Thursday, July 26, 2012

I have a confession...

I have a horrible confession to make. I'm totally ashamed. As a HS English teacher, this is really bad... really really bad...

Totally horrible... and I'm not using hyperbole...

I can't efficiently and effectively grade my students' writing by myself... those long labor intensive essays and research papers... yup, those, I can't grade them. I'm horrible at it. 1 page quick essay responses, I'm a little better at grading, but I still end up banging my head against the desk due to repetitive mistakes. Weren't they paying attention?! Didn't I go over this?! Ugh, another pronoun mistake?! I've been teaching for 14 years and I can't get students to improve their writing based on my assessment alone no matter how many times I try.

And how about this scenario for major writing assignments: students get assigned an essay to write that connects to the novel studied in class. Students engage in writing workshops, do some peer review, have mini-conferences with the teacher, write a draft, revise the draft, and hand it in. Those 130 ninth grade essays, double spaced, typed in 12 pt font Times New Roman, with 1 inch margins, will not get handed back to the students for months.... *GASP* and one time, not until the end of the year. I try and band-aid the situation telling the students (and myself) the process will be assessed on Marking Period A, while the final product will be part of Marking Period B's grade (ok, in rare cases Marking Period C or D). Who am I fooling?!?!?

Do the math: 130 essays x 10 mins minimum per essay (without student conferences) = 1300 mins, divided by 60 (hold on let me get my calculator...) = 21.6 consecutive hours.

21.6 hours MINIMUM for each set of assignments of consecutive grading without interruption. You got that time? Me neither. And on the rare occasions that I have sequestered myself in a locked room without distractions and interruptions (where's that?), what happens when I give the graded essays/papers back to the students? Absolutely nothing. They flip through, find the grade, grumble or cheer and then throw every rewritten, revised essay into a folder. Seriously?! 21.6 hours MINIMUM of my time wasted for a quick glance?! Rather anti-climatic if you ask me. There should be emanating from the page an enlightening glow illuminating the students' faces with understanding. But, again, who am I kidding?!

So What Happened? Where do I go wrong?

Part of the problem is in the assignment itself. Students will not become better writers if they are only assessed on one major writing task a marking period or semester. Less is more: students need to engage in smaller assignments more frequently.

The other part of the problem is in the assessment from the teacher and the effects (or lack of) of the assessment.

Was I sincere in my comments and critique for their writing? Yes.

Did I supply positive feedback and recommendations for improvement? Yes.

Were my recommendations and critiques valid? Yes.

Did my comments create an epiphany for students? No.

Did my students suddenly "get it" and become amazing writers from my grading? No.

Did they avoid making the same mistakes in their next writing assignment? Not usually.

Did they internalize anything from the comments and the grades for future improvement? Maybe, but probably not.

I have always wrestled with assessing writing in this manner because I never felt it was an effective and efficient method for improving student writing. It is one-sided and time consuming. Even though I am the "expert" and professional in the room, I am still only providing one opinion/viewpoint on the writing. And honestly, if I were such a fantastic writer, wouldn't I be living life as professional author? And if I was such a fantastic editor, wouldn't I be working for a publishing company?

The fault here lies in the system-- an archaic, antiquated system where the teacher is the only voice for evaluation. It is a failing cycle that does not produce results.

Cue, Ben Harper...I Believe in a Better Way!

The peer assessment framework I've devised was born out of necessity for time and sanity. This all started 14 years ago when I was a bleary-eyed student teacher wanting to figure out how to make grading essays less overwhelming, and every year since, and especially during the even more bleary-eyed and chaotic years when my daughters were infants and toddlers and now when they are in elementary school, I have refined the techniques to make it less about saving me time and more about giving the students an authentic evaluation experience.

Every educator vaguely familiar with Bloom's taxonomy will tell you that evaluation is one of the highest levels of thinking skills. Why should the teacher be the only one using this skill? And why should one teacher, no matter how wonderful and fabulous, be the only input for student writing? Quality writing requires quantity of writing. Quality and quantity both require time. In order to get to the quality, the teacher can not be the only one assessing the quantity of it. There's no time for it!

But there is time for Peer-Self Evaluation & Assessment!


The first key to implementing Peer & Self Evaluation is in the design. Students need to be guided in all aspects. One can't expect them to authentically and effectively evaluate each other and themselves... not unless everyone wants an A! Woo-who! #WINNING!

In order to build rapport, trust, and an opportunity for valid comments, I scaffold the process and start with small assignments that introduce the skills needed. I do mini-lessons on grammar, writing structure, etc. Many students are familiar with the 6 + 1 Trait Writing from their middle school years, so that gets mentioned as well. I have students constantly trade papers from quick worksheets to quick writes. They become used to sharing their work. I also preface every peer-self evaluation activity with a quick reminder on the need for valid, honest commentary.

