Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blizzard...and it's not even officially winter yet.....

I think I may have blundered into a new definition of misery this week. It is blizzard.

Blizzard (n). The academic white zone when the snowflakes silently flake out during an attempt to engage them in classroom discussion. Accompanied by dull, vapid stares.

This is the scene I had in Remedial Hamster Fur Weaving the other night. Half of the class failed to materialize (several emailed me perfectly understandable reasons—hospital visit, required presence at child’s Back To School night conference), and they were, sadly, the better half, that engage actively in discussion. Not even a cricket chirping to break up the silence. Deafening! I felt blind, groping through the required material.

When I had gone over the material, I filled time with discussing their projects and what they needed to get those done within the next three months, then let them go. Forty five minutes early. I felt frustrated, angry and empty. I questioned my fledgling career path into academe…..and then, as I made my way out toward the parking lot, I saw four other professors also making early escapes, and began to think maybe I wasn’t quite a total failure after all.

I have a grueling in-class assignment workshop planned for next week. They’re going to learn something whether they want to or not!!!!!


  1. If they won't talk, I have them write. I give them a question or two to think about and respond to. This can give you insight into who isn't doing the reading versus who is shy or insecure about speaking in class. You also get to see their writing ability in a pure form.

    You could also run peer-evaluated discussions. It takes a little planning on the front end, but I've had remarkable results with students who I'd never heard a peep from all year. When they were "in the fishbowl" as we call it, many former potted plants all of a sudden step up participate really well, even providing good leadership of the conversation. Sometimes the bottom line for them is that the professor is there at the front of the room and they know you won't let crickets chirp for two hours, so they don't have any incentive to be anything but passive.

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  3. Whiteout is a dangerous condition in Antarctica, in which blowing snow in high winds reduces visibility to zero. People can get lost only a few yards from safety. It's an especially dangerous condition to find oneself flying in, since it can be impossible to tell which way is up.

  4. I'm with Surly. If no one talks, we write... and write... and then we share what we've written. If that doesn't work, we write some more.

    But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel too demoralized by their seeming lack of engagement to even summon the energy to make them write, so I understand your frustration!

  5. Hey Frod! Long time, no post.

  6. Arrgggh. This is so frustrating. Been there.

    Two suggestions have worked for me.

    1. Give them a stake in the topic. Start class with a "what if" situation they have to write about, relating the topic or project to their own lives or some current event.

    "You're the lead Hamster Fur specialist on an expedition to a place where locals think they've found a new species of hamster. What equipment will you pack, and how will you use it to investigate their claim?"

    "An East Armpit man recently was mauled by his pet hamster and its mate after serving birthday cake to one and not the other. Is this behavior surprising in light of this week's readings?"

    2. Think, write, pair, share. Do what Surly says, with a few twists:

    "Think about this question, and write your answer. Once you've got something written, talk about it with someone sitting near you. Later, I'll pick a few pairs at random to summarize what you've said to the class."

    "As you write, I'll be circulating around the room, checking over your shoulders. Feel free to ask me questions quietly. If everyone has a solid handle on this question, we won't waste class time on it. If there are misunderstandings or differences of opinion, we will spend time on it as a class."


    a. Everyone is on the hook and may be called on.
    b. They may not write until you approach to look over their shoulder. But at least you don't have to collect and read something from everyone.
    c. They get a chance to think about it and even rehearse it before being on display in front of the whole class (especially important for ESL students).
    d. You get a chance to see what they're thinking and can change your discussion prompts on the fly.

  7. Thank you all for these suggestions. I had handed around an article I wanted to discuss in this week's class. Since half the class was absent, they haven't all had a chance to read the material. I am giving a quiz at the beginning of class (scheduled) then I'm going to hand out the article to those who were missing, split them up into groups, and give them 45 minutes to go through the article and find the main idea/thesis, and decide whether the evidence is compelling or not, and come up with a list of examples. After that, we will discuss the article before proceeding to our regular textbook material. I am actually excited about this, and am going to incorporate some of the other ideas proposed above. I am also picking up a book that gives some insight into how to teach this generation, since last week showed me lecture/discussion does not seem to be working as well as last semester's class.

  8. I ask, "are they any questions?"
    Crickets... Then I guess someone sprays Raid because the crickets stop.
    "Okay good. Who can say something about the (one) problem I asked you to think about? "
    Crickets, two hands (out of 17- the best students). More Raid. (Whew someone other than me has to do it.)
    "You don't have to DO the problem, just say what you thought about over the weekend." (Hmm no one asked a question, so I ASSUME* you all figured out the problem.
    (Here I would have taken: I thought about my sexy boy/girl friend, the Bachelor(ette) marathon I watched on DVD, MTV, VH1 etc... and there was not time for really hard mathematics) Nothing.

    Guess what the quiz is going to be Wednesday?
    Of course holding them accountable gives me bad evaluations. I have to SHOW them the solution first, give them a week to process it and then give them an open note quiz, so they can copy my notes onto their quiz.
    I know, I will type up the solution, hand them out and then ask them to put their names on it and hand it back in. Everyone gets 10 points. Heck! They all get 100 and I drink a margarita!

    *I know what happens when I assume something...

  9. @ Froedrick Frankenstien from Fresno

    Re: Bubbles and Grey alien ears

    These aliens/transdimensional beings/robots from Hell [i]don't have ears.[/i] Thus Bubbles could not have ripped the ear off one.

  10. Should I be like Fiddlebright, and petition heavily to have blizzard added to the glossary?

    Gordon, where are you? :)


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