Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Conversation to Improve

With the suggestion of Mr. Kohn, I set up the classroom early on Monday morning circling all the chairs into the center of the room moving all the tables aside. I opened the class explaining to the class about the past few days: my initial blog, the response from Alfie Kohn and others, and the importance of today’s conversation. I explained my frustrations to the class regarding their work completion, efforts at achieving successes, and reminding them how intelligent I think they all are. Then I talked to them about the three questions I wanted us to discuss for the rest of the class: What is working? What isn’t working? How can WE do better? Here is what they said:

What is working?
· Reading as a group and annotating together- talking through what we are reading
· Food
· Writing topic sentences
· Using technology
· Watching movies
· Editing in class
· Six weeks to redo work
· Redo work allows us to learn more, less pressure, more flexibility, not happy with my grade until work is satisfactory
· Class blog keeps me organized, scribes are extremely helpful
· Skype- nice to have direct contact with you
· No books, nice to have print outs
· You aren’t a hypocrite- you do the work with us
· PLN- helps so much with my writing, I can voice my opinion
· PLN presentations- it is great that we get to pick what we can do and present on
· Like the interactive methods of teaching
· Nice to have time to work on writing paragraphs in school
· Note taking is minimal
· Nice to be able to pick the day you scribe
· Rolly chairs and tables
· Make up days- nice to have the time to make-up work and get caught up; you can prioritize your other classes with the flexibility of this class
· Not strict about talking and behavior

What isn’t working? (we talked about solutions with the problems- those are indicated in parenthesis where we had a solution)

  • Hand writing is hard to read (online comments work best)
  • Annotations: it is really hard to read to understand, make connections and ask questions all at the same time (can we read a bit, then stop and pause to write questions and make comments; reading could be the night before so that we can read for understanding during the night, and then leave annotations for the next day in class; small group reading based off of reading ability)
  • Big assignments (can these be broken down more into a day by day format; or paragraph by paragraph format)
  • Annotating in the format you suggest doesn’t work for me (don’t worry about the literary devices, move on and ask big questions, make big connections)
  • Don’t like downloading programs such as Picasa and Google Earth (?)
  • Homework can be overwhelming (?)
  • Hard to get used to blogging and homework (?)
  • Structure paragraphs (go over paragraph structures again and again, go over different parts of the paragraph to redo; breakdown each paragraph and give work time to finish)
  • Assign rough drafts (next day could be a work day, edit, and then edit again, and then final draft)
  • Show examples of what you mean, don’t just tell

How can WE do better?

  • Bring in work the next day when it is assigned
  • Get homework in on time
  • Turn in work on time so you get time to redo the work
  • Work in smaller groups based on how fast we work
  • Hold us accountable when we don’t do what we are supposed to
  • When we do good things, can you bake for us? YES!
  • If we all do good things, can we all get rewards?
  • Be more specific with online comments
  • Have more group projects
  • Hold one another accountable
  • Slow down
  • Take time with our annotating
  • Talk about our PLN’s and maybe do one together
  • Read in circles more often
  • Put questions up- expand on what questions need to be about

Friday, September 24, 2010

Alfie Kohn Comes to the Rescue

After posting yesterday about my struggles in class, I tweeted out the blog post. A few hours later, a DM from none other than Mr. Kohn appeared in my Tweetdeck letting me know he had read my post (I practically fell on the floor), and that he wanted to know more: he wanted to know, "At what pt do I get to hold the studs responsble?" What wd that mean, exactly? Punishing them? Wd that improve lrng? Interest?". Since Mr. Kohn doesn't follow me, I couldn't get back to him through DM-ing, but he suggested an email exchange. He didn't promise a detailed response, but did encourage me to write out my questions and concerns and he would respond back when he had time.

Here is the email I sent:

Mr. Kohn-I don't believe in punishing kids- I think all kids learn from their mistakes. Your book The Schools Our Children Deserve changed many perceptions I had about schooling. Your work on homework has changed how and what I do with homework. My husband and I use your Unconditional Parenting with Love and Logic at home. So, please know I am a huge fan... but, I am running into a problem in my school, district and state, where I am continually being measured for things my students are supposed to be able to do. I wonder how I am supposed to be measured by these tests when kids have no stake in the test? Why can't we hold kids accountable when all the factors for success are there? I use Atwell's writing strategies and Daniels work on reading.

