Norming the Class 2 – Addressing Absenteeism Before It Happens

There is a huge yet largely undiscussed problem in the first month of the year with TPRS. It is that we open up our hearts to the kids in the personalization process in the first two weeks of class, since everything we do is to guarantee that they understand us and trust us, and we give them easy quizzes because nothing motivates like success, and by the end of the first semester some of the kids, kids in Denver Public Schools anyway, some of the kids know exactly what percentage they need – like a 53.1%, to pass for the year and get into level 2, because they have that C from the first semester honeymoon. Then, in level 2, you start the year and on the first day of class you see that kid sitting there whom you barely saw second semester looking smugly at you, the smugness mixed almost with defiance. That is a low moment. What to do do prevent that?
Just quiz often and early NOW. In that way, because we don’t use books, we don’t give tests kids can prepare for outside of class, and because kids have to be in class to know what is going on, possibly more than in any of their other classes, we identify these kids, we call parents, we go through administration, etc. and we make sure that their grade reflects their being in class and making the effort, doing their 50%.
What we DON’T want is a kid who comes to class off and on in the first few months, and, because we are so clear in our teaching because in each and every one of our classes we go Linda Li slow, that kid has an A or B after the first six weeks and we find ourselves rapidly moving to the point where the kid, riding his B into the second semester, disappears completely from class, only to appear in our second level class as described above. I hope this is clear. It is relatively rare but when it happens it sucks.
I say this: give lots of quizzes early on. Again, in our way of teaching, a kid MUST be in in class every day to get the CI. You’ll be glad you did the early quizzing. So much of teaching in public secondary schools is pre-emptive and has nothing to do with actual teaching. But we are public school teachers, and so we must address these things that have nothing to do with teaching.



9 thoughts on “Norming the Class 2 – Addressing Absenteeism Before It Happens”

  1. When a kid is absent though, he gets that dreaded 0. Too many zeroes and a kid is screwed for the year. I understand that an absent student receives no CI, but too many zeroes makes it difficult for a kid to catch up. The dreaded Super-F. Maybe I’ve been to one too many Marzano workshops lately. I’m not advocating absenteeism or the last-minute bail out. Shouldn’t it be something more like: While you were gone, the students have progressed by X, prove to me you can do this, please.

  2. My take on that is that the Super- F is easily avoided when the student and the instructor finally agree to work together with common respect. The kid decides to come to class and, as a result, alll the zeros disappear and the clean slate is awarded once the behavior is changed.
    We can do that in TPRS. We are one of the few disciplines that can wipe away zeros and have a kid get a brand new start anytime of year. At least in my own experience with TPRS, that is true. Properly delivered comprehensible input – that is, slow enough CI – can allow any kid at any level to experience the lesson. Hence the classes where kids in different levels of CI classes can succeed together. Radical, yes, but we do it in Denver so we know multi-leveling classes works.
    A kid can definitely miss a few weeks or two or three classes a week and come back and still do well in in our classes because we go so slowly. This is atypical in schools to say the least. So that there is, at least in beginning level one and two levels which is all I really know about, every chance for a kid who doesn’t come to class to do well if he is absent for awhile. Each class is that clear and slow.
    What I wish to address above is that teachers in TPRS are especially vulnerable to kids who lack empathy – kids who play the teacher like a violin once they find out that grades are easily earned in the class if one pays attention in the class.

  3. I like these nuts and bolts meets philosophy of teaching questions. I have had kids do the frequent absent thing. Drives me crazy. They know how to play the system and can get a B, like you said Ben.
    Some have suggested that for absent students, formative assessments (quizzes) be left blank (no +, no – grade), and that summative assessments carry all of the weight. Part of me understands that, but I am also trying to figure out what are my summative assessments. EVERYTHING seems formative and I have trouble drawing a line. I really need help with this.

