You’re not “confused,” you’re a teenager.

wut v2Some words are used, almost exclusively by certain demographics, and the words, as used, don’t mean what they’re supposed to mean.

Example 1:

“The Gmail.”

Demographic: retirees in the Milwaukee suburbs.

Usage: “I can’t find the file in the Gmail.”

 

Example 2:

“Random”

Demographic: people under 20.

Usage: “We hung out all day and did random things.”

 

Example 3:

“I’m confused.”

Usage: one student, after reading the instructions, blurts out: “I’m so confused!”

Have you heard this? I hear it all the time. In fact, after telling a friend about how much this utterance makes me cringe, she reported back that after a day of teaching, she’d heard it no fewer than a dozen times. Is there that much confusion in the classroom? And why can it be so upsetting to hear the phrase, “I’m so confused?”

Top 5 troubling things about this phrase, as commonly used:

  1. It’s too vague to empower you to help. Confused about what?
  2. It’s not directly addressed to you, so any intervention is a form of interruption.
  3. It’s not really true. “To confuse” either  to swap one thing for another, erroneously (that’s probably not what’s going on), or to be utterly perplexed (also, not exactly the case).

confusedcatAnalysis:

Here’s what “I’m so confused means.”

  • I am a child / teenager. I am generally disempowered in my life. I am told where to go, when to sit, when I can leave, and I need to ask permission to use the bathroom. My mind is capable of learning what you’re teaching, but it hurts – like all stretching hurts a little.
  • As a teenager, I live in a world with only three categories: cool, sucks, and weird. And being lost – even temporarily – sucks. It makes me feel stupid and out of control. And since I am annoyed at you for putting me in this situation (not you, you, per se, but adults and the adult world), I’ll blurt it out in a slightly accusatory, passive aggressive way.
  • I have not learned about “hurts so good” yet. While you were explaining something, I got bored and stopped listening (you actually are a little boring, but only sometimes). I looked at the clock to see how long this torture would be going on and I got lost. The problem is that I don’t know how to ask for what I want to know. I am not familiar with terms like, “I could use a refresher on…” or “I followed you until you said…”
  • What I want is to feel heard and that my grievance is aired. I don’t have much hope in ever learning whatever it is you’re teaching, but if your pedagogical training and the kindness of your soul combined is able to help me out of this mire, I’d actually appreciate it. And I’ll try not to hold any of this against you.

Possible solutions:

  1. Indicate that you see and register the “confusion” and affirm that it’s okay to be confused.
  2. Remind students what the system is for getting “unconfused.” Do you have a “back-channel” or “help-desk” (I use https://todaysmeet.com/) – do you use flags or a list so students don’t have to sit there with their hand in the air?
  3. At the beginning of the year, teach students that productive discomfort is good, and that real learning is hard. Teach students to suspend frustration and try to solve a problem for themselves for a certain amount of time before verbally register frustration. Teach the difference between complaining vs. asking for help.
  4. Ask the student to recount for you everything s/he understood until the point of confusion. If s/he says, “everything,” say, “well, let’s start at the beginning.” Start to recount such incredibly basic stuff that s/he gets annoyed and vocalizes where the point of confusion is.

What to do when the Whole Class “Is Confused.”

  • Don’t allow a classroom of students to groan about being confused. Students need to learn how to be “grownups” about the challenging process of learning. Collective grumbling is not a good way to communicate. Quiet the room and instruct them in the appropriate way to handle “confusion.”
  • Say: “I’m hearing that some folks are confused. Use your flag / post a comment on my helpdesk / grab a red handkerchief from the box and put it at your workstation. I will come around and help you out. But this is pretty complicated stuff, so I appreciate your hanging in there.”
  • Appoint people to who understand to assist students who don’t understand. This works best when you have identified and appointed “helpy” types in advance when possible – for example: “tech guru” or “math whiz.”
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Disaster Relief Form: Helping Students Out of Quicksand

disastercatQ: How do you get struggling students to alert you to problems with major assignments so they will be prepared for time-sensitive class experiences?

Scenario: Today is presentation day. You’ve put students into groups to show their projects and receive peer-feedback. You’ve been mindful to choose groups for the most effective, for productivity. You send the students off to work, and five minutes later, three groups are deep into their work. The fourth group is acting out.

You: Guys, stop messing around. You have work to do.

Student: We finished.

You: FOUR of you shared your projects in five minutes?

Student: Three of us didn’t do the project.

You: What? Why didn’t you email me and say you needed help — days ago?

Student: I’m a teenager. I don’t know how to answer that question.


Q: How do you deal with last minute, missing student work?

Scenario: You’re grading a digital-stack of papers on a Sunday night. They’ve been emailed or posted to the school’s Learning Management System. Grades and reports are due tomorrow. You’ve been at your computer for hours. You cannot go to bed until the papers are graded. You open up the file with the final student’s work, and — it’s not there. No paper. Or you check to see if it’s been posted to the LMS. No. No email, no explanation, no information.

Now, you’re emailing this student, asking – did he forget to send it? Did he not do it? Unfortunately, the same student who didn’t turn in the work is also probably not hitting refresh on his school email on a Sunday night. How do you mark it? Late? Missing? Zero?

________

Here’s the thing about managing students’ multi-day assessments and assignments – and here I speak to you sotto voce: you might not have time to evaluate and give feedback on every step students go through before the semi final draft. Even though the step may be critical and time sensitive, like peer feedback sessions.

Say it takes two minutes to evaluate an interim step in a student’s project, and you have forty students. Are you really going to spend an hour and a half just checking to see if the students did their work, just so they can share it with peers? That’s a waste of time you don’t have.

All you want is for students to, just, let you know if they need help, to be ready for peer review, or to be ready to submit for credit. But the same students who need urgent help are the same ones who won’t email you.

Q: How do you get students to tell you that they need help? How do you get them to tell you, before you’ve assembled your teams, that they’re not ready to present?


 

disasterrelief

My Solution: Disaster Relief Form

The Disaster Relief Form is a Google Form, essentially an online survey, for students to fill in if they have had a problem either understanding or completing work. I’ve designed mine to compile the students’ names, the nature of the problem, the class, and the name of the assignment into a spreadsheet.

To avoid scenario 1 (students falling further and further behind on projects/assessments) peek at it once a day.

To avoid scenario 2 (forming student groups only to find that one or more people haven’t done the work to function productively in a group), ask students to fill it in, right away, at the beginning of class. Then, remove their names from your roster.

Create and teach students how to access a shared calendar for class.

  1. Train students to check posted announcements at the beginning of each class, even before “First Thing Work.”
  2. In the days leading up to a deadline, in announcements, request / remind that any student who has fallen behind immediately fill in the Disaster Relief Form. Link to it, right in the shared calendar.