General Game Plan for Peer Evaluation:
  1. Students trade assignments 
  2. Read through multiple times and complete evaluation worksheet 
  3. Complete scoring checklist & OSU rubric 
  4. Return assignment to the writer, and writer reviews worksheet and rubrics 
  5. Writer critiques evaluator completing the evaluation checklist. 
  6. Writer agrees or disagrees with evaluation and signs off on the score. 
  7. In case of disagreement, writer and evaluator conference and discuss specific points of disagreement. When compromise is reached, all is turned in to me. If no compromise can be met (rarely happens), I conference with both and review the total evaluation. 
  8. Teacher reviews the assignment and evaluation and provides a wholistic score on the entire process using an OSU rubric. 

Use of Rubrics:

I use 2 different rubrics for facilitating the peer evaluation. The Yes-Partial-No checklist is point by point assessing whether the student completed specific aspects proficiently. Students receive 2 points for every Yes, 1 point for each Partial, and 0 points for each No. The OSU rubric is for overall effort, presentation, etc.

O= Oustanding, the student exceeded expectations for the assignment 100%/A
S= Satisfactory, the student met expectations and performed proficiently approximately 90% A-/B+
U= Unsatisfactory, the student did not meet expectations approximately 75% C/D

Notice for the OSU rubric there are no in-betweens & no coddling. Student work falls into one of the 3 categories. When students reply, "but shouldn't I get an S+, it was really good!," I rebut with, "Maybe, but it is still just a S. It either is outstanding or it isn't. Figure out what you need to do to make it outstanding next time." I'm trying to combat all of my students asking me, "What do I need to do to get an A?" and settling for "good enough." I refuse to give them the answer for how to get an A. Obviously, do what I told them to do, but I want more. I want them thinking BEYOND the requirements. Stop settling for "good enough" and excel! THINK! Don't just be a robot following commands.

The total points for each rubric vary depending on the assignment. Students receive four different scores: Checklist, OSU, Evaluator, and Overall score (from me using a seprate OSU rubric). Students must sign off on all scores received and engage in conferences when scores are in dispute. I step in to moderate as needed, but so far I rarely need to do so. So not only are students getting assessed on their writing skills, but their evaluation skills are also taken into account, and they are receiving feedback on mutliple levels in a timely fashion.

Sample Evaluation Worksheets & Rubrics:

I also adapt these worksheets for self-evaluation and students critique themselves.

Keeping it Fresh

I constantly keep students on their toes switching up a piece of the pattern for each different assignment:

  • Editors/Evaluators are student or teacher or randomly selected, sometimes with names, sometimes without. 
  • Round-robin group evaluations where students obtain 3 total critiques on the same assignment from different people. 
  • The class creates the rubric & checklist together. 

The Secret of this Success

If this were an action research project, I would provide stats and evidence on writing before and after implementing the peer evaluation framework, but I can tell you this works. The proof is in the attitude of the students and in seeing the process take place. The students are engaged, on task, take responsibility/ownership of their work, and have learned how to defend and communicate their ideas to others. The proof is also in the efficiency of the system: we spend a total of 86 mins (2 class periods, each 43 mins) on the evaluation process. Students receive immediate feedback instead of waiting for me to return papers sporadically.

I've crafted this framework and refined it every year. So this works because I keep working at making it better. This framework can also be adapted for every subject. Have students critique each other on lab reports in Science, completing equations in Math, performing a piece in music... it works for every subject! If you would like additional samples or more clarification, let me know!

My next task is to figure out how to evolve this into a paperless and tech-y format. Blogs? Google docs? Google form? Edmodo?

Any ideas are welcome! (Chime in #Cheesebuckets!)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Know Where I Am Going!

QR Codes Part II

I also posted on Edmodo seeking information and uses of QR codes.  Thanks for the responses!

From Mrs. Suchsland,  I use them for my class bell ringer. The QR code is on the board. The kids pull out their phones and after capturing the code, the directions, questions, practice as the bell ringer for the day are embedded within the code. The kids like it for something a little different than the reg paper and pencil starters. I also use it at meet the parent night. All my contact info is in a code.

From Ms. Chomat - I created one and am adding it to my syllabus this year and printing the code on my bulletin board for parent night :)

I usually start class with a Do Now (aka Bell Ringer) that I project on my front board. I have them all saved on one PPT file and the slides are in sequence with the curriculum taught each marking period. I can easily modify and adjust the slides. I like the idea of using QR codes as part of my Do Now's-- I know few other teachers use them at my school, so this will certainly catch their attention.

