May 15, 2016

Do, Check or Grade? Classwork

I asked Twitter on Thursday what I should blog about. And that day they wanted to know what's worth holding kids accountable for and how to do it. I wrote about Homework yesterday. For the purposes of this post, classwork is any work that students do in class that isn't a quiz, test or project.

Honors PreCalculus: 
There's an opener. We chat about homework. Then I either project some problems or give students a handout. They do the problems. I circulate. We discuss when a critical mass has reached a predetermined point. Repeat. These are honors juniors and seniors. When they aren't doing the work I invite them to start. When they have their phones out I ask them to redirect their attention. When they still don't engage I roll my eyes (I think mentally only but no guarantees) and move on to whoever is asking me a question. I am ready to help anyone who wants it. I'm not up for fighting with 16-18 year olds to make them engage when they're having an off day. At the end of every class students reflect by responding to prompts in their journal. Every two weeks I collect their journals and students self assess on a classwork rubric on the back. Together the journal and classwork rubric count for 10% of their grade.

Algebra 1:
My Algebra class has students who work at vastly different paces. This makes my usual method of going over a section when everyone is done really challenging. My ninth graders don't sit and chat or work on something else quietly when they're done so I had taken to giving lengthy assignments and doing a limited amount of class discussion. My administrator/evaluator suggested timers and randomly choosing students to share. This routine allows me to continue giving the lengthy assignment, and then after a set time (7-10 minutes) calling the class together to go over just the very beginning problems. Then they get back to work, I reset the timer, and after a while we go over the next few problems. Students can continue working at their own pace, but I can pull everyone's attention back to some key ideas on problems they have all had the chance to work on.

While students are working I reinforce positive behaviors via stamp chart. The stamps they earn don't contribute to their grade but sometimes they can earn things. A.k.a. we bribe them in the spring when my co-teachers run out of patience. Last year kids could trade stamps for candy one co-teacher bought. This year I have a different co-teacher and she knew that the JROTC has access to a back basketball court they don't use during our blocks. The class works together to get enough points to earn "recess" during the second half of class one day. We bring in some sporting equipment (badminton, frisbee, basketball...) and everyone goes outside together. Bonus: playing together a nice opportunity to build relationships. Maybe we should start this in the fall next year but make it more challenging so it's something they earn every three weeks or so.

Algebra Support:
This is a pass/fail class where I don't grade anything. At the end of class I walk around and give students a score out of four points based on how much progress they've made. If the bell catches me off guard I have them hand in their work but still only give them a score based on how far they got.

Sometimes I will collect an activity that we only got half way through during class to check all of their answers. The next class I give it back for them to correct before they continue with the remainder of the assignment. This is purely feedback so they don't miss an important idea, it doesn't have any effect on the progress score.

They have the stamp charts too. Their class tally is separate from the Algebra 1 tally for the "recess" reward.

General Classwork Conclusions
I do not have time to grade classwork every day. Kids do it because I'm walking around and engaging with them about the assignment. There are some extrinsic motivators. I like to think kids do assignments because they are interested and want to learn. I know that for many kids this isn't enough but I think my genuine interest in their thinking helps. Plus some bribery! I want to be above bribery, but I think rewards for good behavior are okay, especially where this year the reward is time together.

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