Sunday, March 12, 2006

How To Avoid the Wall

It feels as though I always find myself at this time of year smashing head-on into a wall of boredom and monotony in my classes. This is why I love attending the CLAS conference--it's not only a break from the typical weekday, but it gives me some much-needed new ideas for the classroom. This year I attended two sessions, and both were pleasantly founded in constructivism.

The first session explored how to use portfolios in the classroom without creating an excessive amount of work for the teacher. What I liked about the presenters is that they clearly addressed the uselessness of letter grades when assessing writing (how do you give someone a D on an essay about their grandmother dying?), but the necessity of grading in a high school framework. They basically balanced traditionally graded academic essays with creative pieces that received completion grades only, along with a writer's memo establishing purpose and a reader's memo establishing reflection. The creative pieces were called "YAWPs" (after Uncle Walt, of course) and encompassed a wide variety of activities. I can see some of my students absolutely loving these, especially in my Honors classroom where I often push aside their creativity to make space for timed writing, analytical essays, and vocabulary. Interestingly, the rubric used to assess the portfolio at the end of the semester is completed by the student, not the teacher, and it focuses on growth and process.

The second session focused on using Harper's Weekly in the A.P. classroom to explore rhetoric. I loved it and will definitely use it, but it seemed like a one-class deal. I'll have to think about how to expand it...I guess that first step will be to figure out what, exactly, Harper's Weekly is.

In any case, it was inspiring to be surrounded by so many people who are passionate about the same thing (this is also why I love my Oxford program). I was also careful this year to attend sessions for high school teachers only--none of this putzing around with kindergarten coloring book crap. Sometimes, I find myself suddenly and inexplicably angry with primary school teachers, and I'm not sure why. I think I blame them for all my students who can't spell or use commas. But this is a discussion for a different time and place.

Remember: Live it, love it, blog it.


Blogger Karl Fisch said...

Hmm, I predict a conversation in your (our) future about the "necessity of grading in a high school framework." If it's "useless", how can it be a "necessity?"

I am a little concerned about this apparent anger you have toward elementary teachers (I believe you've mentioned it before as well). It's curious that you assign "blame" to the teachers for the actions of the students. While teachers obviously have a large effect (hopefully) on their students' ability to spell or use commas, in the end it's up to the student, right? Should your students' college professors blame you for whatever shortcomings your students still have when they enter college? I think this may be fodder for a discussion in our 21C group. I also think maybe you should take a day sometime and observe an elementary school teacher to get a better feel for what they do. Like at any other level, some teachers are good and some are not but, in my opinion, elementary is the most difficult level to teach.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Ms. Kakos said...

I would like to clarify that my comments about elementary school teachers were merely in jest...I have utmost respect for those who educate young children. Personally, I don't think I have the organizational skills or patience to do what they do.

I would also like to clarify that yes, I find increasingly that grades are useless. Students depend on them only because we make them. If my students were in the habit of reading my comments and assessing their own progress, they wouldn't need the shallow gratification of an A. And has a D or an F ever truly inspired a student to improve? Scare tactics are not a part of my classroom. As one of my CLAS presenters stated, teachers are coaches, not judges.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Barbara S. said...

Great discussion. I am too tired to respond, but I wanted you to know I am reading :-)

7:20 PM  
Blogger MollyG said...

Yeah, monotony does seem to get the best of us around this time of year, in every sense. It snowed again, it was spring last week and we were still stuck inside all day. I think everyone is just ready for some sort of change.

As for grading, I have always found it odd that we can get such clear, numerical grades on a mere collection of words. Who's to decide which words should go in what order for which grade. It seems a tad impossible to make it fair. But, truth be told, a specific grade is necessary, because I'm simply not ususually willing to sacrifice sleep, time with my friends or time doing something I genuinely enjoy to do an essay unless there's a shallow incentive. And I know it's shallow and ignorant way to go about things, but for high schoolers, sometimes life outweighs even a grade, so if grades were eliminated, nothing would ever get done.

And, trust me, the primary teachers covered absolutely everything. Multiple times. It's due to this that I ocassionally find myself getting frustrated with people my age who are incapable of using a comma properly. We've learned everything so many times that I wonder what could have been accomplished if we had actually moved on once we learned something. We learned to use a comma in third or fourth grade, then again in ninth grade. What if we moved on to tenth grade material in fifth? I remember when I was younger and people would act amazed when a kid got writing scores from a high school level. It wasn't extraordinary at all, the kid just applied what had already been taught.

9:31 PM  

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