Tag Archives: grading

Teaching Tuesdays: A fear for the future

Sometimes after a long round of grading I find myself seriously worrying about the future of our country. Tonight was one of those nights.

I spent about 5 hours this weekend reading over outlines for research papers. Although it was only one set of outlines for one class of 30 kids and only 27 of the kids actually turned in an outline, it took me just over 5 hours to grade them. That’s right, I spent about 13 minutes , making extensive comments and suggestions on each outline.

This might not have been so distressing if we hadn’t just spent the last three weeks almost completely dedicated to the research process. Although kids did not have the full 85 minute class period solely to work on their research papers, they did get between 15-30 minutes every single day just to work. The rest of the class time was spent going over how to find credible sources, how to take notes, how to write a thesis statement, how to put together an outline and how to avoid plagiarism. They had three straight weeks with about 60 minutes each day dedicated to the research process in some way.

I also might not be quite so disheartened if these weren’t seniors who have been through the research paper not once, not twice, but thrice before this year. Yes, that’s right, every single student at my school goes through the research process every single year. At this point my students should have written at least 3 other research papers, which means they’ve been taught how to find credible sources, how to take notes, how to write thesis statements, how to put together an outline and how to avoid plagiarism at least 3 other times. And that’s just in their English classes.

I also might not be as discouraged if I had not provided them an outline template which told them every single piece of information they’d need for their outline, gave them a structure they could use and had reminders like for every A there must be a B. All I asked was that they delete the instructions and my sample content from the outline before using the template. Out of the 27 kids who turned in their outlines, 7 of them turned in outlines that still had part (or all) of my instructions and sample content on them.

Only one of my students turned in an outline that I am sure will lead to a really good first draft. The rest were so lacking in details (and all but 3 were lacking any real research) that all of my contents had to be generic ones about the purpose of their papers because I wasn’t sure what their actual content really was.

Now, I know some people will argue that outlines are archaic and teaching kids to do formal outlining is old-fashioned. While that might be true, when kids don’t do any pre-writing or organizational activities, as most will not do unless forced to, their writing is even more of a train wreck. At least these tragic outlines give them a bit of a starting point. I could point out areas they’d need to expand on, or areas not mentioned in their thesis, or topics that need to be grouped together. I teach my students how to outline in the hopes that they will at least sit down and gather their thoughts and research together. My hope is that they will look at how their information is connected, see patterns and group like material together. It doesn’t always work out well (like the outlines I just graded), but when they don’t have an outline to work from it is so very worse.

My hope is that they will take all of my outline comments to heart and their first drafts, which are due on Thursday, will be marked improvements. Sadly, I know that in order for this to happen I will have to make them open their outlines in class and have them read over all of my comments right in front of me.

What worries me is that of my 30 students, 24 of them are college bound in some way. I don’t know what they are going to do next year when their professors do not have to be as patient or kind.

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Teaching Tuesday: Fall break

Starting school at the end of July is more than a little depressing. The weather is at its summery height, people are posting vacation photos, few stores have their school supplies completely out and almost all of my fellow teachers are starting their countdowns until school starts. Already having two or three weeks under my belt before they’ve even clocked in for their first teacher work day is upsetting.

The trade off comes at fall break. Sure, no matter what school I’ve worked at, I’ve always gotten a fall break. But up until my school switched over to the balanced calendar, that fall break was always just two days. At my first school it was a Monday and Tuesday. In Florida we lost it due to the make up days we had to spend because of hurricane closures. At my current school we got our four day weekend in the form of a Thursday-Sunday break.

But when we switched to the balanced calendar four years ago, suddenly those two days became 10 and it’s pretty darn glorious. Our summer may have gone from 10 weeks to 8, but those 8 extra days off during the first quarter are worth it.

Since our grading periods have always been 9 weeks, our fall break was still toward the beginning of October, however, when we returned from it we usually still had two weeks left in the grading period. It was a nice break, but most of it was spent catching up on grading so that I could get ready to head into finals. If we were lucky, our old grading period would end on a Friday and we’d have until the following Wednesday at 8 am to get all of our grades in. Basically fall break was a lot of grading.

A few times our grading period ended on a Wednesday and we’d start the next grading period the very next day, which meant grades were due by Monday morning at 8 am, so those years fall break just meant I got to sleep in until 9 or so and then grade non-stop.

And while I still end up grading over fall break, since I get to spread that grading over 14 days, I never really stress out about my grading. I get it done at a far more leisurely pace while sipping tea or in between trips to the children’s museum or even on car rides to Disney World.

