Monthly Archives: May 2013

Week 35 – Our Path Leads to Tiblet

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Yes. I meant to write “Tiblet”. Actually, I didn’t mean to originally, but it’s the way it came out as I was trying to research some questions that my students were asking about this amazing book. The real title is My Path Leads to Tibet by Sabriye Tenberken.

Every day during our writing class, students read a chapter of her book and then write a Reading Journal about it. I think I’ve talked about this before. We moved swiftly through the book reading a chapter or two every day.

6th grade students wrote a five-sentence summary of the chapter, they gave evidence of the writing trait we are working on, and then they wrote a ten sentence reflection. They practiced using academic English, and the things they are learning in Grammar class. The 5th grade did variations on this theme. These students needed a little more help with vocabulary which slowed them down a little.

I’ve been blown away with the students’ response to this book. After reading The Alchemist with them, I’m no longer surprised at the depth of their thinking, but this book is tapping into their innate sense of justice. They want to stop and talk about what Sabriye is going through as they feel it. It’s sometimes difficult to keep them on task because they get so angry at what she’s put through. It’s the right moment to say to a student, “Good, I’m glad that you are reacting, but what you are saying belongs in your reflections. Make a note about it, or hold on to it until you are ready to write.” Of course this is not satisfactory, but generally, I find that students do write those reactions in their journals.

Today, students wanted to know if there is another book by her. They wanted to know what her organization was called, and they wanted to keep reading. What I love is hearing their voices in their reflections. I learn so much more about them by what they write.

As we just finished the book, students are pooling their reflections to write letters to Sabriye and her school in Tibet. I compiled all the reading journals for each student and handed them back to them in packets. The students want to make little origami gifts to put in the box along with the letters. If they give me permission, and thankfully, they generally do, I’ll post some of them before we send them.

Again, I’m just so proud of them.

Comments for “Week 35 – Extra Credit? My Eye”

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So I asked some of my friends on “Friendface” who either work(ed) at a middle school or are (were) middle school teachers what they thought about the middle school homework problem as discussed in “Week 35 – Extra Credit“.  Below are their responses.  I just wish I could get this going here on Merifully Teaching.  I still welcome more comments.

Linda‘s lonq response get’s another long response!!

from my parenting experience, “doing the work” and “turning it in” ARE two entirely different things. not only had i heard my then middle-schooler repeatedly say, “but i DID the work, i just didn’t turn it in,” i have heard other parents of middle schoolers say the exact same thing.

i don’t know how many times i used the response question, “so how does your teacher KNOW that you did the work?”

the middle school years are laying the foundation for kids to get along with different rules by different people. the sooner they catch on, the better. these years are the turning point of taking responsibility for one’s own choices, some kids “get it” at this point and some don’t — unfortunately mine didn’t. i think 6th grade is a particular issue in which kids were used to their K-5 teachers checking off their homework, essentially reminding them when it’s time to turn in homework and prodding them if they didn’t. in 6th grade, all of a sudden they are expected to do something different to turn it in (basket at the front when they walk in the door, pass it up to the front, etc), usually without prompting. no matter how many times the teacher states what the “new rules” are, there will be a percentage that still don’t understand, well into the year. not to mention that EVERY teacher has different rules and that changes every year, sometimes each semester.

i must’ve often sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher during the middle school years. find a way to non-verbally remind your child daily: a note written in sharpie in the lid of the lunchbox or a special picture or saying to trigger their memory. nagging doesn’t work… and if the notes don’t work… email the teacher that your child may need to be reminded from time to time, BUT do not make excuses for your child.

the best (and hardest) thing a parent may have to do is LET YOUR CHILD FAIL. the earlier they fail, the easier it will be to recover academically. yes, it goes against everything a good parent knows, but it may be the only way that your child will finally “get it” — the choices THEY make, affect THEIR future. if you fight for them, how will they learn to fight for themselves? for my girl, turning in homework had been a standing issue every year from 6th-11th grades. it did take some very drastic circumstances for her to catch on, some kids need to find their own internal drive. now that she’s at the end of her Senior year, i’m proud to say she finally “got it”!

