Friday, September 10, 2010

Giving Myself Six Weeks

This past week has been a struggle for me on a number of accounts. However, I am having a growing concern regarding my all boys class- they simply aren’t turning in work. Even what I have received from them has been minimal in depth and quality. It seems as though I am working harder than they are in order to help them improve as learners and human beings.
TO paint the picture more accurately, and to help me vent more in-depthly, I want to give you an idea of what I am facing. Each morning at 7:21 am, my 33 boys show up bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for another day of reading, writing, and discussion. (I might be exaggerating about them being bright eyed and bushy tailed, but as I stand at the door greeting them, they seem ready to go. ) The moment I start class, the boys take out their student calendars and we go over the homework for the day. Often times we clarify about what the expectations are for each assignment, review the previous day’s work, check in to see who is scribing and should be recording all this valuable information for the class, and then move on to the real learning.
We have been studying the big question of “how do the words and actions of others affect who others become?” We watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Rope, read Richard Connell’s “Most Dangerous Game”, David Brenner’s “Fish Eyes”, and then this weekend they are reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Utterly Perfect Murder.” With each story, we are practicing annotating by asking good questions, circling words we don’t know, looking for literary devices, and then answering our guiding question at the end of the story. I haven’t given one pop quiz, one reading check, or asked them to fill out one worksheet. I simply want them to read with a focus, to answer one question and to do some thinking while we are reading.

In addition to the short stories, despite what the other 9th grade teachers are doing, I am focusing on one vocabulary word a week. On Monday I introduce the word, we break it down looking at the root word, the prefix or suffix and then we complete a vocabulary frame card for Wednesday. On Wednesday, we review the vocabulary frame. On Friday, we take a quiz on the one word. Last week, the boys had to some how include the word misogynist in their personal reflection to me. There were some real doozies! This week, they need to incorporate the word misanthrope into their PLN entry about Will Richardson’s article “Footprints in the Digital Age.”
Finally, during the week, instead of doing the typical outside reading book, my kids write two PLN (Personal Learning Network) entries, one on Tuesday and one on Friday. On Friday, we have five students present one entry from their PLNs to the class using good speaking strategies, discussing what matters from their entry, how it connects to him personally, to education, and to the world. At the end of the presentation, the student needs to ask a question of his audience and then facilitate a discussion. The students give the presenter feedback on his own blog so that he knows immediately what he needs to do to improve on his next presentation.
After writing all this down, it seems like we are doing A LOT. As I was working out Thursday morning, I suddenly had this thought that maybe what my kids need is a day to get their stuff together. I mean we all have those days where the work seems to pile up, and you get lazy making simple mistakes where if you had just take a little more time, it would have been completed correctly. Maybe they needed a breather- a day to get themselves put back together. So, on Thursday I opened up class with a polleverywhere question:

Now some kids couldn’t text in their vote-I couldn’t believe some kids didn’t have texting capabilities on their cell-phones- but we still included their votes after. We established the conditions for work that day: quiet work time, ask questions if necessary, write down in your planner all your missing or incomplete work, and get to work giving me a sticky note with your completed work that needs to be re-graded. By the end of the hour, I had about 60+ sticky notes not including all those I did the day before, of make-up work from my boys. The problem, and the frustration, was that the work they submitted was not their best- it was CRAP!
Here I had given them the time to work, to help themselves and their grade out, and here I am going to have to grade all this work again, because it still isn’t done to the best of their ability. (Note: I don’t accept crap work in my class- if it is not done as A, B, or C quality work, it is returned to them to redo. My boys have up to the six week grading period to redo their work as many times as necessary to produce their best quality work. )

Which brings us to today and I conversation I had with my favorite, Karl Fisch. As I was venting about my class, I came back to a conversation I had with my student’s parents at Back to School night. I asked the parents that night to give their child six weeks- six weeks to get their act together, six weeks of freedom from mom and dad checking on everything they do, six weeks to own their learning. If I am asking the parents to do this, why am I not expecting the same of myself as their teacher? They need this time to figure things out. I am giving them the time, the resources, and most of all the learning experiences to mess-up and fix it. There is no mess-up and not fix it in my class. If it takes them to the bottom of the grade-dom, then they have to find a way (of course with my help, when they ask) to get them out. I need them to struggle so that the next four years and beyond aren’t spent still trying to figure life out. I need to give myself six weeks.

In today’s class, we talked about all the grading I did yesterday, and what I realized about their quality of work. I asked them how many of them had just turned in the work to get it done. Many hands were raised. When I asked them about the frustration I felt for having to re-grade their work, many agreed that this would be frustrating. So, as one bright, shiny, bushy-tailed student pointed out in our discussion, “if we would just do our best work the first time, this wouldn’t happen.”

Things might be looking up….


melati said...

Aw, this was a really great post. In theory I'd like to write like this also - taking time and real effort to make a good article... but what can I say... I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

Will Richardson said...

What an interesting word to include in their reflections on THAT article. ;0) Love to see the responses.

Plugging the 21st Century SS Learner said...

Just yesterday on the drive home I came to the conclusion that my 4th period class is...not as productive as my other classes because there are 15 boys who are all buddies and only 5 girls...who aren't friends. Opening reader and seeing this post was an answered prayer! Was definitely being consumed by feelings of failure and considering dialing down the rigor and tech integration in that class, but now that the failure stupor has subsided and after reading your post I realize that it is to early in the game the make game changes. 6 weeks is only 3 weeks away...deep breath!

annes said...


Thanks for the comment! Here are a few examples so far...

In Will Richardson's "Footprints of a Digital Age" the article goes into explaining how tachers should not be misanthropes toward children, but should help children understand what they are learning.


But other people make themselves seem like misanthropes because they post negative or mean things. The world needs to post smart things on the internet to make sure that people view them as smart good people.

annes said...

Plugging in...

Thanks for the feedback. Let's keep each other focused on the journey not the destination-at least not quite yet.