Engaging the tough to engage 8th graders in an advisory activity has been a struggle. First of all I have 9 eighth graders out of 21 students. A few of 8th graders have started the year with really poor attitudes and refuse to participate in any activity. UGH! The attitude is catching on with the other 8th graders, I think it is the middle school version of senioritis. This morning, however, I was able to come up with and activity that engaged all of the students. I try and have a STEM day each week where they can play with the Ollie and sphero, etc. Today I brought out glasses that I had bought at Goodwill and challenged them to make them “sing”. Some of the students were able to do it right away, the ones who couldn’t worked at it the whole 25 minutes. I was happy to see the engagement and perseverance from all of them. I think it will add to our follow up discussion on relevance next week.
This activity was inspired by my crazy family (who can never be trusted to behave in public with glassware) and the movie Miss Congeniality.
Here is our first day’s attempt!
Teaching relevance. Relevance is defined as knowing why something matters or how it is important. Our Top 20 lesson today was on relevance- the top 20 see the star quality development in the things we have to do, even the boring classes. The bottom 80 don’t. I had my students read pages 87 and 88 in out Top 20 book in groups of 3 this morning. We discussed the important take-a-ways. All of them understood the relevance of their classes at school- and they all agreed that top 20’s are able to find the star qualities in their classes- even the ones they don’t care for or struggle in. Yet, every one of them hangs out in the bottom 80 when it comes to actually participating in those classes.
Why is this? I have my own ideas, and no, I’m not going to blame social media, or video games or parents. I think for too long we have had expectations of our students that “average” is the same as a grade of “A.” You, know, that small town in Minnesota where everyone is above average? The math teacher in me points out that for there to be an “average” there needs to be people above and below the average. I remember a college professor grading our class on a curve- 10 % got an A and 10% got an F. He also made the comment that all the people who got C’s would have gotten an A in his class held on campus (This particular class was an evening course off campus with mostly second-career type students). I was flabbergasted! You could do the same quality work and have a much lower grade based on the make up of the class. I think often times our grading has been the other extreme. We give students an A for the average work- or we allow extra credit to bump up a grade to keep the parents happy. Grades are the little treats handed out for compliance, not as a measure of learning. I really struggle with the students who have straight A’s in my classes then score partially meets or does not meet on our MCA’s. I know, it’s one test, one day, doesn’t measure everything that is taught, etc, etc. But an A student should be able to pass a grade level test!
This idea has been haunting me for years. A few years back I heard Rick Wormeli talk about Standards based grading. I started it in my classroom 6 years ago. The biggest push-back I get is from the parents of students who have been A students who suddenly are getting C’s and D’s because homework doesn’t help their grade. These students can re-take assessments to bring their grades up, but often don’t take the time because the grade- or the relevance of learning- isn’t all that important to them. On the other hand, there are students who really are using top 20 star qualities and look at their mistakes as learning opportunities and who do re-take assessments and improve their learning. I think the whole topic of how we grade and what each grade means needs to be discussed on every level- grade level, school level and district level.
We’ll continue with the relevance lesson next week, I’ll be interested to know if any of my advisees have found some star qualities to develop in their least favorite classes.
January brings with it all things fresh and new- a new coating of snow, a new hobby, a new outlook and a new motivation. Along with that is this new challenge to write a blog a day for 30 days. I’m pretty sure this will be one of my bigger challenges. I have as my Professional Growth goal this year that I will write at least 2 blog posts a month to reflect on my teaching. Somehow, that didn’t motivate me much- well, that and life that got in the way.
One “big idea” observation that I can make about this school year: You can’t necessarily use what worked last year with a new group of students. Last year was our 2nd full year with Personalized Learning. We had students who were able to schedule their day in a way that they could plan for their own learning. Also, we started using the online version of Open Up Resources Illustrative Math. Wow! What a curriculum! As I was working with the new curriculum I was also trying to stay ahead of my students who work faster than the regular group. We had amazing success with the progress of most of our students. There were only about 10% who were struggling with choosing schedules that were good for them prompting us to schedule their day. Also, I was able to go pretty close to paperless (other than for my planning purposes and assessments) with the online curriculum.
Enter school year 208-2019. We are halfway into the year and we still have a large number of our students who are struggling with scheduling their day to work for them. They are not understanding that a “flex” period is one where you work on whatever you need to work on- so if you don’t have an assignment for math finished, you schedule your flex for an hour before your math seminar and finish the assignment. About ⅓ of the students are managing their schedule well- and I’m glad we have the ability to let them go forward. However- the schedule struggle is limiting our ability to offer the extra workshops to target specific skills like we did last year. I’m holding out hope that this too will be developed in 2019! But again, I need to always remind myself- different students, different needs. I’m the one who needs to make the adjustments from what worked last year to help this year’s team be successful.