* and i get no extra credit. i have no idea where the term “my eye” came from!

Micki – The privilege of “Friday Free Time” works for me. If the work is in they get the whole 20 minutes and if not they spend the time finding it, finishing it and turning it in. Free time is games or curriculum based activities. They don’t get to just sit and chit chat.

Elizabeth– This time of year the kids are checked out so don’t assign any homework and expect it to come in. If the students are not doing work that is essential to their learning in class then hold them in at lunch or recess to finish it and offer them some guidance. This usually works well.

Ilona– I have to agree with Elizabeth. Our kids are so far gone it’s not even worth assigning homework, unless the threat of a failing grade actually means something to them. As you know, we grade right up until the bitter end! I will be spending tomorrow entering grades! And I sent an essay home today due Friday! 8th grade? Don’t even bother!!

Mikki– We still have until June 14th! Still have lots of days to fill!!! Bored 8th Graders can get overwhelming very quickly-especially 37 of them who are all taller than you!

Thank you, friends, for your comments!  I have learned so much from each of you.

But, I think I win.  We go to the 21st.  I know I can do it.  I’m the little teacher who can.  Chugga-chugga, baby.

Week 35 – Extra Credit? My Eye!*

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Read this first: Logic fails her | oldfangled.

So, below is my massively long response to this question which I believe is at the heart of teaching at the middle school level. Again, I need to apologize to oldfangled for my long response.

Her frustration is with a student who wants extra credit work to make a grade better when she wasn’t doing the work assigned. Serious grrr.

Oi. How frustrating. This behavior makes me wonder what is really going on. I have found a few things that help me find patience in this situation.

1) I believe that for middle school age students doing the work and turning it in are two separate and distinct skill sets. I only know this from personal experience, but since I have started treating doing the work and turning it in as two separate grades, I have seen a significant upswing in students’ ability to manage. So, a student gets a grade for turning it in on time, and they get a grade for the work done. This allows students (particularly the ones who are teetering on the brink) to not be turned off from school completely.

2) I have also instituted separate organization for different types of work. Explicit instruction is not something many students get at home when it comes to organization. Seriously, I have had a drop in lost papers of about 90%. The work being done goes in the orange folder, when the work is done, it goes in the blue folder.

3) Then I started pulling kids out of their lunch, PE, or whatever breaks and recesses they have in order to sit them down to do the work. I checked to see if they came early or stayed late. (Even pulling some kids out of detention, and trust me, they would have rather been in yard crew.) At first this is onerous and a real pain in the butt, but students soon learn that after the first infraction, they will do it under my eye. What I learned is that most students have a real reason for not doing the work. 1) They didn’t understand the instructions (even though I explained it 1 million times.) 2) They have no time after school or home is unsafe or too chaotic to do the work. 3) They don’t have the materials at home and are too embarrassed to ask for help. These are just the most common.

4) I also give as little homework as possible because of the above. Students do not *need* homework. Homework happens because we didn’t finish it in class and/or they need it for the next day’s lesson.

5) Then on the rare occasion when a student really does mess up, I still know what they are mastering from the curriculum. I currently have a student who went and asked the school secretary to edit a paper for him because he knew that I would not let him off the hook. He may be turning it in late, but he will turn it in or spend every lunch with me until the end of the year.

6) And no. I don’t give extra-credit either. Only if a student has proven that they have mastered the content, and that takes up all their time.

Wow. I’m sorry this got so long. But it’s bothered me since I started teaching middle school, and so I’ve spent every year of the past 13 or so experimenting with ways to make sure work gets done *and* turned in. I’m not at 100%, but it’s better.

I think I’m just going to copy and paste this on my blog.

