To grade or not to grade

That is a big question.

In the past I’ve been all over the map with this one. I’ve graded every little thing and stressed myself out over it. I’ve graded everything with some of those grades being completion grades because I felt if a student completed the assignment they should get some credit for it but then I wonder what that does to their grade, is it an accurate reflection of their work, their abilities?

I’ve thrown stacks of papers away that I would have graded simply for completion for any number of reasons including what’s the point of grading something just for completion. Then again if I would only grade it for completion is it something I should ever have given the students to complete in the first place? Is it an assignment of any value?

Sometimes we complete something together in class and those I feel okay just putting a check mark in my grade book and not a number grade to be sure that students completed it and were paying attention in class.

I’m coming to the realization that I can give assignments of quality that don’t need to be graded, that the value can come from completing it and the class discussions we have while completing them. The only problem is expressing that to the students and them still doing the work, because if it’s not for a grade many of them won’t do it no matter how much it might help them learn the skills. Ah well like all things my grading policy is a work in progress.

Homework: to assign or not?

You know when I was in school I always looked at homework as just part of the way school was. It wasn’t until my senior year that I encountered someone who simply didn’t do it. They said home was their time, what they could get done at school was done, but once they left school that was it. At the time that really bothered me, I seem to recall arguing with said person about that philosophy. Homework was to help us learn right? I mean the purpose was to give us practice with the new skills we were learning right? But what about people who do have a lot to do when they get home. One of the guys I knew played school sports the had to go home and work a job, often didn’t get home until late in the evening and then he had to do homework. Was he at his best at that point? Was he really learning?

I’ll be honest it took me a long time to change my habits. The first few years I taught I stuck to the “old way” homework assigned if not nightly then at least several times a week to be completed at home if not completed in whatever class time I provided which I’ll be the first to admit was often not much.

While in my last classroom position I began to offer more and more time in class to complete work so that I could be there to answer any questions; though with the advent of students having e-mail and social media I’m more accessible. The first time I had a student message me to ask a question about their homework it was through myspace, yep does that tell you how long it’s been lol. I’ve had students also e-mail to ask me questions or tell me they won’t be at school for whatever reason and ask for their assignments, it’s awesome!

This year I’ve really pushed to limit homework as much as possible. My students have lives just like I do. I don’t want to take home stacks of papers and be grading all hours of the day and night. I have a family I want to spend time with and hobbies or activities of my own so why should I expect any different of my students.

As we begin any new assignment I go through it with students, I’m here for questions and I do my best to allow most of class time for them to finish. Hopefully they walk out with no homework or maybe just a question or two. The one weekly homework I assign are journals and students do have a week to complete them, in that week they go to Academic Focus three times and have that time to work on homework with fifteen minutes dedicated strictly to writing.

Big projects or essays are planned into our pacing guide for several days so students can complete it all here at school where they can ask for help and have wifi access, which some don’t have at home. Any homework on these assignments come from poor time management, often playing games on their Chromebooks rather than working, ie it’s a natural consequence. I make the rounds in my room working with students and checking in with them but I have some of the world’s best procrastinators this year. Still I try to assign valuable work that should be classwork.

This seems to me to go along with the Repair Kit for Grading that I read, kids that need to do homework will find it valuable but some kids just don’t need the extra practice. Much like that person I knew back in high school that would pass the classes mainly because they passed the tests, but hey that person knew the material and isn’t that what’s important? If I could, I’d tell that person now: thanks for sticking that germ of an idea in my head. I only wish it hadn’t taken so long for me to change my habits and get away from the idea of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” because maybe it was broken. I do see my students understanding of the material increase as they do classwork more than homework.


Time for that yearly thankfulness post.

I’m thankful for my family and friends who are always there for me.

I’m thankful for my former students who’ve reached out to me to stay in contact.

I’m thankful for my new job.

I’m thankful for my coworkers.