I'd also like to explore using QR codes for Back to School Night. I only get 11 mins with each class of parents so I do a very fast paced presentation showcasing the class procedures and my teaching style, supplementing most of the class information on a handout. The QR code could be in addition to the handout.

From Missi Voss - You can use QRs for an interactive bulletin board as well. Images top...significant parts of lit bottom...match & use the QRs as a check. Can be a way to review.

I had this funny moment picturing my class plastered in QR codes, all black and white, with varying sizes covering the walls, but in all seriousness, I do like the suggestion for making the bulletin boards and class decorations more interactive.

Here's a recap of links provided by.... 

One can also join the QR Code group on Edmodo for more ideas.

So, answering Mr. Bennett's question from yesterday-- and you are right, sir! Figure out the purpose/goal for the QR codes first and the rest will follow--- I want the QR codes to extend/enhance the classroom environment and provide a quick means for obtaining supplemental information.

Thank you all again for providing me with direction! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where have I been? Where will I go?

 Reflection & QR Codes

Usually I'm the trailblazer at my high school: there are a number of programs that I've help to start-- the Varsity Swim Team, the PAWS program, letter writing campaign to Southern alumni serving in the military, crafting the 9th grade curriculum, going paperless, and now BYOD. I have to give a shout out to all those who have assisted me in navigating uncharted courses (You KNOW who you are!)  and the administration for supporting my wacky ideas.  Always be mindful when I preface any conversation with, "I have an idea..."

Reading Cheryl Morris' latest blog post, I couldn't help but reflect. She is so right about the messiness of teaching and this notion in education:

There is a concept very close to my heart that drives at this same idea.  It derives from the Bantu word, "ubuntu."  It is the South African driving principle that affirms that, "I am who I am because we are." People are people THROUGH other people.  There is no such thing as being alone.  We are all interconnected, and as such, we must act accordingly.  We may not see the ties that bind us together, but that doesn't mean that they are not there.

All that I have done at Southern was not created/implemented in isolation. Ideas were sparked from wanting to fill a need and interacting with others. Likewise those ideas came to fruition with the help of others (see list above).

But, after getting back into Twitter and discovering the network of teachers, I really feel like I am  behind. I might not be as progressive and innovative as I originally thought.  Time for some growing pains and seeking more help in navigating uncharted waters.

BYOD is first on the list.

Here's what I've got so far for tools for implementing BYOD in the classroom:  Socrative, Todaysmeet, Springpad, Evernote, and Edmodo.

Here's what I need: help with QR codes in the high school English classroom.

A Google & Twitter search has lead me to the following links:
There's plenty more out there... according to Google, 563,000 results. 

SO, here's time for some audience participation:  post a reply here, find me on Twitter (@KtBkr4), or on Edmodo (Mrs. Kate Baker) and please share ideas you have for implementing QR codes in the HS English classroom.  In an answer to Mr. Bennett's comment below, I have a general idea of what I want to use the codes for:  primarily to supplement my lessons as access to  additional resources for students, as part of group work... and I'm not really sure what else. My ideas are too nebulous yet.

Teaching is a collaborative process, and, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the entire academic community to raise a teacher.

THANK YOU in advance!!!!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pursuing Happiness

Evil Academic Weaver of Webs

Like an academic version of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, all literature and concepts studied my class connect and then refer back to one another: where we start, we end.  I tell my students that what we learn in my class is like getting caught in a spiderweb: Everything connects together, and like when one walks into a web unknowingly, the web will get stuck to one's face and is annoying to remove. As they can attest (and sometimes protest), Pygmalion, Steinbeck,  The Odyssey, "Priscilla & the Wimps," & Romeo & Juliet, "Cask of Amontillado" et al will forever be stuck in their heads.

My students also picked up on my habit of mimicking Dr. Evil's riiiiiiight, Mr. Burns' "excellent Smithers," in class discussions, but they really fear my evil laugh because they never know what I will come up with next.

But I digress, the point of today's post is to show connections and the pursuits of happiness... Muhahahaha....

Common Threads, Common Core

Literature is a time machine and time so tying History and English classes is appropriate given that many English teachers provide historical context for novels taught in class -- and, of course, there is the Common Core (that is for another post). As part of  the Steinbeck Unit, my fellow 9th grade teachers and I at SRHS tackled the theme of the American Dream analyzing the inability to achieve the dream, the reality of the dream, and how one pursues it while reading Of Mice and Men and The Pearl.  Obvious connections to history include the explanation of the Great Depression and the cultural climate of the 1920's & 30's. Every teacher who has taught Steinbeck has lessons on this. I won't bore you with mine here, but if you are interested in sharing resources, let me know! 

