education, grades, grading, high school, learners, scoring, students, teachers, teaching

Amending My Late Work Policy…Because Learning Rules

Since my first year of teaching I have not had a late work policy. I have allowed students to turn in work up until the last day of the marking period without penalty. (The goal with this philosophy is as follows: It takes some students longer to learn material and therefore if they do the work eventually, it should be counted. Also, in the real world, deadlines can be negotiable. And don’t pretend like that’s not true. How many times have you said to your boss “I need more time” and he or she has acquiesced to your request?) I liked this philosophy because it felt very “real world”-esque and isn’t that what I’m preparing my students for? (Well, back to this idea in a minute…)

Ultimately, I have decided that my late work policy needs some serious amending–for a few reasons. First, some students copy their work from a classmate after I have handed it back, which, in the end, doesn’t give me an accurate picture of what they know and are able to do. Second, some students forget about the work and don’t care until they see their (usually very low) grade and THEN they decide they need to do something about it (instead of learning the material in the moment, when the learning is needed). This forces them to care about their grade as opposed to their learning. Third, I get a slew of papers handed to me at the end of the marking period and I become inundated with work to grade that should have been handed in–and handed back–a month earlier and my other responsibilities (such as planning and prepping upcoming lessons) suffer.

Here’s my new idea. My students’ assignments will all have a due date and a deadline date. If students hand in their work on the due date, they will receive all the credit they earned on the assignment–usually determined by an answer key or rubric. Then, those who did not hand it in when it was due, will have a 3-day grace period in which they can still hand in their work–although for reduced (earned) credit. After the deadline date passes, the work will no longer be accepted and will result in the score of a zero. There are, of course, amendments to this policy for students who are absent or have extenuating circumstances.

Here’s the goal concerning this new philosophy: First, please understand that I don’t have students complete assignments for no reason. If there is something that has to be done, it has a purpose and it is relevant, which means I need the students to complete it in a timely manner so I can offer them feedback and determine if they need help. Second, it reduces copying answers from a classmate for credit. By the time I hand back the papers, the grace period is over and the deadline date has arrived. Third, it eliminates the end-of-the-marking-period burden of speed grading for no other reason than to help students recover credit–as opposed to truly offering pointed feedback for learning. Fourth, it emphasizes timeliness and responsibility.

Here are my difficulties with it: It’s not very realistic and it doesn’t give me–or those looking at the student’s performance in class–an accurate depiction of that student’s academic capabilities.

Here is how I justify these things: First, I (and most teachers around the country) work within a system that supports amalgamated grades. If we graded based on separate standards or academic and behavioral skills, I’d reconsider the policy. But until that day comes, I can’t wish we had disaggregated grades because we don’t. (And I can’t work within a wishful philosophy, because it’s actually an injustice to my students and to myself.) The other issue I have with the new late work policy is that it is not realistic (within the post-high school world). There have been many times I have asked a superior for more time to complete a project or to compile data. More often than not I am granted that extension without penalty. And think about it, so many people miss deadlines without penalties as well: new iPhone software creators, mortgage commitment brokers, and real estate closing attorneys. How many times have you missed the deadline for renewing your car registration or driver’s license? Heck, even your mail arrives late some days! But high school is not the real world. It is high school. It’s a different animal that is confined by timelines and due dates. The days go on and so does the curriculum, and there’s not a lot of flexibility when it comes to deadlines and timeliness.

I do my best to prepare my students for what they will encounter after high school, but I realized I’m actually hurting them by allowing them to hand in work weeks–and even months–late. I’m showing them that the assignments and their timeliness are irrelevant, when in fact, the opposite is true. I want a clear picture of what my students know and are able to do at a particular moment in time, and I want to be able to give them feedback on that work that is relevant and helpful. If I allow them to hand in work after deadline and only “grade” it for credit, I send the message that “grades rule”, when in fact, learning does.  

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The Seven Year Itch

Currently, I am at the (almost) end of my 6th year of teaching, and alas it is that time of year again–no, not final exam reviews or field trips–it’s time to start next year’s PDP.  I have been doing some serious reflecting, and I have decided that for year seven, things need to change.  I really need to work on my lesson planning.  I know, I know…I am just as surprised as you are!  I mean, the best part about teaching (as opposed to student teaching, or being a teacher-in-training) is that you are no longer required to write long-form lesson plans. (Woohoo!  Freedom!  Joy!) But here’s the problem.  I have spent so much time simplifying my plans that I have been much less consistent, and even a bit lazy…(i.e. “okay all, we are finished with everything for today, so you may talk quietly or read until the bell.”)…and that is SO NOT ME!  (I believe in–and [normally] strive for–bell-to-bell instruction.)

