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Just Ask

1. The check-in questions

At the beginning of the year, all the students were remote — either online or working on “paper packets”. The online kids had several ways they could officially get marked present. (Attendance is a very big deal for some not-so-obvious reasons, as some of you undoubtedly know.)  

For my classes, the main way to be marked present was to answer my daily check-in question. (There were several other required ways, and there were record keeping procedures, and this all added up to making attendance during the opening weeks of the semester one of the most miserable tasks any of us had to deal with. …but I digress.)

Every day, I’d post a non-math question with a multiple choice answer. Okay, okay. Sometimes I asked math-y stuff. But usually these were silly questions with sillier answers. Frankly, I didn’t care how they answered, although it made for fascinating reading. All I needed to see what that they did answer. If they did, ✔︎.

2. They go away

But strange things happened.

A non-trivial number of our students came to the conclusion that the only thing necessary for online school was to be marked present. A shocking number of them would answer the check-in question and then disappear, do nothing else.

Nothing else, I tell you.

They wouldn’t watch the videos. They wouldn’t read the notes. The notes I was working so hard to tailor. With hand-drawn cartoon figures. With hand-written, multi-colored worked-out example problems. Which more often than not I was scanning in nightly at midnight. (And suddenly I am channeling Arlo Guthrie with his twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossssy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was.) They wouldn’t hand in homework. Some of them weren’t even taking tests. 

So when we started having in-school kids, I re-jiggered my classes so that the online kids joined a daily Zoom at the same time as the in-person kids came into our daily class. Everyone listened and watched at the same time (in theory). Zoom keeps a log of who joins, so I no longer needed check-in questions. Since then, I’ve been marking remote student attendance based on Zoom logs.

To get ready for that, for two weeks I told the kids that there was soon coming a day when the check-in questions would go away. And when that day came, the only way to be marked present would be to show up in Zoom.

3. The last question

On the day before the end, I sent out one last check-in question. It went something like this:  “Do you know that this is the last check-in question?” The possible answers were something like

  • Yes Mr. Hasan. You’ve told us this every day.
  • Yeah, whatever.
  • Yes, and it’s about time!
  • No. Wait. What?
  • No. So do I still have to read Google Classroom?
  • No. How do I get marked as present?
  • All of the above.
  • None of the above.

It was the last question. 

That evening I got a private comment from one of the kids who had just answered that last question. He had answered one of the Yes variants, and then he elaborated in a comment, “… but I did kinda like them.”

If you just ask, they will tell you.