Meditations on a Cogen (No. 2) • Thursday, October 21, 2021

During the 2021-22 school year I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the second post in the series.

Before this meeting, I made sure to touch base with all of the students throughout the week to remind them about it. All four students from the first meeting were able to attend. One of the students who couldn’t make it last week was also able to attend. It looks doubtful that the remaining two students that I originally spoke to are going to be able to participate because of availability and attendance issues. In the coming weeks, I need to find replacements.

We opened by sharing how our day went and grabbing some snacks. The goods are plentiful, but the kids noticed we had no beverages. I promised to bring water next week. I was so glad that they actually came back a second time that I told them this. There are many things that young people are asked to do these days. Requesting for 30 minutes of their time after school may not seem like a huge ask for some, but to me it is. I showered them with gratitude.

After checking in, I followed up on how we ended our last cogen. How did the DeltaMath review assignment go? We agreed that I would create it to help students prepare for the exam this week. It was optional and no one — including cogen students — was obligated to do it. Last Friday, I paid a visit to the teacher who was mentioned at last week’s cogen. He was the one who gave DeltaMath reviews that the students praised for helping them on exams. He and I talk often. I simply asked him how he did his reviews and if he had any tips. After our chat, I posted the review assignment on Monday. The exam was Tuesday.

In class, when I announced that I created a review assignment, I nodded to the cogen students as a sign of respect and appreciation. They were the reason I created the assignment and I wanted them to understand that — at least on a personal level. I haven’t announced the cogen in any of my classes, but that may change down the road.

Anyway, about the assignment, half of the cogen students said they didn’t have time to do it. The other half started it but didn’t complete it because they got stuck on a problem and didn’t push through. One student complete it and said that it significantly helped her. Having all the topics in one place was what she liked best. Her exam score reflected this; she did far better on this exam than she did on the previous one.

After looking over the data, I noticed that about 20% of students completed the review assignment, with around 50% of students trying some part of it. I presented the cogen with this data and probed them. I was curious, what could encourage more students to do it? Given all the demands placed on them, what could make the review assignment a priority?

They threw out the idea of giving extra credit for doing the assignment. The extra credit could be awarded on a sliding scale and added to the final score of the exam. I expressed my hesitancy about giving extra credit but remained open to it. I got some nods from some of the students who understood the optional nature of the assignment. Interestingly, one student also asked whether we could track the students who completed the assignment with their exam performance to see if there’s a correlation. I nearly hugged him when he said this! Ultimately, we decided to try the assignment again sans extra credit and see what happens. It was only the first time, so maybe engagement with it will improve once students see its value. Given that the next exam is 2-3 weeks away, we tabled the discussion and made plans to revisit it.

Other than revisiting the review assignment, I wanted to ask the cogen about our class discussions. I’ve noticed many more of my students struggling to collaborate in effective ways these last couple of weeks. In some ways, I think the honeymoon of being back at school is over. As a result, their willingness to reach across the table for help — or to help– is starting to diminish. At the same time, I think I overlooked how intentional I needed in helping students to communicate, present solutions, and seek help from others. To address this, I’m planning a whole-class roundtable for tomorrow to discuss these issues. I want to use the time to talk about what good and bad collaboration looks like and co-create a collaboration rubric with my classes. This rubric would be used to help us measure our levels of collaboration and improve them over time.

After saying this, I asked the cogen what they thought. They offered up reasons that might explain our current struggles. Some felt uncomfortable critiquing other students’ work. Some felt that the work on the boards could be neater and the presenters could be louder. Others didn’t feel responsible for other students’ learning and instead subconsciously viewed themselves as islands. This last point struck me as something to pursue further as a possible yearlong theme/goal with my classes — to the responsible for each others’ learning. Near the end, there was a suggestion about me being more deliberate about identifying “problem leaders.” I try this when I select presenters, but this proposal felt different. It made me think of small pockets of students forming around certain boards which are led by students giving explanations. These would be students that would lead other students in understanding the problems we study each day.

As the meeting came to an end, I felt really good about how things went today. The discourse was productive and less awkward than last week. It helped that we had a change — a collective decision — to reflect on. Where and how we ended our talk really prepped me for having the whole class discussion tomorrow around collaboration.


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