The Line Between High Expectations and Impossible Expectations

I absolutely hate teaching bonding. The abstract nature of atoms, the minutiae of nomenclature, and the details of writing formulas bog students down and I struggle to meet their needs. So, we do POGILs, simulations, speed dating, labs, and drills. Lots of time is spent trying to correct patterns of work to meet the learning objectives.

This year, I just can't seem to meet those goals. I feel like I'm at my wits end and I'm just ready to move into something else for the plain sake of mixing it up a little bit.

I know it's not my fault entirely. I know I can rely on the multiple short assessments - formative and summative - that I've given over the last three weeks (almost) checking on progress. I know I've recovered and retaught major points of confusion.

I also know I can't force students to do something they're patently disinterested in doing.

Standards based grading is a double-edged sword in that regard. They've done plenty of work, but there is still a major lack of understanding of the main ideas, so I cannot report, through the grading system, that they've learned the objective. Ethically, I'm not willing to cross that line. At the same time, I question the level of expectation I've set up as students work to demonstrate what understanding they have. Am I expecting too much?

The line between high expectations and impossible expectations is thin. Trying to walk it is an exercise in rationalization and stubbornness.


The photo in this post is a Public Domain photo of a Penrose Triangle. It looks like it should exist, but in reality, is an impossible shape.

2 thoughts on “The Line Between High Expectations and Impossible Expectations

  1. daveeckstrom says:

    Brian, it’s hard to answer your question without knowing what, precisely, you are expecting of them? Can you share your standards for these concepts? And what level of student you are working with?

    • Brian Bennett says:

      It’s a survey course…one semester (and then some) of science methods & physics, the rest is intro chemistry. We spent a long time on atom structure and the periodic table, then moved into bonding before beginning chemical reactions. We don’t go any further than that.

      At this point, all I’ve asked for is demonstration that they can use the information. So, an objective is, “Using your Periodic Table and naming rules, write formulas and names of ionic compounds.”

      Perfection isn’t the goal – I’m okay with process mistakes. It’s been a lot of just giving up this year. Little to no engagement in class and no corrective actions when specific feedback is given. It’s partially the material (very concrete thinkers still) and partially the testing schedule we’ve had this spring. I also need to make sure I’m being realistic in what I consider “satisfactory.”

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