 

So now, in preparation for year 7 of my teaching journey, I am going back to a long(er) lesson plan form. Here is an example of my set up:

 

Date: Tuesday 5-19-14

 

Goal: Closely read and summarize the memoir of Eric Babbitt. (RI.8.2, RI.8.4, RI.8.6, RI.8.10)

Lesson Phase and Objective

Lesson Phase Details and Corresponding Standards

Important Vocabulary

Timeframe

Differentiation and

Accommodations/

Modifications

Success Starter

Objective: compare and contrast (L4) your life with the lives of those teenagers you see in the video

Video Clip: Teen Cancer Patients: How are the stories of these teenagers similar and different from your life? http://www.youtube.

com/watch?v=y1Lablc6NQg   (RI.8.3)

Academic: compare, contrast

Content: cancer, terminal illness

12 min (vid)

2 min (write)

3 min (discuss)

Differentiation:

closed captions, graphic organizer, use of native language

Transition

Objective: relate (L2) others’ reality to our own; determine (L3) the impact of life-changing experiences

How can being terminally ill change you? (RI.8.1)

Academic: relate, determine

Content: terminally ill, cancer, impact, ‘life-changing experience’

2 min

Differentiation:

native language, direct questions (vary by student)

Activity

Objective: perform (L3) close reading using the memoir of Eric Babbitt

Close Reading Strategies:

-chunk text (RI.8.10)

-highlight vocabulary (RI.8.4)

-determine vocab meaning in context (RI.8.4)

-determine important big ideas; author’s purpose (RI.8.6)

Academic: Close reading, chunk, context, main ideas

Content: recurring, sink in, daily grind, flashbacks, ordeal, oblivious, anesthetized, hanging on a thread, fragile, took a toll, forks in the road

20 min

Differentiation:

anchor chart, native language, erasable highlighters,

Accommodation:

Smart Board Model (FM, DK)

Reflection

Objective: summarize (L5) Eric Babbitt’s non-fiction memoir

Summarize Eric’s memoir.  Be sure to include the big ideas. (RI.8.2)

Academic: summarize, main ideas, details

Content: recurring, sink in, daily grind, flashbacks, ordeal, oblivious, anesthetized, hanging on a thread, fragile, took a toll, forks in the road

10 min

Differentiation:

summary anchor chart, model,

Accommodation:

graphic organizer (FM, DK)

 

Let’s explore the benefits:

  • I can clearly see my timeline for the lesson; it is easy to follow and easy to read
  • Transitions are clear and make sense
  • Levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and standards are attached to objectives and activities, respectively, and they convey depth and connection
  • Each phase has an objective so I know exactly what students need to be able to do at any point during the lesson
  • I have a background as to what vocabulary needs to be explained and I can adjust my lesson according to it and even frontload that information if needed
  • I can clearly see the differentiation in the lesson, and also the accommodations and who they are for
  • This makes it so much easier to set up my agenda (with timeframes!)
  • This form allows me to think out exactly how I want the lesson to go and affords me the opportunity to really think through my decisions

 

Let’s explore the challenges

  • The dang boxes are sometimes too small
  • It’s long
  • It takes a bit more time than one box per day


Because the benefits outweigh the challenges, I am going to stick with this template; at least until my planning, lessons, consistency, etc. improves. I need something that will help me think through my lessons from start to finish. I encourage you to think about your planning, too, and how it can help you become a better, more prepared, and more consistent teacher.  If you, like me are struggling with planning, take the template you see here and add or remove boxes at will.  For instance, I am considering adding a box for questions that I will ask my students during the course of the lesson. Make it work for you.  But mostly, don’t be afraid to make a change if it is needed.  Changes in our practice should occur often, not just at our seven year itch.  

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Offering Students Effective Feedback

BRACE YOURSELVES. TEACHER MISTAKE LEARNING EXPERIENCE IN 5…4…3…2…

A few years ago, one of my policies was that everything my students did in class “would be handed in for a grade”. Well, as you can imagine that got overwhelming pretty fast. By the end of October I was ready to give up. (I stuck it out for the rest of the semester for the sake of consistency, but it wasn’t pretty–for me. If I learned anything from that year it was how to be an efficient grader.) I see now that such a policy was a response to students’ “laziness” instead of a viable teaching/learning strategy. So I never did it again. Instead, I started giving feedback.

