Sunday, September 11, 2016

Absent Students: What to do...what to do?

I am a practitioner of the Modeling Methodology and have been for about 15 years. 

A colleague of mine sent an email the other day that asked me:

"I am wondering how you handle the logistics of students being absent and not having a textbook during modeling. How do they catch up?"

I feel that my reply is good enough to share.

Great question!

I get questions like this all the time from first time modeling workshop participants.
I don't think this is why you're asking but let me provide the scenario that I encounter.
There is an inherent supposition by teachers who are thinking of transitioning to a new methodology that "if they switch it should fix all of the problems in the classroom".
When I write it down it seems ridiculous.  But I get this a lot from participants.  Not in such an overt way but it manifests in the question, "If all of the learning happens in the classroom, what do you do with students that are absent?"
The short answer is, "The same thing you do now with students that are absent."
There is an assumption by traditional type teachers that kids can learn from textbooks, or notes/power point presentations posted on a teachers website, or Khan Academy videos.  
And often teachers who tell students who are absent to consult these resources feel like they are off the hook if they do these.  Here is an example:
Student - "I was absent yesterday; what did I miss?"
Teacher - "Get the notes from the 'notes binder', here is the worksheet and watch this video."
There are, as I see it, two problems with this.  The first is the idea that a student could really do any conceptual learning with these resources - in or out of the classroom!  It just can't happen.  They can barely even do any factual learning with these resources let alone really learn anything.  The second is the idea that it is hard for us to admit that if the student isn't there, they just can't learn.  We as teachers hold ourselves to a standard that says, "even if a student is absent, we should still be able to get them to learn what we want them to learn."  But is that really a reasonable expectation?
So when I say to participants do do "The same thing you do now with students that are absent."
What I really mean is, "Do nothing."
Sure, you can provide some notes that were taken (or they can get them from a friend) and you can give them some worksheets that were distributed - which are both reasonable and responsible.
But there is no substitute for being there.
But let's contrast some of the features of the modeling methodology with something more traditional.
In a traditional classroom, absent students are in much dire straights because often the teachers have  a schedule of topics to cover.  Like, on Monday we're "doing" constant velocity; on Wednesday we're doing constant acceleration.  They sprinkle some practice problems in on the in between days but there is very little cycling of the content and very very little checking for understanding.  If you missed it, too bad, we've moved on.
With the modeling methodology, we plan and implement the development and deployment of content over several class periods.  This allows students to develop their concepts and understandings at their own pace and we give them multiple opportunities to practice.  We're continually checking for individual and group understanding and making changes to our plan to accommodate.
So, when a student is absent, its fine because even if they missed a day they are going to have more opportunities to learn and practice.
Switching to the modeling methodology doesn't fix all of our problems,  but it does highlight some of the logistical short comings of teaching.  And it allows us to be honest with ourselves about what we can and can't do; about what is within and out of our control.


Andrew Taylor said...

"They are going to have more opportunities to learn and practice."

You buried the lede, as a journalist would say. Good instructional design is going to have students work with concepts multiple times.

I often tell absent students, "What we did yesterday was X, so you're going to have to be really paying attention tomorrow when we do X again in a different way."

Sometimes the reading/handout/video can help, but as you say, we know that's just a crutch to keep anyone from thinking we don't care. Turns out that attending the thoughtfully-designed lessons from a dedicated teacher is useful. Maybe that's the real story.

Don Pata said...

I couldn't agree more with your comments.
I know that as teachers, we joke about students who say things like, "I wasn't here yesterday; did we do anything?" and how frustrating that is for us.

But I feel that that comes in two forms; the kid who is really responsible and wants to know what he missed and what he can do about it, and the kid who doesn't really want to know but does want to look responsible.

Either way the outcome is the same. If you only have the students experience a concept once, the chances that they get it are limited.

Bryan Battaglia said...

And hey if you have developed a class culture that encourages it, the absent students will be "coached up" by their partners.