I can only be the person that I am.
I have to remember that.
Fresh off of a post in which I wax elegiacal over the stresslessness of grading in Calc I this semester, I find myself stressing out over the stultifying quiet of my two sections of that course. The morning section is a bit on the shy side, but they're coping and coming out of their shells a little bit. The afternoon session is borderline catatonic. I can't recall the last time I had a class this reluctant to speak up, to volunteer, to interact, to show any signs of life.
Let's break it down:
1. There are three or four students who have had calculus before and who are therefore pretty comfortable with the material but who (bless them!) hold off from blurting out the answers and volunteering to work something out on the board...at least not until someone else has had a chance. I have a feeling that these few folks, though, are beginning to grow self-conscious, since it's becoming apparent that they're about the only ones who are volunteering themselves at all. (Notably, these folks are mostly male.)
2. There are another seven or eight students (most of whom are female) who clearly know what's going on most of the time but who are painfully shy about it. Generally they telegraph signs of understanding to me (smiles, nods, even a little laughter), indicating that they're grasping what's going on...and they almost unfailingly come to the right conclusion on any in-class exercise we perform (and typically well before anyone else in the class), but they're beyond reluctant when it comes to sharing their ideas, even when those ideas are spot on.
3. There are about ten more folks who may not get at the right answer right away, but are happy to actively work to get at it, and these folks work really well with one another on group activities. Here they'll speak up, and they'll share ideas. There are signs of life, but not very vivid ones. I'm not particularly concerned about these people, as quiet as they are. (These people are of mixed gender.)
4. The remaining ten or so (also of mixed gender)...I just can't read. They neither volunteer to help out at the board nor interact much in groups. They let themselves get moved forward on in-class activities, but I can't tell if they're moving along with understanding or if they're only being pushed forward by their friends. As big as the class is (34 students right now) I don't have enough time to circulate around the room and police every moment of every group interaction to see how they're faring on a day-to-day basis. Truth be told, I'm worried about them.
And overall, I'm frustrated. I'm trying not to be; I'm trying to remember that just as I can only be the person that I am, so it goes for these students as well: many of them are just (a) shy, (b) uncertain, (c) and timorous (if not terrified) when it comes to math. It's the perfect storm of disaffected students. While I've always prided myself on being able to instill self-confidence and self-assertion, even in the most mathphobic of my students, and I've always prided myself on being able to bring students out from their shells, to help them become more outspoken, engaged, and involved...have I met my match in this class? Is this nut just too tough to crack?
I'm going to write notes to a few of the students I'm most worried about tonight, just to see if they can help me to figure out just what it is I can do to help them out. I'm also going to have a brief conversation in class tomorrow about what I'm hoping to see in the second half of the semester...and about what they hope to get out of it.
I want to make it work for all of us. Please help me to do that.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
I can only be the person that I am.