Maybe like the fact that teens need sleep in the morning, I think we will find more answers in brain research than anywhere else. That and the fact that the ages between 11 and 14 do not make up a whole lot of any research on cognitive ability. They either get thrown in with elementary or with high school. Do we really know their age appropriate norms? Are our policies taking them into account? And as any middle school denizen can tell you, this age is a different beast entirely both cognitively and emotionally. Unfortunately, it is also the age when many people decide whether or not they will (or can) succeed academically.

I’ve promised myself yearly that if I am ever in a place where I can research my hypotheses, I will. What I do know is that hard and fast rules that may work for high school or college students seem to do more damage than good when you are dealing with students who are still very young in many ways and may not have the executive functioning of the upper grades.

Are you a middle school teacher? What has worked for you? What hasn’t? I’d really like to learn from you. Yes, you.

* Will someone please tell me where this expression comes from?

Week 34 – Against All Odds: A 5th Grade Essay

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Here is the final paper that I will post from this essay prompt.

This is a 5th grade paper. In it this young writer reviews the novel Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. His thesis is basic which is to tell his reader about the book and his opinion of it. As of yet, he comes to no profound understandings, but he gets it right and pulls out the important concepts in an order that is clear and helpful to his reader.

Against All Odds 1
Against All Odds 2
Against All Odds 3

I show you this paper because it is an example of a student turning a corner. He isn’t burning through the boring yet, but he is starting to make it his own. For example, his organizational structure improves with every paper. The ideas he pulls out are strong, interesting ones, and he is taking some risks with word choice which are brave.

I have to admit that this is a novel I have never enjoyed. However, after reading his paper, I revisited the story and through his eyes, I found a new appreciation for it. He changed my mind, and that is the mark of powerful writing.

Week 34 – The Underground Hero: A 6th Grade Essay

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Another review essay, this one is on the novel Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is a great favorite in my classroom. I’m thrilled about this because even his youth fiction is complicated and requires real concentration from his readers.

This writer immediately picks up on the perverse nature of what it means to be a “hero”. Believable heroes are never fully convinced that he (or she) really is one. This writer highlights the premise that a real hero is often the product of a moment.

The Underground Hero 1
The Underground Hero 2a
The Underground Hero 3
The Underground Hero 4
I have to say that I really love this paper. The writer understands what is important in the novel and presents it clearly and with such strong word choice. Also, I’m pleased with how he is moving his organizational structure to accommodate his readers. Finally, it is unusual for me to agree so completely with one of my writers, but as I read his paper, I found myself saying, “Yup, yup, yup,” and nodding along as I read. I watched him struggle with this paper, but the end product is so definitely worth it.

Week 34 – A Desert Trip: A 6th Grade Essay

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An essay on Holes by one of our 6th graders. She asserts to us here that she has grown out of this level of reading, and at the same time, she is able to see the merits of the novel.

A Desert Trip
A Desert Trip 2
A Desert Trip 3

This writer started off writing essays in a verbose manner. As you can see, she is now working on being succinct. The pendulum swings for writers, and you can see how she is begins to understand how answering readers questions helps her to decide how fulsome to be as a writer.

However, no matter how concise, her voice comes through loud and clear. This writer has a chatty tone which I love. You get the feeling that you are discussing the book over coffee and cake.

Week 34 – The Sly Creation: A 6th Grade Essay

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Here is the offering of a student who read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  This student gets right to the point of the book, i.e., what does it mean to be human?  It’s a grand philosophical question, and one that, clearly, our students can grapple with in middle school.

The Sly Creation 1
The Sly Creation 2
The Sly Creation 3
The Sly Creation 4

To some extent he runs out of steam when he gets to his conclusion paragraph, but this only slightly diminishes the power of his thesis.

I feel that this student really turned a corner with this paper. It seems to me that he has “burned through the boring” of essay writing and is making the writing his own. He has become a writer of non-fiction in his own right.