After 2+ Weeks With Students, A Month in the Building

Oh, my. It’s hard to get back up to full speed! Maybe I’m wiped out because we start almost an hour earlier each day now, and we finish teaching 10 minutes later each day than last year. It was a 65+ hour week. At least my students and I are finally finished with our goal setting, skills checklists, beginning keyboarding tests, introducing ourselves, and have started registering students on Think.com. We start our first official projects there next week–blogging and posting PowerPoint shows. Think is first and foremost meant to be a learning space, but my kids just love it and see it as pure fun. And it’s one of the very few social sites that is not filtered in my district. (We can get very few sites that contain the words blog, podcast, vlog, streaming audio or video, ‘tube, photo sharing, social networking, etc.) Anyway, I think you’ll like what the students are doing. For instance, take a look at a few of their “Introduce Yourself!” slideshows at www.d11.org/mann/computerliteracy. I should have them posted in a few days. The idea came from Dan Meyer’s “4 Slides” contest on his blog, “dy/dan.” He was kind enough to let me steal the project for my 7th and 8th graders.

We had the debate(s) this week at a staff development about everyone pulling their load and supporting school achievement, which typically devolves into an Electives versus Academic Cores gang war. Relations between the two get a little better each year but the issues rear their ugly heads every so often. Can’t we accept that each of us have overflowing plates even if an elective teacher’s plate looks different than an academic teacher’s plate? Nobody has it easy in education, but we’re (mostly) all dedicated and glad to be there. I’m just saying that a little diplomacy would go a long way. Do you friends out there have this tension in your buildings? What a waste of energy.

Then there was the debate over grading. Pure grading, 95/5 grading, retesting, assigning tutoring and study halls so NO STUDENT GETS A D or F, ad nauseum. I have some real discomfort in this area. I’ve decided to revise my grading system as follows: 90% of the course grade will be for assessments upon which the student has had multiple opportunities to prove proficiency. (In my class it’s almost all performance assessments since we’re working with tech projects.) The other 10% will be for all other assignments. We will no longer “grade” things like being prepared for class, returning required UA’s, etc. That will all be recorded under Citizenship marks. I do agree with that and I feel terrible that I had somehow devolved into having a few of those kinds of grades.

My real fear is that we may never resolve the problem of getting students who won’t do their jobs to pass. I’m ecstatic to help a kid who can’t do his or her job. And yes, there are some we can influence with coaching, support, firmness, consequences, etc. I like to think I’m a decent teacher and students like to come to my computer classes. But there are still the types who won’t work … It still looks as if I’ll have to give endless study halls, detentions, and the like — on my own time — because ZEROES AND GRADES BELOW C AREN’T PERMITTED. None. Zip. Nada. I am agitated and confused as to how to implement these policies. My school has a fully staffed Z.A.P. room during the day for catching up D’s and F’s, but it happens during the students’ elective time period, so we can’t send kids to it without them missing our own class. Hopefully I can sort it out in the next few weeks because right now I feel that 10% of the students (non-performers) will get 90% of my energy. I’m sure some rest will help.

Views: 15

Comment by Laura Gibbs on September 1, 2007 at 12:42pm
hi Suzanne, I teach at the college level so the grading pressures are a bit different, but I can REALLY relate to what you are saying here.

I've set up my classes so the grade a student gets is 100% based on effort - they have multiple attempts they can make to show proficiency, all the writing is based on a continuous cycle of writing and revising with no penalties unless students simply fail to do the writing or fail to do the revisions; the schedule is flexible so students can take a week or even two weeks off for personal reasons, no questions asked,, etc.

Even with all that, every semester out of 100 students I have four or five students who fail. What a huge waste of time (AND MONEY) for them. The reason they fail is that they do not do the work; it's that simple.

There is a two-week period at the beginning of the semester where students can drop courses and get a full refund. Every semester I have students failing at the end of that two week period and I write them and implore them to PLEASE consider dropping the class, so they can get their money back before it is too late. Yet they stay in the class, don't pass, and it's a real shame. Every student who ends up failing my class can see it coming a mile away, right from the start of the semester, but they are not very realistic in their choices - perhaps because in their other classes they can pray to ace the midterm or the final and save themselves, and so they hope the same in my class... but there is no midterm or final, because the grading is based on continuous work and revision, rather than one-off exam performances.

I think my students have had a lot of bad habits reinforced in other classes where there are able to pass without doing a lot of work. Sad, but true. I would be interested to see a survey of students asked how often they got a passing grade, or even an A, in a class for which they know they did no substantial work.
Comment by L. Suzanne Shanks on September 1, 2007 at 3:00pm
Thanks for sharing your system with me. I feel better that it's not just middle schoolers who behave this way; yet it's sad that some haven't grown out of it yet. This isn't the funnest part of being an educator; thank goodness there are other rewarding and fulfilling components to the job! I appreciate hearing from you.
Comment by Alan Dawson on September 2, 2007 at 2:26pm
Pheww! I just read your post and you are working really flat out and that is just with the politics.

In the UK things are pretty much the same with rivalries between vested groups and this obsession with testing. I am glad to be out of the school level and working in consultancy. I get to try and change things for the better by exerting influence as much as possible through training teachers.

This year my work will be all about getting social networking started in our primary schools. I dont know how this is going to work out but I am game to try. I have worked the summer through to try and find ways of resolving issues that beset getting schools to take on board blogging and podcasting. Along with a colleague I think I may have found a way and that is for the individual schools to have their own blogging page attached to their website and completely under their control and at nil cost. They aren't happy with using public sites such as those provided by Google etc.

So I am hopeful they will buy my services in and get started on using what I consider to be a potential revolution in education.

Wish me well!!

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