Friday, September 21, 2012

Start the Year with Contracts, 9/11 & BWP

Breaking Down the First Week:
1. BWP
2. Class Contract for Mid-level classes
3. Class Procedures for all
4. Using Edmodo for posting activities and assignments and having online discussions
5. Using Quizlet as a study resource
6. Student reflection responses

Blank White Page Project was a big hit for starting off the year. Students were intrigued about the idea of questioning and researching for the sake of questioning and researching. I'm still in the process of categorizing my students' questions, but I'm hopeful that in October, I can get them started on the researching process. This was certainly a quick way for me to get to know my students. They revealed much about themselves in the questions they asked. I am looking forward to getting them connected to students across the country. This will be a valuable lesson in learning to be part of a greater community.

On to the Contracts: My "general" or "average" level classes are usually where I have the most behavior problems. Could it be a vicious cycle: student is placed in general/average level and will therefore act in a general/average way because he/she was not identified as advanced despite possessing unrecognized "advanced" potential? In the MS, students are labeled as advanced or general, but when they move up to 9th grade, there are 4 tracks to take: Basic, General, Advanced, Honors.   Placement is based on test scores and marking period grades, but it isn't a perfect system. I've also noticed a pattern: the students who are more well-behaved (good at playing the game of school) are placed in Advanced. There are some smart students in those General classes, but the lack of maturity in 9th grade impedes learning.  My opinion: too many tracks for 9th graders and if the student is not placed in his/her desired track, the student shuts down. To combat this vicious cycle, this year the classes and I negotiated an academic contract and am implementing a hybrid-mastery model.

In order for this to work, I and the students both need to follow through. I need to stay organized and up to date on assignments, and the students need to honor holding themselves to a higher standard. Edmodo's quiz feature will help with managing tests. I have two options to explore:

  1. Create a small group with in my class for retakes, loading the retake tests to just the small group and selecting the students as needed. I'm toying with the idea of delineating each retake group: instead of one large retake group, create a group for each unit. I'm just afraid that I will have too many small groups within the main class group. And if I deselect students from the small group, I think their scores get erased as well, so I want to make sure I think this through.
  2. My other option is to create an additional class for students to join to take the retakes. I would be able to set permissions to read-only if needed, but their scores would be in a separate gradebook. I want all scores in one place....maybe this won't work.

A third option is to forgo technology for the retakes and do paper-pen tests. I have a cache of them at my fingertips. I'm still in the process of moving to paperless environment, so this would alleviate the issue of having to get multiple versions on the web. Ugh, I dunno....trials and errors!

The writing revisions will be the most time consuming on my part. I need to mull this over more. I intend on doing more frequent small formative writing that is not graded, but I need to make sure the students are getting valid feedback. Peer assessment will help, but it won't be able to do all. I could do screencast videos and discuss common errors, but I don't know if students will be able to apply the general comments to their specific writing.  Must mull this....The goal is to be efficient and effective!

Speaking of small groups, the 9-11 mini-discussion in assigned Edmodo small groups went well. Students examined two infographs, read articles from a New York Times site, found something interesting and wrote a post in their small group about what they found interesting and why. Part two of the activity involved students watching an amazing video from Mrs. Syollis' class on how to write a quality comment and then applied the newly acquired knowledge to replying to other group members' posts.

Finally for week one, students reflected on this week using a google form. Many enjoyed the 9-11 activity-- weird to think that they enjoyed learning about something that was so gut-wrenching. I have to keep reminding myself that they do not have an active memory of this event. I clearly remember everything about that day, my students were too young to understand. I received positive responses on the contract process, the introduction to Edmodo and Quizlet, and overall favorable outlook for the year.

Week 1 is DONE!

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