Tag Archives: homework

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


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!*


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 31 – Student A’s Response: Final Draft!


You heard it, the culmination of over a month’s worth of work on the Humanities Paper: the hallowed Final Draft.  Let angels sing.

And here is it: You will see all the work shown in previous posts add up in this paper. Now, I want to say that this is a 5th/6th classroom. This student is a sixth grader, aged 11 or 12 for non-Americans.  As she grows and changes, and as she re-reads these books over time, she will gain more insight and understanding because that’s how life works. Do I agree with everything she said? No. Do I need to? No. What I want is for her to present her ideas and justify them, and that she does. Am I completely and totally proud of her and her work? You betcha!

A note. Any corrections students make when they proof their paper before they turn it in do not come off of their grade. You will see that Student A made a few slight changes right before handing it in.

Final 1 tree
Final 2 tree
Final 3 tree

And the final graded rubric is below. Notice that I do not write on a final draft. There is no need. Every document that she turned in is a working document, and should show signs of revision.  All information is conveyed on the rubric below.  Students are invited to take the graded rubrics home for “braggin’ rights,” but the stack of pages making up the final paper, goes into the student’s portfolio.  And on to next months paper…

Rubric tree

Week 31 – Student A’s Response: Third Draft


Third Draft – So this is where we knuckle down on the grammar and mechanics.

When students hand it in, I edit their papers.  Only I am allowed to edit papers because, well, honestly, students really can’t be trusted to do this.  I do not correct their papers.  Let me repeat, “I do not correct their papers.”  And once more, I do not correct their papers.

Correction is their job.  If I make corrections for them, they learn to rely on me and do not learn the grammar rules.  I enable bad behavior.  No, thank you.  Instead, I write codes on their papers which correlate to a grammar rule sheet that all the students have.  So, you will see things like “format” or “comma-intro” written on their papers.  Student go look up the rule, write the rule, and correct their paper.

This is called the PSR or Personal Skill Record.  If you scroll all the way down, you will see the grammar and mechanics rules that Student A broke.  She wrote down the code, the rule, and the number of times she made the mistake.  And finally, she fixes these errors in her final draft.

I do not always choose to catch all of the errors (sometimes I just don’t catch all the errors) because I don’t want to overwhelm a student.  However, I am looking to see that a student has fewer and fewer errors as the year progresses.

Students who have no errors get 10pts. free and have no homework.  It’s worth it.

3rd draft tree 1
3rd draft tree 2
3rd draft tree 3

PSR tree

Week 31 – Student A’s Response: 1st Draft


The First Draft- In this paper, Student A moved her ideas from the outline into paragraphs.  She decided to hand write the paper, which is fine, but as you can see, it’s a good six pages double spaced.  Most, if not all, of the work you have seen so far is done in class.

You will see diacritical marks making changes to the paper.  This is from the Clang Session.  She handed her paper to a reader who read her paper back to her.  As she listened, she made changes to her paper and the reader wrote them down.  Those changes will then show up in the second draft.

1st draft tree
1st draft tree 2
1st draft tree 3
1st draft tree 4
1st draft tree 5
1st draft tree 6

Week 28 – Anchoring Helps Me Float


Jain, our math teacher, just told me that while she was working with our students on peer evaluations for a math project, the students suggested that they evaluate each other in a similar way to how they do in Writing class.  She asked me how I had ingrained in them such a fair way of working with each other.  (Inside I’m jumping up and down with joy!  It’s not often that we get a win like that.  We always wonder whether or not the work we do goes in one ear and out the other.  So it is really awesome to get feedback that tells you that what you are doing works and is transferring to other areas of their lives.  Score!! <– Seriously, notice the two exclamation marks.)

What she is talking about is called “Anchoring”.  I learned it at a conference when I worked for the Gilroy Unified School District.  GUSD called in Education Northwest to show us about the 6+1 Writing Traits.  Now, I know I’ve sung their praises before so I won’t go there again.  However, over the years, I have continued to use their anchoring process with very little changes.

Here’s how it works:

1) I give all students a rubric which states various levels proficiency on a trait.  We read it through, and although they will tell me they understand it, their understanding is tenuous at best.  They need to see it in action.

2) I provide students with a model paper.  These papers are unadulterated (as in, no adult has done anything to the actual work) student created papers.  They are all middle and high school writers.   It means a lot to my students to see work from people their own age.  I’ve been doing this long enough now that I have amassed a fair number of student papers, but I also still use papers provided to me at that conference years ago.  It is important that only the work can be seen.  Students will make inferences based on name, gender, length, even type-face, and date.  I also never improve a paper or mangle one.  Students can always tell when a paper has been mucked about with, and they won’t take it seriously.  I learned the hard way to be honest with my yahoots if I’ve edited a paper.

3) This is the point where I give the lecture on treating each scholar with respect.  And I give it every single time.  Every.  Single.  Time.  A student with a low score is often working just as hard as a student with a high score.  We’re not in the business of assigning personal worth.  We are in the business of evaluating a paper for the quality of the writing so that the writer can make it a better paper.  Even a paper with a high score can be improved.

4) Students read the paper and decide what the quality is.  They are not allowed to confer with neighbors at this point.

