As half their final exam, my public speaking students were tasked to write and deliver a persuasive essay. They’ve known about this… for months. I’ve been reminding them to work on these speeches… for months. I’ve given them handouts and shown them examples and analyzed persuasive tactics and rhetorical structures… for months. Can you see where this is going?
I had a student come to me yesterday to tell me that she’s still not sure of what her topic is going to be. We’ve already begun delivering these speeches, and she’s admitting to me that she hasn’t even done the preliminary work of selecting a topic. I don’t know why she told me this; I have no idea what she expects me to do with this information, but I swear to you – I stood in the hallway listening to her tell me that she is trying to choose among three topics, but she’s not sure which one will offer her the best research options.
Then, yesterday, half the Monday/hybrid class was expected to deliver their speeches. NO ONE volunteered; I had to put names on slips of paper and choose them at random from among the students who actually showed up to class. Of the seven students who presented yesterday, only one – ONE – gave a speech that was even remotely persuasive (she spoke about how important it is to talk to your kids about sex). One student spoke about the “war” (his word) between the Boy Scouts of America and the ACLU over the admittance of gays and atheists into the organization. I couldn’t tell, from the things that he said, whether he thought that gays and atheists should be allowed in or shouldn’t. The other students talked about why some things were bad (puppy mills, smoking) and why some things were good (our involvement in Iraq, technology, the effort to lower the drinking age), but no one actually convinced me of anything. They entirely missed the point of persuasive speaking, and I feel more than a little like they entirely wasted my time.
As of right now – without the final speech grades or the final exam grades factored in – three of my T/Th kids and eight of my M/hybrid kids are failing (just for perspective, that’s fully half of the hybrid class of 16 students). I don’t foresee those students nailing their final exams, either, so I’m betting those numbers are going to remain pretty constant.
I worked my ass off this semester. I challenged myself and my students, I sought out new activities and materials for them, and I was as thorough and meticulous as I could have been in the short time we had together in the classroom. There’s little more I could have done.
A very wise commenter to this site once told me that I could “lead a horse to water, but she’ll likely die of thirst waiting for shaved ice and a paper umbrella.” I’m really seeing the truth to those words right about now.