I am wondering how do I reinforce turning in homework such as writing, reading, and speaking? How do I help my kids avoid being lazy and come to class prepared? I don't have this problem, of course, with my honors level classes, but with my boys- 33 boys and me! We read current literature, watch videos, read in class, and model good writing in class; they comment about how much they like it, but they don't respond to what I ask them to do with writing or reading homework. I do most of the reading in class with them because I value the reading and writing components greatly. As far as work, my class has a no D policy so kids can't turn in what we call "crap work." As a class, we agreed to only turn in quality work- they defined for themselves and they class what constitutes quality work. Also, I accept work up until the six week grading period so they can redo an assignment as many times as necessary until they have demonstrated they have learned and understood the concept. (This is a change I made a couple of years ago based off my graduate school work with Gary Stager and Margaret Riel).

How do I hold kids accountable without "punishing" kids? How do I get them to do more quallity work and thinking without holding their hands and being the task master teacher I don't want to be? How do I get them to want to be more and hold themselves to a higher standard?

Thanks for inviting the conversation,
Anne Smith

And today, here is the response I received: (this is reprinted with his permission)

I, too, taught difficult kids once upon a time, so I sympathize. But I needed some distance from the situation to realize that I was too quick to blame them for their lack of interest in what I was trying to get them to do. I thought of them as unmotivated or resistant rather than asking how I had failed to engage them.

It's particularly important, I think, when you're on the receiving end of all this accountability nonsense (and top-down control), not to turn around and treat students the way you're being treated, but instead to treat them the way you wish you were being treated.

The high-achieving kids know how to play the game, and they jump through our hoops. Sometimes I worry more about them (over the long haul) than about the kids who don't care so much about the extrinsic inducements and are more likely to say, in effect, like Bartleby, "I prefer not to" when they don't see the point.

Maybe the problem is that you're telling them to do this stuff at home, in effect making them work a second shift after they've spent all day at school. Given that many teachers assign no homework at all (with fabulous results); given that research finds absolutely no benefit to homework, at least before high school; given that it's questionable whether schools have any business telling kids how to spend their time when they're home -- I frankly don't blame them. If you've seen my book The Homework Myth, you know I'm doing more than just asking teachers to assign less of it. At the least, it should be assigned only on those occasions when it's truly necessary (to help kids think more deeply and get them more excited about the topic), not on a regular basis.

Or maybe the problem isn't with what you're asking them to do so much as with the students' perception that they had nothing to say about it. Kids are more likely to respond positively when they participate in making meaningful decisions about the curriculum and other aspects of their education. (I write about this in the current issue of English Journal:>.)

There are plenty of consultants out there who are happy to answer a question like "How can I reinforce turning in homework?" -- a question that (a) simply assumes homework is necessary and useful, (b) draws from a behaviorist tradition (in which the idea of reinforcement is grounded), and (c) seems focused mostly on getting compliance. I think what you really want to ask is "How do I nourish their interest in learning?" [Bold is my addition] If so, then a focus on accountability and reinforcement, as well as traditional practices like grades and tests, can only get in the way.

To reach kids who are (understandably) turned off to school means you have to meet them where they are, realize that their lack of interest in what they're being made to do doesn't mean they're "lazy," think about how to create a more democratic classroom (which involves giving up some control -- a frightening prospect for most of us), and be willing to rethink many features of your curriculum and instruction -- what you're teaching and how. That's a long-term process, one that requires not only skill but courage, and it's best undertaken with at least one or two colleagues who are also more interested in creating truly student-centered classrooms than in looking for tricks to make the kids more compliant.

The first step may be something as simple as holding a class meeting, with everyone in a circle, in which you confess your frustration, ask your boys to tell you what is and isn't working for them in your class, listen without defensiveness, and request their help in improving the class. Regardless of what they tell you, the fact that you're willing to ask may itself make an impression on them.

I know my response raises more questions than it answers, and I apologize that I don't have the time to do justice to the issues you're struggling with. (My inbox is perpetually full, and I've already spent more time than I should have.) I do appreciate your reaching out for help, though -- something that complacent and cynical teachers rarely do -- and I wish you luck in this journey.

