Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Get A Handle On Late Work

Late work. Ugh. Why do I have to spend extra time grading late work just because the student did not spend time doing the work when it was due?

Look at late work a different way. Homework due dates are a way for us to help our students learn responsibility when the stakes are low so that they are prepared for the real world when the stakes are high. If a student loses a letter grade in my class because of missed deadlines, hopefully that student will learn her lesson and not ruin her credit as an adult because of missed payments. Isn't that worth an hour or two each week?

For most homework assignments, I simply deducted 10% per day for two days. Whatever system you use, make sure that the penalties motivate the students without destroying their grades due to one bad night. Otherwise, here are some ways that I learned over the years to juggle late work.

  • Eliminate arguments - get a date stamp. You do not want to debate with a student about whether an assignment was late or not, especially at the end of the quarter when grades are due. I had a date stamp that I would use on any paper that was not submitted on the due date, and I would be sure to note if the student was absent or had another reason for turing in the assignment late.
  • Late work receipts - for student and teacher. I taught middle school, so I wanted to provide a little extra support since my students were a little young for a sink-or-swim approach to late work. I printed out a form, three to a page. On the left of the form, there was a place for the student to write his or her name, the assignment, the due date, the excuse for being late, and day when he or she planned on turning it in. On the right side of the form was a tear off receipt where the student wrote the same information. When I walked around class collecting homework, I would give a form to each student who did not complete the assignment. The  student could keep half as a reminder to finish the work. I could keep the other half in case I needed to remind the student to turn in the work the next day. When the assignment was turned in, I would staple my receipt to the work to remind the student that the work had been turned in late.
  • Just don't accept late work - the nice way. One of the best moments in my teaching, which I will write about another time, was when I gave a series of interesting and effective projects. Over a number of weeks, the students had to turn in six out of seven projects, so everyone got a rest week. Responsible students could save the rest week until the end, many students would use the rest week in the middle when they were having a busy time, and other students used it up at the beginning. Either way, projects were due on time, or they became the rest week (absent students could email projects or send them with someone already coming to school). A second missing project would earn a zero.  It made things a lot simpler. This plan works well for homework assignments too - anything where the students must turn in several items but can skip one without missing an important learning experience.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Simplest and Best Teaching Idea I Ever Had

In my first two years of teaching, I noticed that I was wasting a great deal of time every week passing out papers. Every teacher knows that idle students mean trouble, so I either had to give the students busy work while I passed out papers, or I had to do it fast, hoping that the students would not resort to spit balls.

My solution? At the beginning of my third year of teaching, I asked all of the students to bring cereal boxes. When I had enough, I made them into mailboxes. I cut off three of the top flaps, put them in stacks of similar size, and stapled them together. At the end, I had a bank of mailboxes 10 high and 15 wide on the back counter of my classroom.

After exporting the students' names from my grade book, I color coded them by class, alphabetized by their last name, and imported them into file folder labels. Each student had his or her own mailbox in my classroom.

If I had graded papers to return, they just went into the mailboxes. Happily, students' grades were more private so that a student with a very low or very high grade on a test did not feel self conscience. If I had an assignment or project instructions to distribute, they would go in the mailboxes, and I could be confident that each student had a copy. I made sure to have multiple hole punchers and recycling bins nearby so that students could put papers in the proper place.

The last unexpected benefit was that students who caused delays in class because of minor discipline issues or tardiness could make up for my wasted time by stuffing mailboxes after school.

A few years later, my cereal box idea was so successful that the school bought me more permanent paper organizing boxes. They looked a little more professional, but they lacked that DIY charm of the cereal boxes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How Teachers Can Use

Sisyphus was an ancient Greek king whose punishment from the gods was to roll a huge stone to the top of  a hill everyday. At the end of each day, the stone rolled to the bottom of the hill, ready for the next day's rolling. If you think about it, teaching can be very Sisyphusian. If you have several sections of the same subject, you teach the same lesson several times a day, you review it later in the week, you review it again before the test, and you still have to start the process over again the next year. This doesn't even include the absent students.

I created  my website Clickademics to do some of the repetition automatically, freeing teachers up for more creative projects and more individualized help. I film teachers giving their best lessons and make them available to students online.

Here are some ways that Clickademics can help teachers be more effective:

  • If an upcoming exam covers material that is in a Clickademics lesson, the teacher can link to the video lessons as a study aid.
  • If a student is struggling with a basic concept, and the teacher cannot take class time to go over it again, the teacher can direct the student to the lesson so that he or she can review at home.
  • If students are absent, the teacher can have them review online at home instead of staying after school for a make-up lesson. This is especially helpful in schools where student athletes often miss the last class of the day to travel for a game since these athletes can rarely stay after class since it would conflict with sports practice.
  • All students have different learning styles, and some students benefit from hearing a lesson taught in multiple ways.
More and more, teachers are encouraged to provide two challenging classroom experiences: more project based learning and differentiated learning. The problem for teachers is that hands-on, creative projects take a great deal of class time, and differentiated learning requires multiple lesson plans to help students with different learning styles and abilities. If the students could learn the basics using online-video, there could be more class time for these effective yet complicated lessons and projects.

Of course, all classroom concepts can be found in the textbook, but all experienced teachers know that the students who really need help with the material rarely go home and read everything they should. Online video is a much more effective teaching tool.

If you want to learn more about project based learning and differentiated instruction, check out these books: