from parents or the school administration to avoid deserved zero grades on school work as the school work didn’t matter for future purposes. Still some students didn’t care about bad marks and went on to fail the exams. For them, getting good marks wasn’t a positive reinforcement. It may have been because they didn’t care, it may have been because the gap between doing the work and getting the marks back was too big for them. So even if you could give zeros, that wouldn’t necessary achieve the goal of teaching everyone unit conversions, and you present a strong case that unit conversions can be literally a matter-of-life and death – and Engineer-Poet provides some support for that.

    So what’s your problem with using positive reinforcement? What you are teaching is important in its own right, in fact, you yourself know it can literally be a matter of life-or-death, you can’t apply one method because of outside constraints, you can’t make all your topics interesting in their own right, positive reinforcement strikes me as something you should be at least considering under the circumstances.

  29. Physics Teacher says:

    Methods include praise, food treats, beating the teacher (as in the Teacher-Me game), giving students “free time”, for example the teacher palisadesk in the link I provided, in the third part, uses positive reinforcers that include the class earning time to do something fun “such as a team

    Actually, when my students beat their flippers together I toss them a dead fish. EACH!.

    But seriously, don’t you think these grand strategies are precisely the reason for the decline in American education? Kids today feel far too entitled to various postive reinforcements, including easy grades and other rewards.

    Praise? Students who can’t be bothered listening to what I have to say don’t care about my opinion. The worst are seniors who’ve already been accepted to their colleges and who think anyone older than they are is stupid.

    Food Treats? Some of my worst students have obesity issues. Should I be tossing them twinkies?

    Jeopardy? Been there. Done that. It only works once or twice. And this is precisely the kind of thing that you do with 7th graders. Don’t you think it’s ridiculous to be doing 7th grade activities with 12th graders?

    you can’t apply one method because of outside constraints, you can’t make all your topics interesting in their own right, positive reinforcement strikes me as something you should be at least considering under the circumstances.

    The reason for this forum is to discuss the overall issues of education. I’m not posting here to find out how to play the game that has led us to the situation we currently find ourselves in, but to, hopefully, draw attention to the kinds of things that go on in schools so that the situation may actually change. Perhaps, if enough parents catch on as to why their kids can’t multiply two numbers together in the 12th grade they’ll pressure the ed schools and districts to change their tunes.

  30. Actually, when my students beat their flippers together I toss them a dead fish. EACH!.

    Unless you’re talking sushimi here, I think that tossing people a dead fish would likely work as a negative reinforcer. Of course you know your class better than me; if tossing them dead fish works for you, then go for it. Just please don’t try it on me when I’m not expecting it, even if you are tossing sushimi.

    But seriously, don’t you think these grand strategies are precisely the reason for the decline in American education?

    Nope. If I’m going to put a finger on one thing responsible for the decline in American education, then whole language as a method of teaching reading. But I don’t have any proof of that.
    People haven’t been using positive reinforcement for centuries at schools, and many students have been disinterested and have failed to get good grades or master the material put in front of them.

    Kids today feel far too entitled to various postive reinforcements, including easy grades and other rewards.

    A reward is not necessarily a positive reinforcer. The definition of a positive reinforcer is something that increses the likelihood of a behaviour happening. You should not be giving rewards in the absence of the wanted behaviour happening – doing that is a bribe and does encourage entitlement feelings (and to be precise, it means that the rewards aren’t positive reinforcements by definition). Details are important.

    Food Treats? Some of my worst students have obesity issues. Should I be tossing them twinkies?

    How about dried apricots? Or whatever works and suits your conscience?

    Don’t you think it’s ridiculous to be doing 7th grade activities with 12th graders?

    Actually, no, not really – in my experience 25 and 35 year olds are just as capable of being silly as 7th graders. But if you find the opportunity to play games doesn’t work, how about trying free time?