-- Alfie Kohn

Yes, Alfie Kohn lived up to all I have believed him to embody- he came to the rescue of a teacher in need of some direction. A teacher who wants to do best by her students. He answered the call and left me thinking of how to approach my students and my teaching in a whole new direction. I know Monday will be a different day with me focusing on "How do I nourish their interest in learning?" rather than "How do I reinforce turning in homework?" or "When do [students] get to be held accountable?". Thanks for Mr. Kohn for showing me which side of the fork in the road I want to follow.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Alfie Kohn- I Need You

About a week ago, Alfie Kohn tweeted a new article “Schools would be great if it weren’t for the kids” that he composed in response to a previous article written by Robert J. Samuelson. Samuelson placed much of the blame for the lack of success in schools on the students, and Kohn took issue. Kohn explains:

People who blame students for not being “motivated” tend to think educational success means little more than higher scores on bad tests and they’re apt to see education itself as a means to making sure our corporations will beat their corporations. The sort of schooling that results is the type almost guaranteed to . . . kill students’ motivation.

What may look like simple apathy, laziness, or opposition on the part of kids often reflects a problem with what, and how, they’re being taught, or the extent to which they’ve been excluded from the process of making decisions about their own learning.

Conversely, if you want to see (intrinsically) motivated kids, you need to visit classrooms or schools that take a nontraditional approach to education, places where students are more likely to be absorbed and frequently delighted, where what they’re doing is not merely “rigorous” (a word often applied to very difficult busywork) but meaningful.

Those who presume to weigh in on problems with education should visit schools that look very different from the ones that most of us attended -- and even more different from the chillingly militaristic places that rich white people cheerfully recommend for poor black children. Read Dewey, Piaget, Bruner, and Montessori.

Read the contemporary giants: Meier, Sizer, Goodlad. Read other educators who are thoughtful about what great classrooms look like and how to create them: Lilian Katz, Eleanor Duckworth, Constance Kamii, Harvey Daniels, Nancie Atwell, Jackie and Marty Brooks, Jim Beane, Steven Wolk, and many more.

I want to preface what I am about to say with how much I respect and value Kohn’s work in education. I have read his books, follow him on Twitter, and appreciate his information regarding how to change education. But, I wish he could come into my classroom, and work with my kids, and deal with the constraints, and challenges of a public school. (See new standards post)

I see myself somewhere between the two positions: I see that my students aren’t to blame for my inadequacies as a teacher- if I am not excited, motivated and passionate about what I am teaching, then they shouldn’t be either. If I don’t provide sufficient resources for them to not just meet their expectations, learning and understanding, then they can’t turn in their work. If I am not challenging them, being open for their feedback, or am placing too high of expectations on them, then they can’t succeed. If I don’t fully explain assignments or requirements, then they can’t learn. If I can’t provide a safe, secure, supportive learning environment with extensive resources, then they can’t flourish.


What if I am doing all those things, and the kids still aren’t doing the work, turning in assignments, being engaged, motivated, succeeding, and flourishing? When do the kids take some of the responsibility for their learning? When are they supposed to accept responsibility for their half of education? When do they get to be held accountable as teachers are?

As I have previously written, my all boys class continues to be one of my favorites as well as one of the most challenging for me. With my reading of Kohn’s article, and my belief in what he advocates for, I am left wondering how to change my class? As we are working on writing their first essay, we spent one full class just outlining an essay. On Thursday night, their homework was to follow the examples and write their own outline of their paper to bring to class on Friday. On Friday, we took those outlines and started writing the intro paragraph in class. Over the weekend, they were to finish writing their essay for Monday so that we could peer edit their essay before its due date on Wednesday. NINE kids had it completed. So, at the end of class on Monday, I asked how many would prefer another peer editing day so more kids could receive some feedback before their final piece was turned in. Unanimously the class all voted for another day. Before the kids left, I reminded them that all would need to bring a piece for editing tomorrow. Of the 33 boys in the class, only EIGHT had a piece the next day ready to edit. Why? Because as they admitted, they didn’t do their homework.

