Absence of Anecdotals

Absence of Anecdotals

Julia Feit '22

A typical semester at Ramaz consists of in-person classes, tests, assignments, and socializing with friends. This semester of school is anything but normal. Perhaps the biggest change to students’ “new normal” is online classes and interactions through Zoom. However, learning and studying through a screen has proven quite difficult for many students and teachers. Students are not regularly assessed and have few evaluations to predict the semester’s final grade. By nature, Zoom classes limit the amount of communication between students and teachers, putting much of the onus on students in terms of understanding how they are doing in their classes. The decision to suspend mid-semester anecdotals has further limited the amount of feedback students are receiving from their teachers this semester.

Anecdotals were initially due for teacher submission only three weeks after classes were shifted to online learning. Ms. Krupka explained, “Just as we wouldn’t give anecdotals to students only three weeks into the school year, we felt that it wasn’t fair to give them only three weeks into online classes. It takes time for both students and teachers to adjust to the new system of remote learning and get into the swing of things.” The administration felt that anecdotals would not be as productive as in the past and would have contained a combination of Zoom and in-person learning feedback. Online testing and assessments had not yet been decided by each department at that point, and even now, uncertainty looms in final semester grading. Ms. Grossman added, “The timing of anecdotals just didn’t work out with the schedule of how events were unfolding before us. Anecdotals are very time consuming for teachers who were just beginning to adjust their curriculum to remote learning.” Teachers needed a readjustment period to reevaluate their plans for the remainder of the semester and adapt to this new way of teaching before they could give students feedback on their performance. 

Despite the decision to suspend anecdotals this semester, feedback and student evaluations will be communicated via email. In a recent faculty meeting, teachers were instructed to reach out to any student and their parents if the student is in jeopardy of getting a failing or incomplete grade in their class. Dr. Herzog explained, “Students at Ramaz are doing an amazing job of adjusting, and most don’t need detailed reports on where they stand in their classes.” Teachers will be reaching out to students who need specific feedback, but students also have the opportunity to reach out to their teachers with any questions and concerns that they have. Ms. Krupka added, “Teachers are aware of the current situation and understand that students may want to know specifics about their grades this semester. Teachers are available to talk to students through email or personal Zoom meetings.” 

Teachers themselves disagree on the most effective and compassionate method of grading students during these unprecedented times. Dr. Herzog disclosed, “Teachers are trying to be sensitive to the fact that students are having different experiences, and some have been coping with tremendous losses. I think Ramaz is doing a great job trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible in the lives of students and teachers.” Other schools have opted to abandon traditional grades and switch the entire semester to pass-fail grades. Some Ramaz teachers disagree with the school’s decision to maintain normalcy this semester and give students letter grades. After all, this semester isn’t normal. “Personally, I would have preferred if classes were pass-fail this semester. Teachers understand and recognize these are very uncertain times on a mass scale and the pass-fail system alleviates some of the pressure off of students,” explained Ms. Grossman. 

Anecdotals have not been entirely eliminated this semester, though; teachers will be required to give feedback and comments to students in June together with final grades. However, students feel that this defeats the main purpose of anecdotals: to receive criticism and compliments with an opportunity to improve. Anecdotals at the end of the semester don’t serve that same purpose. As students have been coping with the new methods of learning remotely, they have a variety of opinions on the administration’s decision to suspend anecdotals. EJ Singer ’22 explained, “Not having anecdotals this semester seems unfair because there is a lack of communication during online school, and anecdotals would give the students an understanding of their performance during Zoom classes. They would be especially helpful because teachers have not really explained how our grades will work, so knowing where our performance can be improved would be very beneficial.” Many other students agree with Singer’s concerns and feel that they deserve a chance to hear individual, direct feedback from each of their teachers. Students are worried about how this decision will weigh into their final grades in June. Caroline Schwartz ’22 added, “I feel that without anecdotals, it is harder for students to become aware of how well they are doing in each class. Anecdotals not only tell students their current standings but also encourage many to try harder. I think that without anecdotals, many students will do far worse than they did the first semester.” 

Some students seem unbothered by this additional disruption and the delay of anecdotals. Izzie Ottensoser ’22 explained, “Honestly, I don’t think it’s really affecting me that we don’t have anecdotals. At this point in the year, I usually know how a teacher feels about me. Given the current circumstances and the craziness this year, I’m not sure what the teachers would say.” Many students have not fully accepted the reality that classes will continue remotely for the remainder of the school year. They are still adjusting to absorbing information through a computer screen and receiving grades based on a tiny picture. “I don’t think anecdotals are necessary now because teachers can’t really assess how our behavior and class participation is online. Although I like to read what teachers have to say, I don’t think that now they would be so informative,” added Rachel Freilich ’22. While these students typically find anecdotals helpful, they understand that the system is not as effective for online classes. Samara Blatt ’22 agreed with the decision of the administration saying, “I usually rely on anecdotals to tell me how I’m doing in a particular class and what sort of grades I will get at the end of the semester. However, given the circumstances, it makes sense not to have them.” 

Although everyone agrees that this semester is a situation like no other, some students still wish that regular anecdotals could have been preserved in the midst of these confusing times.