    I’m not posting here to find out how to play the game that has led us to the situation we currently find ourselves in, but to, hopefully, draw attention to the kinds of things that go on in schools so that the situation may actually change.

    That’s nice. My own interests in posting here are too eclectic to summarise. However, as I stated earlier, you are a professional employed by the government, who represents the taxpayers who pay your salary, and the government has clearly decided that students up to a certain age should not be allowed to choose not to get an education. This lays a professional responsibility on you to try to accomplish the government’s goals using the most effective methods known by your profession (within the bounds of your contract). It’s a shame that your school’s administration is not supporting you more in this.

    But I’m getting the sense that you’re not interested at all in seeing what you can do within the current system. So I will stop here as I can’t make you do anything.

  31. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Tracy: I’d be reprimanded for free time. I am to teach bell to bell. Plus, it isn’t a good idea regardless. Unstructured time usually leads to discipline issues in high school. It only takes one “silly” kid, but then I have to explain why so-and-so had the free time to try to jump out the window in the first place.

    Positive reinforcers (and token economies) have been in use in the American system for generations. I use lots of praise and acknowledgement. I use good grades. Occasionally I unload extra Halloween or Christmas candy on the kids. It doesn’t work reliably. Some kids light up with praise. Some are so stoned they don’t even know I spoke to them.

    And who is buying the apricots and fish?

  32. Lightly Seasoned – I think your story about being reprimanded for giving free time takes us back to my point about the problem being the responsibility of the school system, not merely the individual teacher.
    Though if you can’t allow any free time at all in your high school because of discipline problems, how does lunch time work? And after school?
    Yes, positive reinforcers and token economies have been used for generations, but on an ad-hoc basis, not systematically. There’s some evidence that trainee teachers are not being trained in classroom discipline techniques. For example, the Ford Foundation surveyed education professors on their views about education and training teachers. Noticeably, ony 37% thought that “Maintaining discipline and order in the classroom” was a quality that was ‘absolutely essential’ to impart to prospective teachers. (84% thought “Being life-long learners and constantly updating their skills” was absolutely essential). “Only 3 in 10 say that their teacher education programs emphasize teaching prospective teachers how to manage a rowdy classroom”. “About 6 in 10 education professors (61%) believe that when a public school teacher faces a disruptive class, he or she has probably failed to make lessons engaging enough to capture the student’s attention.” (This probably explains why Physics Teacher assumed I was suggesting making unit conversions interesting when I suggested positive reinforcement).
    http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/15/1f/37.pdf (page 9 and 10 of the pdf)
    And from page 13 of the same link: “About half the professors of education surveyed (52%) would like to see less reliance on prizes that reward good classroom behaviour”.
    If teachers aren’t being trained in classroom discipline at all beyond “make the lesson engaging” it makes me doubt the widespreadedness of positive reinforcement, which needs a lot of attention to details to work properly (eg you need to find something that is positively reinforcing for each student).
    And if you read old accounts of schools from the child’s point of view, they generally don’t include much in the way of positive reinforcement or token economies. For example, Mary Hughes’ “A London Girl of the 1880s” describes a school that for all but the 6th form ran mostly on punishment (thought she does recall one instance of her class being rewarded by half an hour’s free time). British 19th century boys schools were famous for the use of the cane, and when I was at primary school in NZ we could still be, and sometimes were, strapped.

    I don’t know any expert in positive reinforcement who believes that any one method will work with any child and any thing you want to teach. If one method doesn’t work, try another, and swap ideas with your fellow teachers. And I don’t think that a single school teacher can do much at all by him or herself about students who come to school stoned out of their brains.

    The apricots and the fish – should be the school, probably the teacher in the USA (my mum worked in an American high school at one point in the 1970s and came back in a a state of shock). That’s another advantage of dried apricots over twinkies – I’m guessing that unit for unit the apricots are cheaper.