I’m thankful for the students who try so hard each day.

I’m thankful for the students who challenge me daily to be a better teacher and a better human being.


Serial Killers and English Class

So back in my Who are you voting for? post I mentioned that our discussion of Canada and the queen of England came up as we were talking about serial killers. Sounds strange doesn’t it? Talking about serial killers in English class? Well there is a good reason.

See we have to get kids reading and comprehending nonfiction, what better than serial killers especially when there is a historical case right here just a few miles from school.

We start the unit by showing students a slide show with pictures of well known serial killers and discussion their opinions and thoughts on just the pictures. What are the similarities and differences? Well for starters historically we see serial killers are being white males, though according to this article from Business Insider that information may be false or at least changing with the times.

We discuss each man and what he was convicted for, most are Americans though there are some from other countries. Then we begin to discuss Bertha Gifford the local claim to well not fame but rather infamy.

We show pictures from the time and places of the murder, invariably kids start to get excited and yell out “I know that house.” or “I know that bridge.” The bridge is quite literally just down the road from our school building as is the house. They are then much more interested into diving into nonfiction than ever before. There are always a few hold outs but that’s to be expected. Then when the get started on the projects, students create a project of their choice to share the central idea of the article “Darkness Round the Bend” and 3 -4 key details, or more.

That’s not all. Bertha’s great granddaughter S. Kay Murphy has written a book about her journey to find the truth about this secret in her family. So we read selections from Tainted Legacy and compare the two nonfiction writings.

Nonfiction reading has never been so interesting. 😉

When parents don’t care

What oh what is a teacher to do when parents don’t care?

I do have some wonderful parents that keep close track of their students grades and contact me when they see missing assignments to be sure we are on the same page thankfully. Then there are the parents that talk a good game when they come for conferences or when I contact them but no change happens in their students. I do understand that sometimes they’re doing all they can and it’s their student that is just refusing to change.

Then there are the parents who don’t care, they only send their kids to school because it’s required. They back the kids on everything always against the school. If the child fails a class they either blame the teacher or tell the kid “I know you tried your best.”

How do I reach those students? How do I get them to care about their own education when their own parents don’t?

I can tell you what I try though it doesn’t always work. I point out when students do well on a particular assignment or project asking how they feel about it are they proud of themselves. I try to connect what we do to real life. I make every effort to keep the work from interfering with their multitude of responsibilities outside of work. I try to provide them with reading or writing assignments that appeal to their interests or to the world around them. I just keep trying. I try to show the student how much I care. It is wearing. It does leave me exhausted come some, ok most Fridays but every weekend I try to recharge. I take time to think about students I’m struggling most to reach and figure out how I can do that. How can I get them to care whether their parents do or not.

Laziness and excuses UGH UGH UGH

A follow up of sorts to my post on apathy. I’m not sure if it’s an age thing, a generational thing, or if this has always been an issue, my career in education has spanned 18 years but that doesn’t mean trends don’t carry further back or maybe aren’t really trends at all. None of that made sense did it?

Laziness…it amazes me that I can provide class work time so that my students can get their work done at school where I am here to help them and so they don’t have so much homework to do when they have so many other after school commitments and so little gets done during class. Or maybe it gets done to the bare minimum that is necessary, one word answers, one sentence if they can get away with it. The students know by now I’m going to hand the work back and make them redo it or give it the poor grade it deserves but there we’re back to apathy, so many of them seem to not care about grades.

Excuses…oh so many excuses. Students had a week in class to work on their Insight project. That is they had five days to complete in class, no other assignments in my class for those five days, all they had to do was work on their project. So many not done. Then after two weeks, nearing the end of presentations there were still students not finished. I had a parent e-mail to tell me their child wasn’t done they had internet issues at their house. I understand that but you child has had two weeks to work on this project, they will still present today. Fortunately the parent was understanding, and by the time the student got to my class the project was complete. Now what work for other classes did that student not complete because they were working on the project for my class.

