First Semester down, one to go…

As the semester draws to an end (tomorrow), I’m thinking about how I can make things better next semester. I have two things to consider. The first is grading. A lot of the classwork we do is practice. Not every single thing really needs grading as much as the body of work needs evaluation. Did the student do the tasks that were assigned? Did he or she seem to get it? How was the finishing rate? Did most kids finish a task and only a few didn’t? If that is the case is the unfinished work because of a slower work pace or is the student one who messes around a lot?

This quarter I have been collecting students’ work in folders. Now, at the end of the quarter I have made a list of all the assignments that should be in each students folder. I review all of one student’s work at a time, check off whether the work was completed, and give it a score. Sort of a portfolio method of grading. The only thing missing is a letter from the student explaining his or her folder. What they feel they have learned, how much effort they have given this semester, things like that. Now that I think of it, I’m still going to do that. Either this week (right – tomorrow is the last day) or as a way to begin the new semester. I actually think starting the semester with it might be good. Today we are finishing the second quarter benchmark exam, and tomorrow is a minimum day. They are so enmeshed in this quarter I think their vision of it might benefit from a little distance.

Another thing I’m toying with is moving some students around from one section to another. I thought about this last year and didn’t do it, and once again I’m thinking along the same lines. My thinking goes like this: In each of my seventh grade blocks I have a group of quiet well-behaved students who do their work, participate in class discussions and are interested in doing well in school. I also have in each section a group of students who make no effort to control their behavior. They may be interested in doing well, and may even do all their work and occasionally are good participators, but their needs are clearly different than the other, quieter group. If they do their work at all (and most of them do to some degree) they do so quickly and then get up and run around, talking and playing with their friends, while the other students work to accomplish the assignment. You can chalk the problems up to lack of classroom management, I know, but I have a lot of experience with that and have never had a problem with it until last year and this. I’m thinking again that those more active students have different needs than the quieter ones, and that perhaps it is doing an injustice to all the students to have them mixed as they are. Supposedly the two classes are different levels, but I don’t see that too much. At this age it seems to be more about behavior. So, I’m thinking I might experiment with getting them moved around. Then try different ways of teaching the two groups. I need to do something, because the status quo is seriously affecting my attitude.

This leads to my last thought, which is my own involvement in all of the above. Am I planning adequately? I still don’t think I am. Even when I have a careful plan thought out, any little moments of down time are too much for the hyperactive students. I think I need more filler or “beyond” work for some of the fast ones, and need to strive to create a seamless 100 minute lesson. Every day. And then I need to really think about how to teach the two groups. I”ll write more about that as my ideas become more clear. In the meantime, hallelujah! Vacation begins tomorrow!


2 thoughts on “First Semester down, one to go…

  1. Angela says:

    Hey Lynn,

    I was just wondering how the semester ended for you. Ours ends next week. I like your idea about the letter and have done something similar when I taught 11th grade. I had developed a similar assignment for this year but have been putting off actually giving it to students. Grading this year has been a nightmare! How did your portfolio grading system work? Do you feel like you were able to get a fair assessment of student work?

  2. lynnjake says:

    Hi Angela,
    Let’s see. I did like the portfolio grading method, although I didn’t get to the letters in the end. It gave a good picture of who is doing what and how much they actually finish and seem to get. When I grade one paper at a time I get a sense of the whole class, but not the whole student as much.
    This semester I’m modifying the process. I am still filing all the students’ work in folders but I’m showing them to them every couple of weeks. (So far one time.) They look at how many points were possible, how many they earned and then answer a couple of reflective questions about their effort and participation during this time period. I’m trying to keep them aware of the effect of their behavior and participation on their grades. They seem to think talking all period is fine, and then don’t understand why they have low grades. I want to show them that it’s all connected. I’ll do the letter this time I think.
    When I taught high school I used to have students write evaluations at the end of every semester. They had about 6 or 8 questions that really helped me to understand what worked and what didn’t for them. Seventh graders are not nearly as reflective as the older students, so the evals don’t work quite as well with them, so far at least. Thanks for your interest!

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