The importance of feedback (and formative assessment) cannot be denied. I find that I prefer to offer my students feedback as opposed to grading everything they do, and, in turn, I find that my students really appreciate it. Throughout this year, I have “given out” less grades and more feedback, and my students have benefited from it. At first they all wanted to know, “what is my grade?”.  I told them that their work on such formative assignments were practice for the summative assessment and that practice isn’t graded.  They didn’t buy it at first, but once they realized that I was giving them information that could help them improve, they warmed up to the idea. It’s still a work in progress–the first marking period I didn’t have many grades in the book and our mandatory school assessments made their grades plummet–I spent an inordinate amount of time feeling guilty that my best student didn’t make the honor roll because of my class–but I worked it out as the year progressed. I also learned some important rules about feedback.  I have condensed them into an acronym (because that is what we do in education) to make it a bit easier to remember.

Think CUTS for Clear, Useful, Timely, and Specific:

Clear

  • Choose the best mode possible according to the student
    • written or oral
    • Avoid using vocabulary and syntax at a student’s frustration level
  • Focus: what is the content of your feedback?
    • Task-focused: includes correct v. incorrect, quality of the work, criteria referenced, need for information, neatness, format.
    • Process-focused: includes information about how student approaches the task, the relationship between what a student did and the quality of their performance, offering alternative strategies
  • Use a rubric or scale and make connections distinct
  • Be objective
    • Reduce “I” statements
    • Offer suggestions and considerations

 

Useful

  • Feedback should be info that connects to what students already know and takes them from that point to the next level and so on.
  • Decide on Type: individual or small/large/whole group
  • Give feedback on the most important targets
    • Constructive and helpful
    • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Ask questions to help students synthesize info

 

Timely

  • Return assignments with feedback ASAP
    • Students must still be mindful of the topic
    • Students must still feel the drive to work toward the learning objective or goal
  • Offer immediate oral responses if you can.

 

Specific

  • To the task, process, assignment, individual
    • Suggest how to improve the task and process
  • Use details when describing why something is effective or why something needs improvement
    • Always consider “because”
  • Use specific language that relates to the learning target.


Remember, there are many ways to give feedback, and I am talking about one specific way: through practice assignments such as rough drafts, or skills practice.  You need to find what works for you, but I think (and hope) this is a good starting point.  Happy Feedback-ing!   

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I’m Just a Teacher…

This four word phrase is as offensive as a four letter word, people; and I want it to exist as much as a first generation ipod in the era of streaming music. (Do you even know how out-of-date, off-the-radar, so-vintage-you-can-find-it-in-a-thrift-store old those things are??)  

I have spoken to so many teachers who have said, “S/he won’t listen to me.  I’m just a teacher.  What can I do?” This is the saddest, most pathetic thing I have ever heard.  So, please, for the love of old ipods, stop saying it!  Instead say, “I’m a teacher and I know what to do, so you need to listen to me.”

Teachers; dear, tired, over-worked, under-paid, busy, caring, loving, helpful, sincere, funny, optimistic, energetic, smart, and kind teachers, you can be the reason things change.  Here is how you do it. (Note that despite the linear fashion in which the following is written, such things do not occur linearly, and should not be taken as parts of a list that have to happen in order, but rather, as parts of a whole–the “whole” being to influence positive change.)

 

1.) Show your professionalism: YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL (despite what the government, media, or even parents may say).  You know your stuff.  Support your thoughts and ideas with logic, evidence, and research. (And this is not to say that if something isn’t published in a book or article then it’s not worthy of being cited…action research and evidence gathered from experience is valuable, too.) But remember, if you have an idea and it cannot be supported, you need to revise that idea.

2.) Be a wo/man with a plan. If you see that something is not working, find a way to fix it before you barge into someone’s office and barrage them with complaints about the system.  (I’ve been here, and it’s not pretty.  I have learned that I need to have some leverage before I go on a soapbox rant.) Of course, support your well-structured and duly-outlined plan with logic, evidence, and research.

3.) Find a friend.  Guaranteed, there are many other teachers that feel the way you do about how something is being implemented or run in your school or district. Find like-minded people to help you in your pursuit to make positive change.

4.) Open your mind. Sometimes, even when we disagree with a new initiative or idea, we need to find a way to accept it and integrate it into our work.  Distinguish the parts of the plan or idea that work for you and your students and work on tweaking the other parts to work in your classroom.  

5.) Speak up.  If you see something and you know it’s not right, say something.  I’ve discovered that some issues that mean a lot to me are not on the radar of my superiors.  And why should they be?  Principals and other administrators are busy running a school and don’t always have time to talk to me about the significance of writing folders–which, if you ask me, is of utmost importance to me and my students–or the minute issues of various departments in general.  If you want something changed, say something.  


Remember, you are not “just a teacher”.  You are a teacher, and sometimes that means schooling others about issues that you believe deserve attention.  Your thoughts, ideas, and opinions are valuable.  Do you know why?  Because you’re a teacher.  Go you.

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