  4. We are in meeting week. Thursday is our dept. meeting, and my dept head came to me during a break today to let me know she wants to talk about TPRS, especially about some questions she has “about students who are absent, like student X who will miss a lot of days in the fall because he shows sheep at the fairs.” So I say to her, “oh, thanks for the heads up on that topic; I will put it out to the group, but I don’t think it will be a problem.”
    So thank you for having the topic already up! I will be teaching student X this year. I know him. I know his family. I feel confident that TPRS is going to be amazing for this kid on many levels. I’m guessing that part of DH (dept head) concern is the “fairness” of this kid “getting to miss class” and not being penalized for it or not being held accountable for what we do in class. Please redirect me if I am off base, but here is what I’m thinking: I’m not going to assign the kid outside work because 1) He is at fairs showing sheep. He is a serious farmer. This is a seasonal activity that is important to him/ his family. 2) What he needs most is aural CI. I cannot give him this at a level he would understand, AND even if I did…he is at the fair doing fair / farm stuff. He would not have a space conducive to focusing on a listening task. They live in a camper when they go to these things. There are too many people around. A big part of these fairs is connecting with and helping/ hanging out with the other farmers, including the invaluable experience of hanging with the “old timers” as well as the equally important hanging with a posse of other farm kids (because he can’t get this in the school social scene). I just think it is really different than a history class where he can read chapter 3 and answer the questions, or a math class, or…?
    So, right now, before I even have the kid in class, I feel like I just want to engage him so that he sees/hears/ feels how it all works. He will need to learn the rules and play the game during class. All the time. Then when he misses class and doesn’t have to freak out about making stuff up, he will be more relaxed in class. I know he will have a heavy load in all the other classes, so why should I add to the stress level that I’m trying to keep down?
    I don’t have a plan for his grade. I think it will work itself out by some version of what Bryce mentioned above, where I leave the quiz score blank, and then the other quizzes he takes will end up with more weight? I also have the same question as Bryce…to me everything seems formative, except maybe the final???
    One question I have is not related to the occasional class misser, but say a kid gets really sick and misses a huge chunk of time?

  5. Bryce I don’t see where summative tests should carry the weight. What we do is a process. How can we summatively evaluate a process? I’m with you. It’s all formative and the heck with anything else.
    When a kid graduates from college, is the value in that event to be found in the degree earned or in the moments of life lived on the way to it? When we focus on summative testing, we send the message to the kid that language learning is about learning stuff and keeping it one’s head for a final test. That’s not what language is.
    If I am a student in a TPRS class, language is a way to experience life now, to enjoy a story or read something interesting this day, and not be assessed in the future when someone will tell me how I stack up against a bunch of other kids who don’t really care.

  6. Of course Jen you are bringing up the opposite of what I meant above and what Bryce referred to. When a kid skips just to skip, that is far different from the sheep farmer kid. You described it perfectly – what you said is the perfect thing to do. The DH can’t understand that because her world of education is at base punitive. The entire last century was punitive. School is punitive. What we can do now is so awesome, though. We can reward the kid for what they do (your description of how to deal with the kid above) and not ding them for what they don’t do (DH thinking from the last century). When the kid tries, it is our responsibility to honor that. It’s the kid who ditches class and doesn’t try who should be dealt with. I have a student from Viet Nam who has been here three years. Do you think I grade her like the others? I have another student who is going through hell at home right now. She can’t make class one or two days a week because of interventions and all that. Today after being in class only three times out of the six or so classes we have had so far, she approached me after class with a feeling of great happiness mixed with pride. She understood everything I said and she wasn’t there half the time so far! That’s because I did MY job of going slowly and teaching to the eyes. Yeah, good point, there are totally two kinds of being absent. Jen ultimately the DH will see you as kind to kids and doing what is best for kids first. Your human reaction, this perfect response, to this kid will impact her and help her.

  7. There was a math teacher at my school who weighted the summative assessments more heavily as needed. His thought was that students learn things at different rates, and if a student met the objective by the end of a term, then the end of term grade would be applied to previous assessments. So if they failed that first quiz over a topic but made aB on the test, he would go back and write in the B for the quiz too, because they had proven themselves on the topic. I think it did give students hope if they were trying and failing.

  8. I love what Jen said above, and (I have kids at the state fair too this week) I do the same thing. It’s true that they fall a bit behind right now, when this is the time that I seem to get a lot done in classes, but that’s okay. They’re doing something that might be more important to their lives/family/future.
    When kids are sick, I have the same rule: they don’t do homework or makeup. If they miss for band or running or whatever, they have to do the minimal extra work of looking up the most recent three new structures and using them three times each in a 100/200/300 (depending on year) word fast-write. It’s not like they have a huge assignment. It’s going to take them at most 15 minutes. It won’t cause too much stress.
    I tell my grading program that blank spaces in the grades don’t count, but I tell the kids I’ll go back and fill them in with F’s (on a 80/60/40/20% system, rather than the 90/80/70/60 system) at the end of the quarter if there has been no makeup. Really I only do that if the kid just hasn’t been there, can’t perform, and is somehow carrying a B or C. If a kid has been seriously ill, with dying family, or in major kid-threatening situations, I might not let it drop below a C if there was early demonstration of potential. Lots of those kids come back to me, having been able to keep at least the one class intact, and because of TPRS they do catch up the next semester. They think I’ve just made a mistake. It’s not something I can explain to anyone except all of you, for obvious reasons.

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