I understand busy lives. I understand electricity going out. I understand forgetting to charge or forgetting the charger. I understand life has unforeseen challenges and moments. I don’t understand how you can’t use the time given in class.

I monitor students while they work. I moved them to make sure they were in a good work space. I help as much as I can. And yet… sigh.

Maybe I shouldn’t let it get to me, but I do. It’s just so frustrating.

Respect is Expected from Teachers, Also! — We Were Meant to be Teachers!

I’ve shared this post from J. Jenkins earlier this year but I believe it’s worth re-posting. Why? Because I’ve heard teachers hollering at their students again! We hear even today of a teacher who has “lost it” and berates a student in front of his/her peers and gets featured on local TV. Is there a […]

via Respect is Expected from Teachers, Also! — We Were Meant to be Teachers!

This is why I’ve made it a habit when I feel myself getting to the “blow-up” point of stepping back, closing my eyes and taking several deep breaths before speaking and when I speak I do so in a purposely quiet voice. It keeps me from yelling and it also is a great clue to my students that my frustration level is high and it’s time to stop whatever it is they’re doing. I’ll often hear the students as my eyes are closed say to one another “guys shhh she’s mad.” Some students don’t know what respect is and what it should look like as they don’t see it at home so they need us to model it for them. This is not to say I never lose my top and yell at students or my own child but I will step back and apologize afterwards for losing my temper and explain what led to that level of frustration. It’s just part of a teacher’s job.


My Classroom Library

It grows frequently, I add books as often as I can. My classroom was once upon a time an art room so I have LOTS of cabinets but not so many bookshelves, that’s ok the cabinets work. I just keep the doors open, someday maybe I’ll get approval to take the doors off, in the meantime I’ll just keep them open, it works. Funny thing is a temp custodian closed all of the cabinets the other day, my students commented the next morning that my room looked empty, that was when I realized the cabinet doors were all shut.

Most of the books in my library came from my last classroom library thought much pared down. I weeded out books I kept for my own sentimental sake, I also weeded out the third, fourth, and fifth copies I had of books. Over time my library dropped from around 1000 books to around 250. That’s ok though I’m building back up. First my fellow English teacher and I went through a list we were given and ordered several novels to add to our classroom libraries, I also spent a lot of time driving to all the local thrift stores picking up books for anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar. Then came the dollar store trips, and a trip to the book fair at my kiddo’s school where I scouted out and purchased several of the sale books. If I keep adding I might just have to figure out something else to do with the books as I’m running out of room.

Here are some pics, you can see I use the cabinets, counters, and the one bookshelf I have:

Magnetic Poetry

I had totally forgotten that I had magnetic poetry until I was having a discussion with my fellow English teacher who is also the gifted teacher in our building. We have some unused rooms in our building right now so he’s taken one over to allow the gifted kids to have a classroom of their own. He mentioned wanting to do magnetic poetry with them. The light went on and I remembered seeing mine as I was unpacking things when I moved into my room, so when I got back to my room I went hunting.

When I found it then it was a matter of finding a place to put it. Time to do a little rearranging of my white board. Once again no sooner do I introduce a new thing to class the kids jump all over it. We’ll see how long it lasts, but I already have some ideas to keep it going as interest fades.

Here’s the board after only a few students had tried it out:20161027_084823.jpg

some poems:


and the board after students had had some fun:



Daily Prompt: Irksome

via Daily Prompt: Irksome

Giving students several days of class time to complete a large assignment and they play on their Chromebooks or talk. I can take Chromebooks away, move them away from other students and they still don’t work.

Warning students that in class work not turned in will be a zero then hearing complaints about how they’re in trouble with their sports team because they have a D or an F in my class. Students asking for extra credit when they don’t do the regular classwork.

Parents asking me what a child is missing in class rather than checking the online gradebook when that is where the got the grade in the first place.