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Teaching ASL: Maybe it's not the students?

A teacher posted to an online group how she thought it was interesting how her evening "ASL 2" class was doing "better" than her afternoon and late-afternoon "ASL 2" classes. She shared "class statistics" showing higher test results for the evening course.  Many of the online group members speculated quite a bit on why it was that the evening class did better.

They discussed the students. They discussed whether the students needed a nap or whether the students had eaten dinner or if the students were motivated or if the students were non-traditional, or if the students paid their own tuition, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Allow me to suggest that maybe it's not the students.  Maybe the reason why the evening class did better had nothing to do with the students but rather was the result of the teacher teaching differently in the evening than she did in the afternoon and late-afternoon.

The same person teaching "ASL 2" multiple times a day gets their act together throughout the day.

The first time you teach a class on any particular day (if you are like most teachers I know) you tend to be slightly disorganized: "Oh crap, ran out of time, didn't quite cover the exact things I wanted to cover, got sidetracked, forgot to mention such and such." You bring scissors to class so you can finish cutting the second half of the practice cards while the students are doing the first half. It takes longer to "get into the meat of the lesson" or arrange the chairs in a semi-circle or "get the dang equipment working." You waste time running back to the office or to the next classroom over to get or steal a dry-erase marker (because there isn't one in your classroom and yours dried out over the weekend). You try a new practice activity that only sort of works. You spend time writing an announcement on the board or typing out some sort of announcement for the overhead. A student asks you a question about some ambiguous aspect of your teaching and you take time (at the expense of other instructional time) to type out a response. When students walk in a few minutes before instruction starts they see their instructor furiously trying to get the classroom set up, equipment to boot up, and files to "open up."

The second time you teach the same class on the same day you time things better because you've had your warm up. You time things better and know that if you blather on about such and such you are going to run out of time. You tweak your practice activity so it flows better. Your practice cards are already cut and fully ready. Your announcement from the earlier class is now typed up and ready or is still there on the board. The chairs are already in a semi-circle and your laptop is already fully-functioning and no longer still "waking up" (loading in video-drivers, establishing a wi-fi connection." When the students walk into class a few minutes before instruction starts they are greeted not by the sight of you (their instructor) trying to boot up your laptop for the day but rather by an important announcement on the overhead or an instructional video playing. Instead of staring at their phone for 5 to 10 minutes before the class starts some of the students who arrived early watch the video and learn something.

If you teach the same class a third time on the same day -- you are an old pro at whatever lesson you are teaching that day. You know exactly how much time to discuss each aspect of your lesson. You've dropped that supposedly cool idea you had for an activity (since it flopped both times you tried to use it earlier in the day). You've got all of the relevant files "pre-opened" and waiting in the background on your laptop. You actually remember the punch line to your jokes and your timing is superb since you've had two opportunities earlier in the day to rehearse.

Oh sure, there probably is a difference between the studensts in your 3:30pm ASL class and your 6:00pm ASL class.  I'm going to put forth a hypothesis that the students who take a 3:30pm just may be the fragile ones. The ones who are stuck taking a 3:30pm class because they had no choice. The ones who do not know better. The inexperienced students. The students who have a part-time job in the morning or in the evening and had no choice and no other time to take that class or who took the class at that time because they are trying to take five or six classes per semester because they just can't afford to drag out college "one more semester."

When faced with a less competent teacher the fragile 3:30pm students can't compensate as well as the more robust and experienced students in the evening section or the morning students with rich parents, money to buy the textbook, two or three nice computers at home and a broadband connection to study the material that the 3:30pm teacher ran out of time to teach.

- Dr. Bill


The point is: A warmed up, preparred, and experienced teacher is actually able to do a better job of teaching ALL of their students -- including the fragile ones.

When faced with incompetent teaching -- the fragile students break.

Those are the two "F's" who can't seem to manage to go online later to study the material (that didn't get taught in their 3:30pm class) not because they don't care but because they are wondering where they will sleep that evening or get food that evening or if they will need to care for their younger brother (or their own baby) that evening, or they don't have convenient access to a computer. They are the ones who didn't have a $60 (or more) textbook to study for tomorrow's lesson because at 3 frozen-burritos a buck that is around 180 missed meals just to buy that fancy textbook with the too small to figure out pictures. They are the ones without a car to drive to the "Deaf Event" worth 50 points on the syllabus.

My point here is that a 10% to 30% difference in instructional competence between 3:30 and 7:30pm might very well account for the "F" received by (or the breaking of) socioeconomically disadvantaged students.


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