Tag Archives: evaluations

Ingratitude and Group Projects

Ingratitude.  A noun.  The state of being not grateful.

This was one of the vocabulary words today.  I thought I could count on the students to discuss for a few minutes what they were grateful for.  (Look!  I ended a sentence in a preposition!  see yesterday’s post).

Instead, I began the day with Mary asking, “What’s grateful mean?”  As I tried to hide my original feeling of surprise, which quickly turned to incredulousness, and ended with complete and utter angst that a student would not know the word grateful, another student nonchalantly came her rescue.

“It means thankful,” Scott interceded.

A student helping another student is not anything new.  When I was a student, I had one group project, and it was in my freshman English class.  We created a slide show of whales using a 35 mm camera and slide film.  Then, we found a song of whale sounds to accompany it.  This was our symbolic interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  I am not sure of my grade, but I doubt it was good since I am still in freshman English.  Of course, all of my other teachers made us work by ourselves.

Over the last twenty-three years of my career, teachers have tried to incorporate teamwork and collaboration into lessons.  As a freshmen teacher, I have had to deal with students being able to get to get together with classmates outside of school.  I have also had to deal with one kid being a slacker, one person doing all of the work , and, of course, the one who could only give orders or negative feedback.  Next, I had to explain my logic in the grades to the parents.  The group project usually ended up with the parent, the student, and myself unhappy and full of ingratitude for the lesson.

I have found the best collaborative lessons to be similar to the impromptu lesson this morning: a student helping a student.  I can expand on the lesson by having each student in a group create a clause to use in a sentence with a vocabulary word or individually revise a paragraph then team up with others to discuss the best revision ideas or have a small group create thoughtful questions for a socratic discussion.

All of these ideas do not require time outside of class, nor do they require a complicated rubric to make sure everyone does his or her share.  These lessons require me to listen and observe.  It is not a perfect system, but neither is the work place.  There are committees or work groups everywhere that have slackers or people trying to make others look bad.  The lack of productivity will catch up with the person.  If a person hardly does any work on his or her own, I would be skeptical that he or she suddenly becomes the model student or employee when in a group.

The best collaboration brings out ideas or leads to more questions.  It is not always about producing a project or product.

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Keeping Journals

My first five years of teaching were at Oberlin High School,  a school of about 350 students in a college town.  We had three English teachers and whenever we were together, it was a department meeting.  My colleagues had experience and wisdom and let me bounce ideas of them.  This helped me develop a sense of what would work and what problems may pop up with different types of learners.  I was a recent graduate with all of the terrific theories on how to teach who needed practical advice by day two.  These teachers deserved more money than me because of the knowledge and experience they had obtained.   Even The Ohio State University is paying new coach Luke Fickell less than it paid Jim Tressel.  Why?  Coach Fickell has less experience as a head coach.  So, I don’t get why some people feel experience does not count nor deserves a higher salary.

One lesson I borrowed from J.R., the “old” man across the hall, was journal writing.  He gave class time each day for writing. The kids would write and write and write. He always said, “Writing is a process, you never write a masterpiece on your first try.  ”   I don’t remember many classes at The Ohio State University that taught me how to teach writing.  Most of the classes had me reading literature or learning how to teach reading to students.  However, I learned from J.R. that to become a better writer one has to write.   Through the years we shared many students, and I could see the students he had taught becoming better writers.  His teacher evaluation should have rated him AWESOME!  Funny, for half of his career there were no standardized tests to measure his success.

Recently a former student from Oberlin shared with me that she only recently threw out her journal because she was moving. She wrote me that the journal was therapeutic for her, as it was a tough year for her.   Shari’s comment made me decide to bring back journal writing in class.  I stopped doing journals because I had trouble keeping up with all of the writing.  When I started teaching I had five 50 minute classes with a total of 90 students.  When I moved to Pickerington, I began teaching six 40 minute classes with a total of 160 students.  Plus, we started to teach to the state’s standardized tests.  Everything was to be a five paragraph essay.  So, I moved away from journals.

As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are changin.”   We still have standardized tests, but the core curriculum (another term for the National curriculum) is focusing on creativity and technology.  Basically, many older teachers like myself are trying to catch up with the kids.  So, this blog is my  journal. I plan to have my students use WEB 2.0 resources like Wallwisher.com  and Edmodo, to post thoughts and journals on-line.  I will be able to moderate comments or not post them if a student wants to keep their writing private.

I am getting excited for year 23 of teaching.  I know one day I will graduate and finally leave high school.  Until then, these are the best days of my life.

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Measuring Teacher and Student Success

How do we measure teacher and student success?  This is THE hottest topic in education today.  Another way to ask it seems to be, “Who can we blame if Johnny fails?”   The answer is not easy medicine to swallow, and, sorry Mary Poppins, no amount of sugar will help this medicine go down.

For several years, I have taught a summer remedial class to prepare students for the reading portion of the Ohio Graduation Test.  The class is ten hours of test taking tips, individualized instruction on the student’s weakest areas, and practice, practice, and more practice.  Students take quizzes individually, with a partner, or as a group.

How do I measure my success?  It is easy, did the student pass the test?  The first year I taught this class I had a 100% success rate.  The next year, test scores slipped.  Two students did not pass.  Perhaps I am trying to deflect the blame.  After all, we like to do that in America.  So here is my defense; the two students who did not pass are not native English speakers.  They had been in the United States for about four years.  Is asking someone to read at the tenth grade level after four years of a language fair?  How much should I be held accountable for the results when I only had ten hours with them?

Last year I again had two students not pass after ten hours of instruction.  One was a student from another country again, and the other was a student who had the attitude of I-know-how-to-pass-this-test-better-than-you.  Let me call him Jason.  Jason told me all he needed to do was answer the multiple choice questions.  He could pass without answering the short answer and extended response questions.  Even after I asked him, “How did that work out for you the first time?” he did not feel he was wrong.  After we took a practice quiz, and he missed 6 out of 10 multiple choice questions, he still believed in his test-taking technique.  (I should have checked his math scores.)  I pulled out every trick I know to convince Jason to try it a different way.  However, he was too stubborn to admit he might be wrong or I might know what I was doing.  How much should I be held accountable?  How much should Jason be held accountable?

This past summer, I had one student fail.  Her parents signed her up for four review classes.  Erica (not her real name) had to sit in class for 9 hours a day in the summer, and she is a special education student.  (She has trouble concentrating for extended periods of time.)  Instead of helping her succeed in one or two tests that she was within a few points of passing, she failed four tests again.  We focused on her weak areas, but she also missed some class due to a court date.  How much should I be held accountable?  How much should her parents be held accountable?  How much should Erica be held accountable?

Whenever politicians and real people discuss merit pay and teacher evaluations, we need to discuss accountability.  And such discussion is not an easy pill to swallow.  It reminds me of my children when I ask, “Who broke the lamp?”  I always get four answers of “Not me!”  Do we blame the teacher who has no control over who takes the class?  Do we blame the student who gets placed in a situation that is not best for her?  Do we blame the parents who trying to do what they think is best for their daughter?  Perhaps, we should do as my children do; they eventually admit the dog broke the lamp.  I am willing to let my dog be the scapegoat.

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