I wonder what it is going to take to change the state of “work completion” in my class. I don’t accept mediocrity for my students and so I return any work that isn’t satisfactory. They HAVE TO turn in quality work. Is this too much to ask? I don’t think I assign work that is simple completion assignments or mere regurgitation. Also ,I don’t assign work that is meaningless and without purpose. I feel like what I am doing in classroom is meaningful and engaging, but I still don’t see kids completing simple assignments- writing a paragraph, posting a topic sentence, completing a vocab card, adding a vocab word to a piece of writing, etc… My classroom, definitely as Kohn points out, “looks different” from others, and yet I still can’t kids to complete work. My boys have the six week period as the grade deadline and so much of what we do in class is paced by each student not by me. My classroom does a number of untraditional assignments (blogging, Google Earth, podcasts, reading more boy centered literature). We use laptops each day to help my boys write. We don’t do book reports instead we do PLNs. Are my boys too overscheduled in their academic careers to be successful? Are they too unscheduled outside of school to be successful? I don’t even think it is a question of can they do it? I think it is simply some won’t do it. Maybe there are more kids who lack basic technology skills? I am pretty sure we have 8th grade competencies they need to meet, but if they don’t, what’s the consequence? What is going to happen to these kids who still don’t know how to post to their own blog? Who can’t proofread something before they post it online? Who can’t comment properly to another blog? Is this a problem because of the hour I teach the class- 7:21 am – 8:19 am?

Maybe I need to revisit the purpose of why it is important to read critically, write effectively and speak eloquently? As I realized only eight had completed their homework, I was angry. I gave them a very serious talk about how they want to live their lives and was this the kind of behavior that will get them into a college, a job, let them keep a job, or move up in this world? Is this who they want to be?

I have read Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, and I have studied the classrooms of Atwell and Daniels. So Mr. Kohn, at what point do I get to hold the students responsible as I am held responsible? At what point to do they accept and are held accountable for their part in changing education? Mr. Kohn, maybe you want to take a visit to Littleton, CO and come help me out- I am sure my students and I would thanks you for it. Also, I think there are a number of teachers and students here who would love the conversation and learning adventure.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A New Mix

One part teacher values+ one part state standards= one hard to swallow pill

Over the past few years, as our school has undergone the transformation from teacher led departmental meetings to district Professional Learning Communities, the challenge of being a good teacher has increased dramatically. With each PLC meeting, I feel an ever-growing urgency to defend practices and assignments in my classroom that I think hold larger value than the state standards that are passed down onto me and my colleagues.

As I was sitting in my last PLC meeting, I began reflecting over the last two years of PLC time. Here we were two to three years ago being handed state standards and asked to write essential learnings and common assessments. It literally took us two years to get to a place where we all agreed on the essential learnings and common assessments for those standards. And now, we have a new set of standards to address. A new set of essential learnings we are asked to create and assess.

Rather than approach the state standards as I have done in the past with much contempt and stubbornness, I looked over what the CDE is asking me to do as a teacher:

Standard 1: Oral Expression and Listening: Deliver organized and effective oral presentations for diverse audiences and varied purposes. Demonstrate skill in inferential and evaluative listening.
1. Oral presentations require effective preparation strategies
a. Give formal and informal talks to various audiences for various purposes using appropriate level of formality and rhetorical devices
b. Use verbal and non-verbal speaking techniques to communicate information
c. Define a position and select evidence to support that position
d. Develop a well organizes presentation and defend a position
e. Use effective audience and oral delivery skills to persuade an audience
2. Listening critically to comprehend a speaker’s message requires mental and physical strategies to direct and maintain attention
a. Follow the speaker’s arguments as they develop; take notes when appropriate
b. Give verbal and non-verbal feedback to the speaker
c. Ask clarifying questions
d. Evaluate arguments and evidence
e. Explain how variables such as background knowledge, experiences, values and beliefs can affect communication.

Standard 2: Reading for all Purposes: Read a wide range of literature (American and world) to understand important universal themes and the human experience. Demonstrate comprehension of a variety of informational, literary, and persuasive texts.
1. Increasingly complex literary elements in traditional and contemporary works of literature require scrutiny and comparison.
a. Analyze character types, including dynamic and round character, static/flat character, stereotype, and caricature
b. Explain the relationship among elements of literature: characters, plot, setting, tone, point of view and theme
c. Identify the characteristics that distinguish literary forms and genres
d. Examine the ways in which works of literature are related to the issues and themes of their historical periods
e. Use literary terms to describe and analyze selections.
2. Increasingly complex informational texts require mature interpretation and study
a. Identify the intended effects of rhetorical strategies the author uses to influence readers perspectives.
b. Evaluate the clarity and accuracy of information through close text study and investigation via other sources
c. Describe how the organizational structure and text features support the meaning and purpose of the text.
d. Use flexible reading and note taking strategies (outlining, mapping systems, skimming, scanning, key word search) to organize information and make connections within and across informational texts.
e. Critique the author’s choice of expository, narrative, or descriptive modes to convey a message.

Standard 3: Writing and Composition: Master the techniques of effective informational, literary, and persuasive writing. Apply standard English conventions to effectively communicate with written language.
1. Literary and narrative texts develop a controlling idea or theme with descriptive and expressive language.

a. Write well focused texts with an explicit or implicit theme and details that contribute to a definite point of view and tone.
b. Organize paragraphs or stanzas to present ideas clearly and purposefully for a specific audience
c. Write literary and narrative texts using a range of poetic techniques, figurative language, and graphic elements to engage or entertain the intended audience.
d. Refine the expression of voice and tone in a text by selecting and using appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, and sentence organization.
e. Review and revise ideas and development in substantive ways to improve the depth of ideas and vividness in supporting details.
f. Explain the strengths and weaknesses of own writing and the writing of others using criteria.
2. Informational and persuasive texts develop a topic and establish a controlling idea or thesis with relevant support.
a. Develop texts that define or classify a topic
b. Use appropriate rhetorical appeals and genre to engage and guide the intended audience
c. Arrange paragraphs into a logical progression
d. Anticipate and address readers’ biases and expectations
e. Revise ideas and structure to improve depth of information and logic of organization
f. Explain and imitate emotional , logical and ethical appeals used by writers who are trying to persuade and audience.
3. Writing for grammar, usage, mechanics, and clarity requires ongoing refinement and revision
a. Use punctuation correctly (semi-colons with conjunctive adverbs to combine clauses; colons for emphasis and to introduce a list)
b. Identify comma splices and fused sentences writing and revise to eliminate them
c. Distinguish between phrases and clauses and use this knowledge to write varied, strong, correct, complete sentences
d. Use various reference tools to vary word choice and make sure words and spelled correctly

Standard 4: Research and Reasoning: Gather information from a variety of sources; analyze and evaluate the quality and relevance of the source; and use it to answer complex questions. Demonstrate the use of a range of strategies, research techniques, and persistence, when engaging with difficult texts or examining complex problems or issues.

1. Informational materials, including electronic resources, need to be collected, evaluated, and analyzed for accuracy, relevance, and effectiveness for answering research questions
a. Integrate information from different sources to research and complete a project
b. Integrate information from different sources to form conclusions about an author’s assumptions, biases, credibility, cultural and social perspectives, or world views
c. Judge the usefulness of information based on relevance to purpose, sources, objectivity, copyright date, cultural and world perspective (such as editorials), and support the decision.
d. Examine materials to determine appropriate primary and secondary sources to use for investigating a question, topic, or issue (e.g., library databases, print and electronic encyclopedia and or other reference materials, pamphlets, book excerpts, online and print newspaper and magazine articles, letters to an editor, digital forums, oral records, research summaries, scientific and trade journals)
2. Effective problem solving strategies require high-quality reasoning
a. Analyze the purpose, question at issue, information, points of view, implications and consequences, inferences, assumptions and concepts inherent in thinking
b. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of their thinking and thinking of others by using criteria including relevance, clarity, accuracy, fairness, significance, depth, breadth, logic and precision
c. Implement a purposeful and articulated process to solve a problem
d. Monitor and reflect on the rationale for, and effectiveness of, choices made throughout the problem solving process.