Not only do I get time to do my grading, I actually get a break from school. I get to do things I enjoy. I get to read books for fun. I get to hang out with my kids. We go on family vacations. In fact, I just got home yesterday after spending my first week of fall break visiting my best friend in Athens, Georgia (she’s a professor at UGA). I did some of my grading while she was teaching classes and then when she got home, we got to hang out.

Having time off in early to mid-October is awesome. It’s the off-season for most vacation destinations, so prices are lower. The weather is still nice enough for travel, especially for going to places like Florida or Georgia where I can pull out my capris and short sleeves and frolic on beaches or in gardens. Plus, since most schools are still in session, crowds are much smaller and easier to maneuver. Our two Disney World vacations have been about 25% cheaper than if we’d had to take them in the summer.

If all this wasn’t reason enough to love the balanced calendar and our wonderful break, when I return to school next Monday, it’s a brand new grading period. No matter what mistakes students may have made in the first quarter, it all starts over fresh. The kids come back refreshed and so do I. Before fall break I am usually about at my breaking point. Kids are getting antsy, whiny and beyond annoying, but it is amazing how two weeks can change it all. They come back relaxed, recharged and ready to start it all over again. Discipline issues, which were on the rise in the two weeks prior to break, are back to start of the year levels.

Plus, everyone is generally excited that there are only 9 more weeks until winter break. And that includes two wonderful days off for Thanksgiving.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Finals week

My school is on a block 4 schedule. Five years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I looked at different types of scheduling as part of a massive research paper. During my research, I found out that of the 348 public high schools in the state, we were one of 13 schools in the state still on block 4. With the start of this year, that number has dropped to single digits. Our school librarian believes we might be the last holdout.

I am actually not a huge fan of block 4 scheduling for a myriad of reasons I don’t have the time to delve into in this current blog. The only real positive about this schedule right now is that this is our finals week, which means that at the end of this week I am halfway through with my current group of students. Considering all of the whining and complaining they’ve been doing alongside the drama they are creating over a group project (which they had the option and time to do on their own), I am really ready to wrap this grading period up.

Sure, when we get back from fall break they’ll all be right back in my classroom, but hopefully the marvelous two weeks we get off for fall break (we are also on a balanced calendar), will help cool some tempers, stop some fussing and generally make me remember that at one point I really liked this group.

First I have to make it through finals though.

It’s not so much the finals themselves that make me slightly crazy. I use the same basic final each year–I just tweak it based on the amount of material we covered and the examples I used. In my Film Literature class, one section of their final requires them to watch a 30 minute clip of a movie and then analyze it for all the elements of film we’ve learned about over the course of the grading period. Every year I switch it up with a new movie clip, so that keeps it kind of fun for me.

There are two things that make finals a stressful time for me. The first is the schedule changes that happen. Rather than just keeping our already really long blocks just as they are–they are 85 minutes each–final blocks are 2 hours long. Since students only have 4 classes at a time, they take two of their finals on Thursday and two on Friday. In order to make sure there are 4 solid hours for testing each day, the other two blocks have to be shortened and we have to get rid of our student resource time, which just happens to be the time my newspaper class meets. So not only do I lose two days of class time with my newspaper kids, but since I teach the same class 1st and 4th block, tomorrow I will have one group an hour and the other for two. Sure, I’ll get the opposite of that on Friday, but for my 1st block class, they’ll have already taken the final, so I have a full hour and not much for them to really do. On top of this, to make the testing times work, instead of going to blocks 1-4 in order like we always do, tomorrow we’ll start in block 2 (which the kids will forget), test in block 2, then go to block 4 (which messes up everyone’s normal lunch time and therefore causes chaos) and then finish the day with block 3. Even after having this schedule for about 7 years it still confuses me.

Aside from the schedule shift, the other truly annoying part of finals is the rapidity in which the kids expect the finals to be graded. At our school, all the work they’ve done for the grading period is 80% of their grade. The finals they take in our classes make up the other 20%. Far too many kids slack off during the year and then they expect to pull some Hail Mary magic on the final in order to save them from failing. This is particularly frustrating for me as nearly all of my students are seniors and failing their senior English class means not graduating. The week of finals I get a steady stream of kids asking me what percentage they have to get on the final in order to get their desired grade in my class (and for far too many of them, that grade is a D).

The minute they finish taking the final they start asking when I’ll have them graded. If I don’t get them graded before break (and I almost never do as we have until the Tuesday after break to turn grades in), I get emails over break asking about their grades. I get their full on sob story as to why they so desperately need to know their grades. Interestingly, they rarely elaborate on why it took them 9 weeks to actually get concerned over what grade might fill in that blank on their report card. Nor do they comment on all the 0’s in my grade book from the assignments they never bothered to do.

As excited as I am for the start of break, I am dreading the next two days of classes. I hope we all make it out in one fairly sane piece.

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