One part of the unit I want to highlight is in defining the American Dream. Identifying the Declaration of Independence as one of the first (if not the first) manifestations  of the American Dream defined as having the "unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," students connected Steinbeck, history, and their own pursuits of happiness. Through textual analysis and some later help from Chris Gardner's film, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, my students finally realized something that they take for granted: people are not entitled to be happy (ie. the American Dream); people are only entitled to PURSUE it-- everyone is allowed to chase the dream and be happy, but few are able to achieve it. Life and liberty are not a guarantee that one will be happy.   For 9th grade students who are embarking on the transition from childhood to young adulthood, this lesson is extremely relevant and necessary to learn.  

What is at the core of all of this is the notion that in order to achieve anything--- and happiness is an appropriate word to generalize our goals & lump all goals together, because our goals are a manifestation of wanting to be happy in the most simplest terms--- we must be active and move towards it.  As Will Smith's character muses in the clip, Jefferson's word choice is specific:  Why did T.J. use the word pursuit in the declaration?  

I could make this post really long with a lesson on close textual analysis on the Declaration, but I won't today-- if you are interested, I'll send you some materials...keep in mind this is an English teacher's version of interpreting the Declaration. I may be missing some of the finer historical points, but academics aside, I will say that my bicentennial birthday on the 4th of July provides me with a strong personal connection to this text. And I'm a sap for the Star Bangled Banner, too.  A quick point about word choice though: the word "declaration" is a strong word--  that in naming, identifying, knowing what one wants and shouting it aloud, there is finality and commencement inherent in the word: "I know what I want" and/or  "I know that I have achieved it." Is the declaration a beginning or an ending? In teaching critical thinking and analysis skills, students need to learn how to declare and speak with conviction, using strong words. Take a look at this clip from Taylor Mali:

Pursuit & Achievement of Happiness

Many of my friends are noting that I've been spending time poking around on the internet & tweeting & sharing educational stuff. Given that it is summer and technically my time off from teaching, they are perplexed. But, I'll be honest; I really like researching, reading, and writing about education. Poking, tweeting, and sharing relaxes me and makes me happy.  (I can hear your thoughts: "Awwww, how sweet and totally dorky that is! Gag me with a spoon and get me to the beach! Whateverrrrrrr." ) Hey! just because it is summer, doesn't mean my brain shuts down.  

What I have to declare 

I am not declaring my independence; on the contrary, I'm declaring the connections I've made and showing my convictions. My active  pursuit of happiness this summer has lead me to get tangled in an awesome web of learning about technology and flipping instruction, following threads of ideas from...

Cheryl @guster4lovers, 

Andrew @thomasson_engl

Crystal @crystalkirch, 

Karl @kls4711, 

and others on Twitter.  Follow them & check out their blogs too. Links are to the right! 
Who knows what wicked things we'll weave for students!

So, go, be active, pursue what makes you happy and you may just make some new connections and achieve your goals.

BTW, I did it again: made some wacky connections a  la 6 Degrees: Dr. Evil, Steinbeck, Jefferson, Will Smith, Taylor Mali, Twitter...

And can you guess my favorite & overly used literary devices?  Provide 3 examples from this post and you'll earn a gold start! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

After a Day at the Beach

My daughter
to the surf.

While on the beach watching my 4 & almost 6 year old daughters play in the surf and not just get knocked over for once, I was knocked over by a wave of realization: I take the beach/ocean/bay/marsh for granted. I've lived near the ocean my entire life. It has always been there and will continue to always be there. Whenever I needed a day at the beach any time of the year, I could be digging my toes in the sand in under 5 minutes. The crash of the surf, the smell of the salt, and the burn of the sun are a part of my personal life and will be part of my daughters' lives, but little have I incorporated our local ecosystem into my literature lessons.

Here's some  ideas...

1. Sample sentences for grammar exercises include local information and landmarks.

2. When reading Abarat by Clive Barker and The Odyssey by Homer incorporate lessons about sailing, navigation, and other maritime info.
    a. Write creative stories based on constellations
    b. Read and analyze informational articles about the type of ship Odyssey sailed; create models of the ship
    c. Create transformational metaphors for real life hazards (Scylla & Charybdis-esque monsters for Barnegat Inlet)

My husband and our dog, Brody, surf fishing last fall.
3. Creative writing picture prompts based on pictures taken locally.

4. Research assignments are based on topics that deal with local issues. For environmental issues, cross-curricular assignments can be created for English and Science classes.

5.  At home, students watch informational/news videos about the local region, such as Life on the Barnegat Bay or NBC's report on algae in the bay and practice note taking skills at home. 

6. Students view local videos (example the winter fowl found near Barnegat Inlet) and write stories/scripts based on the images.

If you have any other suggestions (not just locally based for my area), please share! I'd like to generate some ideas that incorporate the use of technology and flipped techniques.