By Martha Sager
As I write this I am wearing a shirt that says “Go Ballistic”. I’m not implying any political connotation, it just happened to inspire a jumping off point for this blog. Since it also carries the name of an athletic shoe company, I am assuming it is referring to training, racing, or some similar athletic endeavor.However, as we all know, the phase can have a lot of meanings. For example, in the last couple of weeks, as students see that the semester is rapidly evaporating and their grades are not what they wish,they have “gone ballistic” trying to catch up. They are suddenly interested in every test, every possibility of a point, and, of course, in “extra credit”. They are hoping that suddenly by “going ballistic” they can make up for weeks of “just getting by”. That somehow they can pull out that (A, B, C, or even D) if they just try hard enough for a couple of weeks. I have a student who had been failing or near failing every exam to date. He then got a 79…I was quite happy and told him so. He replied that “he had studied”.The next test, I watched to see what grade would occur…85. Again I said something to him. He said that now “he didn’t have a choice”. I’m gathering from this that it is possible he could have been getting these grades all along, but just didn’t care to. So now…are these grades truly an accomplishment, or just a result of “going ballistic”? I have another student who has been struggling the entire semester and continues to do so. She scored in the 60s on her last exam…but this was a substantial improvement of her previous score. She had tried a couple of things (note cards, and a small device that is supposed to help if someone is dyslectic). I’m fairly sure there are some learning issues; whether dyslexia is one or not, I think the device helped her slow down and concentrate on what she was reading. She is also trying some “going ballistic” things like taking advantage of the bonus assignments. I’m not sure it is going to help. These are the end of semester ballistic students. There is also the other type. The ones that come in to the semester “going ballistic” and then somehow lose their enthusiasm as the semester progresses. It may be that the reality of carrying 12, 15, 18 hours and working and having a family becomes overwhelming, it may be that college is harder than they thought, it may be that they just get bored with my class (I’m really hoping it’s not the last one.) There is also the possibility that they think they can just cruise the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the exercise that will dispel that hypothesis is the comprehensive final exam…and at that time there will not be anything they can do. At this time there are also moments that I want to “go ballistic” in yet another meaning of the term. As I look at the piles of assignments yet to grade, as I think about the student who could have made an A or B in the class if he had been trying the whole semester, as I think about the students for which grades will never be a fair measurement of the effort they have put forth or even of the information they have actually learned. All situations stimulate the “going ballistic” concept if for somewhat different reasons.However, other than what I’m assuming the original purpose to the t-shirt was (inspiring athletic endeavor), has “going ballistic” ever had a truly positive connotation? How can we motivate our students (the pre-semester, post semester, and the never ballistic) goers to find a better way to conquer the semester? I’m not sure…but I’m fairly sure that my going ballistic isn’t going to solve it, but maybe I can come up with a possible solution by next semester.