May 12, 2006
About a week ago, I had a student come into my office after her Property exam. She tearfully told me that she didn't finish the exam because she had only left herself twenty minutes for the last question (where the exam had apportioned one hour). Nothing I said, or could have said (I now realize) made her feel any better. She left my office weeping. About thirty minutes later I left the building on my way home and saw an ambulance out front. I was frantic--had my student succumbed to the Property exam? I actually looked inside the ambulance to find out. It wasn't her and I was greatly relieved, but I still felt that I offered her no comfort.
And that bothered me. I have both described and criticized as being very maternal in my support style. Under rare and appropriate circumstances (and with consent and all sorts signed waiver forms), I will hug. I always have candy and tissues. I have helped students find bridesmaids dresses and doctor referrals, but I could not help this student.
I told my tearful student that it was not the end of the world; but to her it was. I told her that knowing her, the rest of the exam was great and what she did manage to write for the last question would probably have been another student's best effort given all the time in the world. She wasn't buying it. She asked about having to repeat the class if she failed. I truly do not believe that she failed, but I answered her questions after prefacing them with my belief that the information provided would not be useful for her. She stormed out of my office more upset than when she entered.
Basically, short of tap dancing (which would have been an ill-advised attempt at humor); I had used up my repertoire of "it's ok" tricks. My firm belief in her intelligence and preparedness wasn't enough and that is okay. I was more worried that since this was the first exam for first year students that her belief in herself was shot as well. I haven't seen her since and I don't expect to. I doubt she realizes that I am still worried about her or that I scared some lovely Boston paramedics by sticking my head in their ambulance because I thought she might be that distraught.
Today, another student came to me and complained about the same exam. I asked him if he finished it, and he said yes. His problem: the exam was too hard. Why? Well, he said that he had been surprised that there was a whole essay question on future interests on the test. He had believed, based on his empirical analysis of prior exams that future interests only appeared on the multiple choice part of the exam. I assured him that if he had studied well for the multiple choice that he was also prepared for an essay. He disagreed. So, I told him, in contrast to the first student, that the singer they voted off of American Idol on Wednesday was far more surprising than a future interests question on a property exam (in fact it was downright shocking, I thought the guy was a shoe-in, but that is another story for another blog).
In the end he wanted to know if I thought he should ask the professor if was going to fail. I told him that the professor had probably not graded the exams yet and that his answer was likely to be, "I can't tell you yet;" and that would not provide any comfort at all and might, in fact, be more upsetting. Again, I doubt I'll see him again.
In the end, I think I my reactions to these two students indicate that I have achieved complete ASP motherhood. And in that vain, I wish myself and all the rest of the ASP mothers out there, a Happy Mother's Day. (ezs)
May 10, 2006
Legal Writing in the Third Grade?
I spent some time this morning in my daughter’s third grade classroom: you know, one of those family breakfasts where we let the children eat donut holes for breakfast and then leave them with the teachers. The cause for our celebration this morning was our children’s completion of their first research project. Each child researched and wrote a report on an animal of her choosing as well as completing a diorama. Best of all, they did it all at school so we didn’t see any of it until today.
I was blown away at what these kids could do, and even more blown away at the fact that the third grade teachers taught analysis and synthesis techniques to eight and nine-year-olds.
To begin doing their research, the kids did a bunch of reading on their animals (my daughter did owls) and then put their most important bits of information on index cards-the info on the front and the source on the back. They were given a chapter structure for their report and then had to sort their information cards into those categories (habitat, babies, etc.). After this activity, they had to write an informative and compelling report about their animals. Then they had to edit—three times-- before they were done.
Does this sound familiar? To me this seemed like all the basics of legal writing. Gather your data, sort and fit it to the format and write an educational and persuasive report on what you have found. This is also a lot like exam writing technique: sort out the issues, use your information (rules) and write a compelling report on your findings. My point here is not that legal analysis is so simple a third grader could do it, but rather, if it can be taught to third graders certainly we should be able to teach it to our students as well. But we do not always succeed in doing it. I plan to ask a lot questions at my parent/teacher conference about how it happened in the 3G classroom and will report back.
In the meantime, I am very happy that my child will have learned some of this basic writing technique in third grade. I hope it repeats in the curriculum as they go forward. Did you know that snowy owls (like Hedwig in the Harry Potter books and movies) are actually silent and therefore the complaints that Hedwig is noisy must be inaccurate? I am proud to say I learned that from my third grader's report. After all, why else did we spend an obscene amount of money to live in the world’s smallest house if not for the schools? (ezs)