Mississippi Teacher Corps

Saturday, June 02, 2007

things I want to do differently next year

In the final weeks of the school year, I thought a lot about systems I'd set in place at the beginning of the year that ended up not working out for me, and how I'd like to do them differently.
First and foremost: the notebooks. I required each student to keep a 3-ring binder for my class only with 5 dividers: classwork, homework, tests/quizzes, general class information, and bell-ringers. Every time I gave an assignment, I told them exactly where to put it in their notebook. I collected notebooks periodically to check that they'd kept up with their assignments, and kept everything orderly. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Well, when I say that it sometimes made me hate my job, I'm not exaggerating. Many kids never even bothered to get a notebook, even after I sold them in class and sent personal letters home through the mail to the parents of students who didn't have a notebook two weeks after the specified date to have all supplies. After two giant notebook checks, which entailed me coming home after school every day for a week and spending hours looking through dozens of binders with papers crumbled and shoved into random spaces, I pretty much gave up on doing notebook checks. I would check specific assignments in class, but that was it. I often wanted to scream when I saw notebooks carelessly thrown on tables with half of their contents spilling onto the floor as students left the room (I had a designated cabinet where each period was to place their notebooks). By the end of the year, more and more students abandoned their notebooks and kept papers in their backpacks, or didn't keep them at all. I didn't think that keeping a 5-sectioned 3-ring binder, with ample class time devoted to helping students set up and organize their binders, was unreasonable to ask of a 7th grader, but I won't do this again. It is not worth the headaches, or the energy, or the poor grades.
A good friend of mine had his students keep notebooks, but used spiral-bound notebooks instead of binders. I hadn't wanted to do this, since I wanted students to have a place to put handouts, but I'll make that sacrifice if it means more organization. Since spiral-bound notebooks are cheap (25 cents each if you hit the right deals), he bought enough for all of his students, thereby avoiding the problem of students who don't care enough to buy their own notebook. He gave each assignment a number (the first assignment was number one, and so forth), making it very easy to refer back to previous work, and also making it very easy for a student who was absent one day to check with another student and copy down the missing notes. This also makes it very easy to check notebooks by doing notebook quizzes (asking students to copy down information from a particular assignment in their notebook) rather than collecting and looking through all of them. I'm stealing this system next year.
As most teachers in the Delta probably do, I struggled with motivating students. When I tell students they need to take notes down and a number of them blatantly make no efforts, and I tell them that I will check notes at the end of class for a grade, and I tell them that they need the notes to study for a test, and they still don't take a word of the notes down, what am I supposed to do? Here's another idea I stole from the same friend: give lots of quizzes. For the last few weeks of school, he reviewed old material with students, and at the end of class, he gave a practice quiz. The next day, students came in, took a real quiz, and then proceded to have another review lesson and take another practice quiz. The day after state testing, I was disgusted with how many students came into class, didn't take a single sentence in their notes, and acted like school was out for the year. I came in the next day, pep talked them about the fact that they were still in school, and still had a final exam in my class for which they needed to learn new material, etc., and told them that we would have two to three quizzes per week until the end of the year, plus practice quizzes. It wasn't a miracle fix to the motivation problem, but it definitely helped, and it kept things moving at a pace I liked. The practice quizzes helped my students realize that nothing we were learning was as scary or as difficult as they initially perceived.
This year, I gave tests very infrequently, in part because I used this stupid program called SPMS that my school made us use to write tests (incoming first-years: if your school district toutes SPMS as a revolutionary learning tool or some other bull like that, be very skeptical) that had a very limited question bank, and required the use of scantrons that took 20 minutes to set up and would usually not be scanned by the librarian until two weeks after students took the test. I also felt that I needed to spend a lot of time reviewing before giving students a test. As I realized later in the year, most teachers at my school satisfied the SPMS requirement by just including a few questions from SPMS on their tests, not generating an entire test using SPMS as I had been doing (avoid doing this at all costs!). Next year, I'm not going to sweat tests as much, and rather than giving frequent graded classwork assignments where students rushed to one another to get the correct answers rather than making sure they really learned the material, I'll give frequent quizzes. I'll make them short so that students will take them at the beginning of class before doing something else, and I will be able to grade them and hand them back quickly. That way, if you work with someone else in class, you are still responsible for knowing the material yourself, and the consequences of playing around instead of paying attention are immediately obvious. I think this will keep things moving at a pace I like, and will give students frequent enough feedback that they will know exactly where they stand. I also plan to give each student a code name and post grades on the door to my room; I tried posting missing assignments this way once, with little success, but if I start at the beginning of the year by explaining to students that I will do this, I think it will work a lot better (and yes, I stole this idea from the same friend. What can I say, he has good ideas).

Now playing: The Beatles- Revolution


  • At 11:04 AM, Blogger Sci Teacher said…

    I have to agree with you that your 'friend' definitely has great ideas, and it sounds as if he is a very effective teacher.
    I will also say that I, too, am going to borrow a few of the ideas and put them to play in my classroom.
    Thanks so much for sharing!


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