With each standard, we are to create one essential learning and common assessment. Thinking about what I value in my own classroom, I am not sure where my values align with what the state and district is asking me to do? How as a 21st century teacher and learner can I contribute to effective discussions about the standards, make sure my students are achieving these standards and at the same time feel as though I am preparing my kids for more than just another year of school? I do believe many of the learning activities my students currently are engaged in are present in these standards, but what is going to happen if my department doesn’t agree? If my PLC doesn’t agree? What happens if our interpretations don’t match? I really do fear giving up what I value most: the creative genius, the out of the box thinking, the critical thinking and problem solving nature, the independence, the autonomy to be my own teacher and learner and for my kids to feel and be the same in my classroom. What happens when I have to give out 9 common assessments throughout the school year, not including the pretest and post tests that accompany each assessment? What happens when all I am doing is giving assessments that measure essential learnings? What happens when the mix doesn’t work?

I don’t have answers to all of my questions. Like cooking, I know recipes for success can always vary. I know with each new recipe I try, I am tempting fate that it might not turn out. I feel the same way approaching this year of PLC meetings, new standards, new assessments, and essential learnings- it might not turn out like the picture in the recipe book. But, with each new recipe I try, I also can create a new formula for success. I can challenge the way previous ingredients have been combined and make a new and improved version. I can create a new mix that improves both the product and the chef.

On a side note, the old state standards for Language Arts (reading and writing) comprised 21 pages, the new state standards (reading, writing, and communicating) 168 pages.

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….

Friday, September 03, 2010

Reality Check for the Teacher

This week, I asked my class to reflect on how the first three weeks have gone for them and to set some goals for the rest of the semester. The students submitted their answers to my questions in letter form- it is simply a way to easily and privately communicate to me what’s going on in their lives. The questions they were to answer were (some of these were ones I have used before; others were added courtesy of Karl Fisch):

Looking back at our first couple of weeks in English 9 or English 9 Honors, how are you feeling? What’s going well or you are excited about? What’s challenging or are you concerned about? Let me know how I can help. Please answer in complete, thoughtful sentences.Then I want you to set three goals for yourself for this semester.
· One goal specifically related to English 9 or English 9 Honors
· One goal related to AHS in general (can be related to classwork, sports, activities or something else at AHS)
· One goal outside of AHS.
Make these goals fairly specific, not just “I want to get a good grade.” For each one, answer with what, why and how – what is your goal, why is it your goal, and how will you accomplish it. Also, let me know how I can help you achieve your goals.

I thought it would be meaningful for my students to answer my own questions.

So here goes:

I am feeling ok. Physically, I am feeling good, but tired. I always forget every school year how exhausting teaching is. I get up every morning about 4:30 am just to exercise and by the time the school day is over, I am ready for bed. But, we, my husband Jeff and I, are usually off carting one of our kids to some activity, or running (yes, literally running) home to get them started on their own homework. I feel much more in the swing of things after getting week three under my belt.

I am really excited about my classes. I was worried after the first couple of weeks regarding my all boys class. Last year, they were probably my favorite, and I wasn’t sure if my new set of young men could go above and beyond as last year’s group did. But here on week three, we are hitting a new stride. They are finally getting to understand high school is different, expectations are higher, and you have to turn in your work. There are no easy assignments.

With my Honors classes, we are finally getting started with reading Macbeth. This is always a tenuous time because Maura and I don’t teach them Macbeth-we expect them to teach one another. It is so challenging watching them sit there and not ask ANY questions of one another. I mean they are reading one of the most challenging of Shakespeare's texts, their teacher is not spoon feeding them an interpretation, and they have NO QUESTIONS? HOW CAN THAT BE? However, period 5 today did a fantastic job dissecting their reading, and I enjoyed listening to the class help one another figure things out. Hopefully, this gets them started on a good trend. I am hoping to see them use the blog to help one another understand, but as classes in the past have done, sometimes it takes the first quiz for them to see how important asking questions can be. Failing a detailed quiz often motivates them to ask questions of one another in class and on the blog.

Challenges and concern continue to be what I have talked about before: are the kids going to catch on, are they going to get their work turned in, are they going to ask good thinking questions, are they going to take charge of their learning, are they going to push themselves to do more and be more, and of course, are they going to change the world?

My goals are a little different from the kids. I blogged before about my goals for the year, but as I was talking with the kids, I wanted to set another goal that I would see each one of them in one of their activities this year. They simply just have to let me know what game/activity/ performance they want me to come to. I used to do this a few years ago BK-before kids- but thinking out loud here, I know how much my own kids love coming to AHS activities, it is just me now making time to get them over here.