This post is Part Two of a three-part series. Part 1 is here.

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) brought work to do. The Mastery Prep, billed as an ACT boot camp but was really a test-prep session, should have been an easy gig. However, as seasoned teachers know, never count out the need to ride herd over bored teenagers.

But as it turned out, none of his work got done. The teenagers needed his full attention.

There was the cell phone problem. There was the breakfast problem. There was the power problem.

Welcome to the real world, all readers who don’t work in an actual school and that includes district staff, all of whom hold some kind of education certificate but decided somewhere along the way that they wanted out of the classroom and maneuvered themselves into a district position, who have forgotten what it’s like. (Another rant over, let us hope.)

The cell phone problem? Kids can’t put them down and, if we adults are honest, we can’t either. But as the introductory part rambled on, about how the ACT is scored, what the numbers mean, the score needed for a college app, the score needed to concordanant the way past Florida law to the worthy goal of a diploma … yeah, you’re scrolling through your texts now, aren’t you?

Every time the online session hit a lull, including the first time the students were told to do a 10-question mini-test and the presenter’s computer crashed (apparently, it couldn’t do video and gather test data at the same time, ha-ha-ha!), they pulled out their phones.

Lesson learned: next time, make the students put their phones into their backpacks and the backpacks in the front of the room–out of reach. Too bad no one thought of this in advance …

The breakfast problem? You haven’t lived until a child shows up at your classroom door with a tardy pass and a bag of food with the explanation that the drive-through was too slow for them to get to school on time. A savvy teacher knows not to let them into the room, the smell will set everyone off with hunger pangs, but to direct them to sit outside until they have finished eating.

Lesson learned: do the same with these prep sessions. If you need to be reminded, we had no idea what to expect. The principal came into the session halfway through and mentioned that he was told to provide snacks. But OMG! Did the district want a serious learning experience or a party?!

The power problem? We’re a one-to-one district. We don’t have spare computers for children who come to school without the laptop we issued to them the same as we issue textbooks. And then there are those who don’t bother to keep their devices charged. GOT brought extension cords and multiple outlet charges, but that meant the students were clustered together, too close to maintain focus, and their overwhelming developmental stage need to socialize overrode the purpose of why they were there.

Lesson learned: the chosen venue wasn’t the right one. Next time, GOT will gather them into the testing classroom at his disposal. Power will be provided, but the students will not sit facing one another at round tables.

The Chat. Several schools and GOT estimates hundreds of students with access to chat … the presenter was doing the traditional thing, trying to answer questions and prompting responses in the chat to maintain the interactive nature of the session, but the students were having none of that.

They began by asking what schools everyone was at and moved on to asking who had what result. As the hilarity (from their view) evolved, some posts were … inappropriate.

The first clue was the laughter as they ignored the presentation and began talking about what other students were posting. The second clue was when the chat was wiped of all posts. Yes, there was a lot of chatter about that. The third clue was when GOT’s principal walked into the room. He had received an email about students making inappropriate comments.

The real problem? The proctors, GOT among them, had no access to what was taking place in the online session. He could only watch over students’ shoulders and squint at the tiny laptop screens to see what they were doing.

Lesson learned? [Censored opinion about how no one listens to an actual teacher about what’s actually taking place.] The adult in the room also needs to log in to the session to monitor what’s taking place. It helps to know when the Zoomer takes a break and not jump on students for getting off task. It helps to have access to the chat on a computer to monitor what the students are posting. It helps to see what the students are doing and to interact with them to explain what the Zoomer is trying to show them.

As best as he could gather, the reading part focused on helping students figure out the grammar questions: where to place commas, semicolons, and colons and where to not use them.

New rant: Total BS. Not from the Zoomer, who was doing his best to show teenagers how to answer these questions, but from a system that does not recognize that often the solution to grammar problems in writing is to rewrite the sentence so the punctuation question disappears.

But the tests will carry on because if they need to judge an actual piece of writing, the companies have to hire actual humans to make judgment calls. Even if they do, the economics of scoring means that the humans have too little time to actually make a good decision. Far better to present multiple-choice questions instead. Yes, about writing.

Maybe this is why standardized testing fails. It is inherently unable to measure student ability because it is not economical, maybe given the proclivities of testing companies and their investors to say not profitable, to actually judge writing. Only a classroom teacher can do that.

Oh, wait, but we don’t trust them, do we?

1000 words and another tl;dr break. Part 3 to come.

One thought on “Problem in the Chat

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