Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homework, Re-revisited

From Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary:

en·abler ( i-'nA-b(&-)l&r) noun : one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior ... by providing excuses or by helping that individual avoid the consequences of such behavior.

Well, it's started already. The parents of the 49 students I mentioned in the last post all got letters home about their children not doing their homework, and some of them are already in full enabler mode.

Here's one message I received from one parent:
I received your letter in regards to [name]'s missing assignments.  I was very disturbed by this and both her father and myself had a very in-depth conversation with her.  I understand as per your letter that you do not accept missing homework's.  I do however feel that a child should be given a chance to make up work.   
Here's another gem:
Apparently the web address to your homework blog was either misspelled on the board or she copied it wrong into her notebook, leaving her unable to retrieve and complete previous work. ...  Now that she has the correct address, you should be receiving homework from her on a regular basis.

I would also like to ask if you could extend a professional courtesy and allow [name] to make up the missing credits. I was told that you do not allow homework to be made up, but maybe giving her an alternate assignment would be possible.
[emphasis added in both.]

I wish I could say that such vapid, self-serving nonsense was rare, but obviously I'd be lying. It is also not even the least bit surprising that these messages came from parents of two of my more unpleasant, self-absorbed and peevish children (one, in fact, got so many questions wrong on the responsibility/attitude-based take-home quiz that I almost thought she was joking).

I'm not going to pick apart the (il)logic of the "unable to retrieve" canard in the second message (except to point out that the students were given the web address two weeks ago), nor dignify the "misspelled on the board" lie with a response. I was struck, though, by the second message's characterization of makeup/extra credit work as a "professional courtesy." On the one hand, at least the writer did not characterize it as an entitlement. I also give the writer credit for phrasing it in the interrogative. But why call it a "professional courtesy?" The way I understand it, a "professional courtesy" is a courtesy extended by one professional to another, usually where both parties are members of the same profession. That obviously doesn't apply here. I don't want to belabor the point, and I'll give the writer the benefit of the doubt. I just hope it wasn't an attempt to shame me into granting the "courtesy" at the risk of being "unprofessional."

The first writer, on the other hand, is apparently under the belief that "a child should be given a chance to make up work." I hear that a lot. "They deserve another chance." Stuff like that. To which, I have one question, and I challenge anyone to give me a good answer:



binghott said...

Hey Jay,

I just looked at your take-home quiz, and I like the concept of it, but I think that it's almost unfair to list more than 4 or 5 choices for any multiple choice question, regardless of content. That's just my opinion.


Jay Braiman said...

Normally I'd agree, but this is not that kind of quiz. The multitude of choices are part of the point; that somehow students manage to find any number of wrong ways to handle a given situation, where the right way is so simple and should be so obvious.

binghott said...

Ok fair enough. But, after reading it again, I found at least one flaw in your quiz.

Your instructions state: "There is only one correct answer to each question." Because of your wording in question #2, all five answers could legally be considered a correct answer. In all of those examples, you are late to class. If your instructions were to choose the BEST answer, then C would be the answer.

Jay Braiman said...

Point taken, but not quite. Any multiple-choice assessment implies that the "one correct answer" may also be the "best" answer. I see what you mean with respect to the incorrect choices in Question 2 (i.e., yes, you are late if you arrive several minutes after the late bell, with no excuse), but the answer is obviously wrong because it implies that one is NOT late if either condition is not met, which is false. The same applies to choice (b), but not choices (d) and (e) which are qualified by the phrase "but only...". The way to correct it, I suppose, would be to use the phrase "but only..." in choices (a) and (b); my point is that the "but only..." is implied by both the wording of the choices and the nature of the question as a whole.

Oddly, a lot of students answered Question 2 correctly but managed to get Question 3 wrong. Any answer to Question 3 besides (k) is logically incompatible with the correct answer (c) to Question 2.