5) Once all students have offered a preliminary score, they go to small groups where they must come to consensus on a score.  They argue back and forth about why they are giving it the score and point to where on the paper they see those traits.

6)  Once all groups have come to consensus, the I light up the overhead projector, and we argue our points.  I mark the paper as we discuss.  Again, students argue back and forth defending and proposing until the whole group is pretty well convinced.  I allow myself to be persuaded in one direction or another, and I tell them so.  Sometimes, it makes sense for us to start at the top and work our way down the rubric looking for evidence as we go.

7)  In the end, I am the ultimate arbiter in the fate of the paper, and the students know this, but grades are not tied to the score they receive.  They do not receive an A for a 5, a B for a 4, a C for a 3, a D for a 2, or an F for a 1.  This would be damaging in the extreme.  I know how hard my students work because they write their papers mostly in class.  Often times the student who received a 3 is working harder than the student who received a 5.  I reward students’ willingness to change and improve the paper and give them the feedback they need to do this.

8) (Gosh, this is a lot.)  When we all agree to within a point or half-point, I hand out another paper, and we do it all again.  We anchor paper after paper until I am confident that students are seeing the traits within the paper and are offering feedback which is consistent within the rubric.

9)  Finally- the golden land – handing students each others’ papers for scoring.  They do the same process except they do not confer with others.  They read the paper twice.  They mark it to show evidence.  They write the evidence where they see it on the paper.  They give it a score for the whole, and they conference with the writer upon handing it back.  Students work with me if they are struggling to score the paper.  Also, students come to me to arbitrate if they feel they have been unjustly scored.  (I find it interesting that they are more likely to come to me if they feel the reader has not said enough to them about their paper.)  Then the homework is to move the paper up the rubric.  Students are told not to expect a great leap in scoring.  It is a process that takes time and effort.  Going from a 3 to a 3.5 or a 4 is an appropriate expectation.

Idea and Content took two days.  Organization took almost a week.  Word Choice and Voice will vary by the needs of the class, but I’m fairly certain that they will go quickly because of the prior knowledge that students have amassed. 

For a different subject, it may be worth the time for the teacher to ask his or her students to make the rubric.  (Honestly, I would create the rubric (or a couple of rubrics) and bring it in for students to develop.)  Also, finding models and non-models can be very difficult, in which I might break my rule about creating them for this purpose.  But I would still be honest with students about it, but then I would make copies of student work for the next time I taught this lesson.

Week 10 – Those Training Wheels Gotta Go


What a day.  This week is going to be not a little nuts.  I don’t know what writing will look like, but while I’m waiting for my darling, wonderful husband to finish cooking dinner (yes, he’s the one who cooks in our family), I thought I’d scratch out a few lines about what happened in class today.  If my cat, Pippin, will let me. (He was left at home alone all weekend, and he’s trying to make up for it.)

So our first Humanities papers were due today.  Most of the students had the paper totally done.  A few had some final adjustments to make, and one or two needed to spend some serious time to finish it.  For the first real assignment of the year, that’s not bad.  Of course, I would love to see them all get it in on time, but it is a process, and they will get better as the year progresses.  This year, I decided to give them each an orange folder for keeping the paper in as it progresses, and a blue folder for the tools they need to write the paper.  It absolutely paid off today.  I was very pleased with how quickly they were able to find the pieces of their essay.

This is because the final paper is not really a final paper.  What they turn in to me is the whole writing process.  They give me the original rubric, their brainstorming, their outline, their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd drafts with all the revision and editing marks, their personal skill record (which is a list of the grammar rules they broke), and the final draft.  It usually takes the whole period just for them to find all the pieces, but this time, it went pretty quickly, allowing us to get to the next rubric.

For the new students, the rubric was exactly the same as the last one.  They are doing the exact same process, but with the book they read for October.  They were getting down to work before I had the rubrics passed out.

For the returning students, the rubric is very different, the prompt being a report and a review instead of just a report of their novel.  One of my biggest goals for students is for them to have such a command of the writing process that they can use it to write any paper any teacher throws at them.  To do this, students have to write and write and write.  But they also need to know that all teachers and professors expect students to use the writing process even though they don’t give students any credit for it.  All the credit for the brainstorming, the outlining, the drafting, and the revising goes into a final grade.  So, for my returning students, in order to prepare them for this (and with the dear hope that it will stick), I am taking away the points I usually give for brainstorming and drafting.  They will get credit for the outline and communal work that they do in order to revise, none of which they can do if they haven’t done the parts they aren’t getting points for.

When they saw this on the rubric, their faces fell and they got very, very serious.  I assured them that they aren’t losing out by not getting the points they used to get.  I compared it to training wheels.  By this time, they have had authentic personal experience with how much better their papers are when they do the process than when they don’t.  I’m also giving them more independence in what they can say in response to the prompt.

One student asked, “So before it was like a skeleton, and now we are putting the meat on it?”  Eww, but yes.  We spent a long time talking about why the brainstorm/research part is so very important.  We also re-tooled graphic organizers they used in the past to help them brainstorm in order to make it work for them.

I think they are ready to do this.  I’ll hold the bike steady.