  33. Physics Teacher says:

    I don’t know any expert in positive reinforcement who believes that any one method will work with any child and any thing you want to teach. If one method doesn’t work, try another, and swap ideas with your fellow teachers.

    First, “experts” in education is a contradiction in terms.

    BTW, I have a so-called masters degree in education. I spent 3 years and nearly 20 grand acquiring it. In some worthless ed class they might tell you to give kids cookies, but on the job you’re told “no eating in class”. Someone else’s boss might not care, but your’s might.

    Second, what are kids who are trained this way going to do in the real world? Does your boss worry about a whole variety of positive reinforcements for every single employee — apart from a paycheck? Yes, I know, the paycheck is the positive reinforcement. But it’s the ONLY positive reinforcement. Sure, your boss may throw the employees a bone here and there, but he or she doesn’t worry about how to motivate employees each and every single day.

  34. Physics Teacher: here is a list of successful schools at teaching minorities:
    http://www.arthurhu.com/INDEX/success.htm#barclay

    Are you arguing that their success rate is the result of pure luck?
    Of course the people responsible for the successes of these schools may not be experts on every aspect of education, perhaps they would totally suck at teaching people to fly Boeing 747s. But it seems a bit harsh to say that there are no experts in education as a blanket statement.

    Someone else’s boss might not care, but your’s might.

    And at some point a bad school administration places enough restrictions on what teachers can do that it would require super-human powers for a teacher to be successful (or the school administration might use other methods of wrecking the chances of effective teaching, for example interrupting the class every few minutes continuously throughout the time set aside for teaching). In that case my only advice is to find another school. I was starting off from the problem you stated of not being able to give bad grades to students who are unwilling to do the work, not for the situation of a school that systemtically bans every possible use of discipline, positive and negative.

    As I have stated throughout, I do think that many discipline problems are ones that should be solved by the school, not by the individual teachers. I don’t know what you can do about a massive variation in the preparedness of your class intake, and I don’t know what you can do if the school administration goes out of its way to undermine all forms of maintaining discipline.

    As for my boss not worrying about how to motivate employees each and every single day, my boss does worry about how to satisfy his or her clients every single day as those are the people who pay him or her (and me). As an educator in presumably a public school, your salary is paid for by taxpayers. Their representatives are the elected politicians, who have passed laws requiring compulsory schooling up to a certain age. In other words, your clients have decided that some of your students are not allowed to decide not to get an education. If it takes positive reinforcement to get an education into your unwilling students’ heads, I say go for it (as long as this is within the bounds of your contract). That’s the job you were hired to do. If you don’t like it, as a citizen you are welcome to lobby against it.

    Second, what are kids who are trained this way going to do in the real world?

    Apply their unit conversion skills in saving people’s lives? I can’t possibly predict what all your students are going to do in the real world, I just think that the more every single one of your students know, the more possibilities they will have in their lives – and who knows, they just might save the lives of someone else.

    If you think one of the goals of education should be to educate students how to work for long periods of time for very little rewards, convince the rest of your school’s staff, make that an explicit goal and teach it. A method that immediately springs to mind consists of starting off rewarding every student for a little bit of work, and then increasing the amount of time necessary to work for the positive reinforcement. (You might need to raise the size of the positive reinforcers as the required work period gets longer.) The method of using grades to do this teaches nothing to students who are capable of getting good grades without much work in the first place – I had a big shock at university when I realised that I could no longer get grades easily.

    If your goal is to get students to work for long periods of time with no prospect of a reward, good luck with that. I don’t know how to do it. My response when I find myself in one of those situations at work is to find a new job.

    I don’t get you, which is why I’ve broken what I was saying earlier about my stopping (well also that I suck at resisting temptation). You argue eloquently that it is very important to know unit conversions, that doing so is potentially a matter of life-and-death, not just for the person who is ignorant but potentially for other people around them, and yet you seem okay for your students to leave your classroom not knowing them if they just didn’t care.

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