Monday, December 5, 2011

'Tis the Season

Written by Ms. Berman
Inspired by my co-teacher, Ms. Kelli Connaughton
Dedicated to my IB Biology Students
You only have to do two of the three free response questions, I told my IB Biology students as they were starting their test last Friday.  We had just finished a fast paced tutorial and I was excited because I knew that they were ready for the exam.  “Can we do the third one for extra credit?” a high achieving student asked.  Shocker!  I should have seen that one coming, I thought.  An incredibly polite and hard working group of students, I wanted to say yes, but wasn’t sure if I was letting down my guard too early in the semester.  I turned to my co-teacher, who was on her prep period working at the computer, with a questioning look, and she gave me the perfect answer, “’tis the season.” 
Okay, so here’s the thing.  Can a teacher simultaneously cut her students some slack and yet push them to do a substantial amount of work for her class?  Students in this generation are under such incredible pressure, do they really need one more teacher threatening them with grades in order for them to succeed?  If I merely set the bar and define clear expectations, will my juniors keep up with the rigor, or will they push me for more opportunities for extra credit, cutting corners on assignments, asking to turn things in late?  These are questions that can’t be answered at this point in the school year as this is the first time that I have taught this course as an IB non-testing class, and have had the luxury to set my own pace.  This is the first time that I have had 41 students in a classroom with no discipline problems.  This is the first time that all of my students are motivated and I don’t have a single student failing at the 12-week grading period.   
So, juniors, formerly the sophomores who felt negatively perceived by the IS staff, you are the members of my experimental protocol.  My hypothesis is that given the proper data pool (i.e. a certain level of maturity on the part of the students), an IB science course can be taught in a less stern and rigid manner.  Students will maintain a sense of decorum, do the required assignments because it is the right thing to do, and successfully learn the curriculum.  In my analysis, I will address the fact that when a student asks if the non-required free response question could be used for extra credit, a progressive instructor should be thinking, “Isn’t it grand that my students know enough Biology to tackle that optional question?”


  1. Honestly I get so much pressure from my parents that I don't need my teachers to put more pressure on me. It just makes me anxious and then I go blank on tests and get a worse grade. IB Bio may be easy for some people but I am not good at memorizing so I like it when the class is a more relaxed atmosphere and I can feel comfortable just trying to learn.

  2. I think it's great to have students who are intrinsically motivated! What a blessing! Second, I'd like to respond briefly to your comment:

    "Students in this generation are under such incredible pressure, do they really need one more teacher threatening them with grades in order for them to succeed?"

    Research suggests that children subjected to 'intense' achievement pressure by their parents (and teachers) don't outperform other students. Additionally, achievement pressure is an escalating contagion; in a sense it's a public health problem. As teachers, we want our learners to succeed in many-if all-aspects and areas of learning!
    One area of teaching of which I am making an effort to implement is Project Based Learning (PBL). Maybe this could help in deciding to what degree one 'pushes' their learners because they work in a group at the groups' pace.

    Just some thoughts!

  3. "achievement pressure is an escalating contagion; in a sense it's a public health problem"

    I never thought about it like that before. As a parent this is a concern that needs to be carefully considered. Thank you for your insight.

  4. I honestly don't see it as cutting some slack, I see it more as a reward. When you have a total of forty-one students, which are all perfectly disciplined and all passing your class with a C or higher it shouldn't be viewed as slack it should be recognized as a reward. They are all learning, and trying their best and are focused on the work at hand. But also give yourself a pat on the back, it's a 50-50 here. From both the teacher and the students, when the teacher is able to give a good amount of lecture that is not only new material, but also explained in a way that is also understandable it puts less stress on the students and it helps them become less stressed and more excited when there is an extra credit opportunity at hand because they are able to do something that they understand. So its both rewarding for the teacher and the student!