We have 3 weeks to go.

Last week was less than ideal. When faced with doing any work that extended over several days, my students did what they typically do: goof off and chat in class, assure me they’ll be fine, decide to do the assignments at home, and then don’t do them. I knew they were going to do this and I gave them warnings and suggestions to stay on target. At this point, roughly 1/3 of my students have read the 5 textbook pages I assigned, defined the 6 vocabulary words they’d need and written their 100+ word paragraphs. This is how it’s always been.

We are required by law (the Williams Act in California) to allow students to check out textbooks and take them home if they want to. And I’m all for the law, which does many good things for our schools. But it also gives kids the idea that they can just do the work at home, that they don’t need schools, collaborative work, teachers, etc. And our school system reinforces that.

Kids asked me what grades they’d gotten on their paragraphs. When I passed back the student maps, students asked me what grades they’d gotten on their maps. I told them, there was no grade, that they had feedback in Seesaw or Kaizena and should address it there. I posted my spreadsheets showing where they were regarding proficiency in each assignment. I posted some basic gradelines that they could use to build an argument for their cumulative grades.

And then I got sick.

I didn’t go to school last Friday. I wasn’t worried about a sub plan since I had created the unit guide, so I posted what the kids should do to my sub and just dealt with being sick. But I wasn’t there to give them the information they needed to work on their slide shows this weekend. I don’t like giving them all the details in advance because then they spend all their time focused on who their partners are going to be next week and less on what they’re doing right now. Anyway, they don’t have the info. Which means they’re legitimately behind, and it’s my fault. Argh.

I’m not sure what I should do. Let the project go? I’m disinclined to reward their goofing off that way. Keep my initial deadline? I would feel kind of ogreish about that since it was my mess-up that didn’t get them their assignment last Friday. Give them more days in class? That would cut into the Japan unit, which I only have 7 days for anyway.

So, stuff to ponder.

As for the China unit: I didn’t lecture once. They did learn a lot (at least, so far). Their maps were pretty good, and they were teaching each other how to make accurate scales. I definitely saw a rise in student participation and interest. But at the end, when I gave back their maps with no marks, they didn’t know what to do. I told them to save the maps because we’d need them in the Japan unit. I wonder how many of them will?

They had another eight days to read 21 textbook pages, write and revise a paragraph comparing and contrasting aristocratic form of government with a meritocratic one, and create a slide show about Chinese agriculture, technology, and urbanization. It sounded like enough time to me if they actually worked in class. I knew they wouldn’t work at a steady rate and I was going to use whatever happened as a teaching moment. “What grade do you think you deserve?” “A C.” “Why?” “Because I spent all my time talking instead of working.”

I’d like to teach them how to work while they talk. That’s a very difficult skill. I can’t assess, for example, if someone else is in the room because talking distracts me from assessing student work. I could talk while I worked if I was doing any number of the manual labor jobs I had until I was 30. Those jobs were boring and repetitive and gave time for talking. But work that really engages the brain and requires focus? Talking doesn’t work too well with that. If they’re going to socialize while they’re supposed to be working, they need to develop some sort of skill that will let them focus while they talk, and frankly I have no clue how to teach that.

But that’s a tangent.

My fourth period students were clicking “resolved” on my paragraph comments without correcting their work to reflect the comments I’d left. I think they guessed that if they did that, I wouldn’t re-read the paragraphs and find out what they’d done. Then I decided I wanted to try Kaizena. OMG that was difficult. Kaizena doesn’t have any tutorials for students, and it’s not exactly intuitive to the kids how to get to their feedback. The people who said it was a learning curve aren’t wrong. I had to log in as a student during my prep and do a lot of screen captures to create a tutorial. I suggested to Kaizena that they create one and they said they were on it. I hope it’s out by August. Kaizena could be fabulous, but FreshGrade also does canned feedback and if I can use FreshGrade instead of both Seesaw and Kaizena, I might switch to that for next year.

I was unable to do any work giving feedback on their writing last week during school because I was doing a lot of work helping kids in my class, which, again, leaves the feedback for me to do after school. It piles up. And I am frickin’ tired and frankly don’t want to look at another paragraph even if it was about me winning a million bucks.

So I guess to sum up this long and rambly blog entry – the only assignment, so far, that has worked out better than my previous assignments has been the map of China. I was able to give feedback in real time, and more students did the map. I was tired by the end of the day, but I didn’t have to take work home with me.

One thing I do need to do: give the kids time to write a reflection on what they’ve done so far and what they think about the process. I need to build in time for journaling. How will they reflect on their work if they have no time to reflect, or don’t know how?

So things aren’t going too well right now. I’m making a lot of mistakes and there’s been some failure. However, I knew this was going to happen, which is why I gave myself the end of this year and all next year to at least try before I give up. And that’s why I’m keeping this blog–to reflect on my own practice, and to give any other teachers an idea of what it’s like to hit the ground running on this, so they can avoid my mistakes.


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