Friday, October 26, 2007

Slugs and Jerks and Apostrophes. Oh My!

I've been pondering the issue of the time-serving slugs in the classroom, and two incidents over the past two days have added to my puzzlement.

In one class, students occasionally show signs of life, but for the most part they just seem to tolerate me; some sit with their eyes closed, others never crack a book, some only rarely show up. You know, the usual. After class yesterday, during which I asked a number of questions which received more than usually lacklustre answers, I went to my office, feeling a little defeated, and opened my folder to mark the reading responses for the class. Reading responses are short pieces that students are supposed to hand in before the reading is discussed in class - RYS readers, being pedagogically astute, will recognize this as a cunning trick to get students to do their reading.

Imagine my surprise when I read at least 6 responses that demonstrated an intelligent understanding of the reading material. One response in particular, from a young man who sits at the back, never says a word, and looks like he can barely stand to be in the room, was an insightful answer to one of the questions I had posed to the class. Why didn't he offer his opinion during the discussion? He had clearly read the material, understood it, and even thought about it. I have no idea.

This morning in another class, I handed out an exercise on apostrophes. I gave students a few minutes to work on it. I wandered around the room, and noticed one young slug busily texting his pal instead of working on the sheet. I suggested that if he didn't want to participate in the class, he was under no obligation to remain in the room.

"That's a bit presumptuous of you," he said.

Thinking about the student from the previous class, I choked down my knee jerk response - Presumptuous? That's a big word for a boy who apparently doesn't know how to brush his hair - I gave him the opportunity to explain the error in the first example sentence. He gave the classic answer of the student who hasn't done his work, and is hoping to bullshit his way through: "It's a bit vague." Prodded to be more specific, he hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, while other students in the class squirmed on his behalf.

Eventually, I let him off the hook, and asked someone else for the answer. This student correctly pointed out the apostrophe error in the sentence. "Oh that," said slug-boy, "I thought that was a typo." And he tuned out of the rest of the discussion, opening his laptop, no doubt to check how good his hair looks in his Facebook photo.

I don't really know what the lesson is here, except that maybe sometimes students who appear to lack interest in my classes don't, and some of the jerks really are jerks.