Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Matters

Last year, I had my freshmen all focus on the question of what matters. I was really glad to have one question on which they could focus all semester. Every project, assignment, class discussion all came back to this question. I liked this idea so much I am trying it again but with some more tweaking and focus. I realized that my freshmen need more examples and not quite as much freedom as I give to my other classes. It seems like they need me to provide a little more structure than what I would like, but I am hoping that by providing more illustrations of a possible end result, that their understanding and connections with literature will increase so much more.

The first part of the What Matters project is a creative, visual illustration of what matters to them. They always seem to struggle with this question at first, asking me, "Well what do you mean what matters?" I simply respond with, " I don't know, what matters?" They, of course, are confused and perplexed. This year after going through the same conversation with them as my last year's 9th graders , I decided to create my own example of what matters. I think this gave them some better direction, but I still have my reservations. Many of their posts seemed similar to mine (I am not trying to be egocentric here). I am just having a difficult time trying to find the line between feeling like I am leading them to the answer I am looking for (i.e. my what matters example) and having them struggle to find their own understanding- what I feel like they should be looking for. I know that this is the beginning of a new year. I just need to keep myself focused on the idea of showing them the possibilities and providing the structure for them to come to their own understanding. I guess it is just one of those ho-hum moments.

I am feeling frustrated today; frustrated by the fact that after giving them many days to complete the What Matters visual project, many were not done. They just chose not to do it. Was it because it wasn't a meaningful project to them? Did the technology get in the way? What was the hold up? Well, I asked them...and their answers varied. They all liked the project, thought it was better than other assignments, but just chose not to finish it on time. What is happening to these kids? To totally digress for a moment, this is why I don't believe in giving kids extra time on assignments. What did they learn from turning it in late. NOTHING! In fact today, I had another assignment due where they were to look up and develop their own understanding of literary terms. About 1/3 of the class didn't even bother to do it. I couldn't believe it. Two days in a row, and even after we talked about getting things done on time, and they still couldn't finish the homework. Just rants from the trenches today.

But, to end on a positive note, please take a look at their visual what matters. Please, leave them comments and help them see the possibilities. Thanks!


Ms. Kakos said...

It was a relief to read your post. It seems like every year, student grow more and more reluctant to complete their assignments--no matter how personally engaging or meaningful the assignments may be. I'm not sure how to help them turn this around.

And I agree wholeheartedly that allowing students to turn work late teaches them bad work habits. I tried last year to give student full credit for assignments that came in late, and to penalize them instead in the Work Habits category, but all I got was a HUGE group of students who turned in every assignment late, and I still had several students who never turned in work at all. Also, the homework that I give needs to be done on time because it usually prepares them for what they're going to do in class the next day, such as editing or discussion, so doing the assignment late leaves them unprepared for class and turns the assignment into busywork.

This year, I'm going back to my "one late assignment accepted per semester," and I feel pretty good about that. Sorry for the rant!

On a side note, it's amazing how much I've grown to depend on the laptops over the past year. And now that I have a class website, my classroom is nearly paperless and pretty efficient. I need to solicit some feedback from my students as to how they feel about this.

Karl Fisch said...

Well, I don't think the question should be "what did they learn from turning it in late." The question should be - should always be - what did they learn?

And, not to sound too pie-in-the-sky here, but going back to DuFour - how do we respond when students don't learn it? That assumes, of course, that you feel they didn't learn it. Which brings up another question - did they not learn, or did they not do the homework? IMHO, those are two very different questions, and I fear we blur the lines between them way too much in school.

As far as Kristin's comment, I still wonder about this idea that homework teaches responsibility/work habits. Do we have any evidence that this is true? And please note that - to me - students completing or not completing assignments does not constitute evidence of being responsible or having good work habits. Being responsible and having good work habits would be evidenced by students being responsible and working hard when no one was watching . . .

Xavia H2011 said...

I hope I am allowed to write here, but I just relly wanted to because I realize how disapointed you were in us and I just wanted to apologize.(sorry this is late, but I just found your blog) I'm hoping that I can do better, or should I say I will do better.

annes said...

Xavia- I am glad you found the blog. You are always allowed to share your thoughts and opinions and I am glad you are going to work harder. However, I think you are already doing a great job!

emilied said...

I think that the whole idea of posting our essays up for everyone to read turned out to be a really good idea. It was nice that teachers could comment on them as well. This method also proved to be successful because you could read people's comments right away instead of waiting, which is what you would have originally had to do. The posts were also fun to read because they were anonymous so you got to know someone without really getting to know them. I think that we should continue to do this in the future.

Emily H. said...

I think that posting our essays online was very beneficial. It was nice to get some feeback from our classmates in order to improve our writing. It is nice to get a different perspective from kids our age insted of just from a teacher.