Tuesday, November 01, 2005

More about the seventh graders...

I appreciate the comments and suggestions in response to last night's post; they are helpful. Seventh grade has a reputation for being the armpit of middle school, when the kids are dysfunctional middle children who have just discovered the fun of being bad. I've taught 7th before - didn't love it, but I survived. The thing is, our current seventh grade class started acting like 7th graders back when they were still in sixth grade! I expected the behavior problems, as I knew these kids at least a little last year as their PE or Health teacher. What I didn't notice last year was how completely disengaged a lot of them are from school.

I started to take action on this today. I don't know whether it will help in the long run or not, and I did it more out of frustration than out of any kind of teacher instinct, but it was more successful than I expected.

I gave them back their stories and comic strips, along with copies of the rubric (which had been handed out at the start of the assignment). I told them in Soft Serious Voice that I was disappointed because I had worked hard to give them the support and feedback they needed to do well, and it seemed like they hadn't really used the supports provided. We went through the rubrics line by line, and I described how I would use the rubric to judge their work. As we went along, they graded their own projects. At the end, I offered them a choice: if they were happy with their score, they could staple the rubric to the paper and hand it in today. If they wanted to try one more time, they could rewrite it for Friday. I would say about half the kids kept their projects to rewrite. I won't know the real outcome of this strategy until I see what I get on Friday.

I do know that I will be making them grade their own work from now on before turning it in.

After we finished the rubric exercise, they studied in groups for their quiz. Especially with the first class, I managed to be very calm and go table to table offering to explain anything they didn't understand. (In the second class, they started throwing spitballs about 15 minutes before the end of the period and I enforced silent, independent studying for the remainder of the period).

One group insisted that they didn't need me to explain nuclear energy. I asked how they knew they understood it. It quickly became clear to them and to me that they didn't understand it, and they agreed to discuss it with me. This led to an interesting conversation. I pointed out that it wasn't enough to just write something down, you have to ask yourself, "Do I get this?" and if the answer is no, you need to find a way to make sure you learn it. I said that it was frustrating to discover that kids didn't get something the day before the test, but that it was really great if they spoke up along the way or asked for help. One girl, who struggles academically, reflected that she never asks questions when she doesn't understand. A second chimed in that their science teacher last year would say, "What kind of question is that?" when they asked for help. I pointed out that although I sometimes got annoyed at students, I would never put you down for asking for help, especially if you did it early on. I don't know if this conversation will lead to these students being more proactive, but it was somewhat enlightening.

Meanwhile, I had handed back old quizzes yesterday, and part of the homework was to get them signed by a parent. I only have about 60 7th graders; I caught about 8 who forged a parent's signature (or got a brother or sister to do it). Some forged their parent's signature to avoid showing them the quiz grade, while others simply forgot to get it signed and didn't want to get in trouble for missed homework. Either way, I spent my entire prep calling homes to check whether parents had indeed seen the quizzes. Most of the kids admitted to having faked the signatures when I quietly confronted them, but I called anyway to close the loop with their parents.

One girl was in big trouble for telling one teacher she was with me, while telling me she was with the other teacher, when she was really cutting a lunch detention. In the middle of all this, I discover that she had clearly forged her mom's signature. The worst of it all was that when I had spoken to her at lunchtime, asking her what teacher she was with, we'd had a conversation about trust and honesty in regards to another situation. So, she was lying to me while pretending to understand what I was saying about being honest... *sigh* Anyway, when I called her mother, her mom confirmed that since she was cooking when her daughter brought her the quiz, she told her daughter to go ahead and sign it using her (the mother's) name. I politely asked the mother not to do this because of the mixed messages it sends, but she was really not hearing me. Of course, in the next breath, she was asking me how her daughter was doing and warning me that she's sneaky.

It boggles my mind.

I did get a phone call from a girl who had insisted, even when I showed her the signature we have on file, that her mother really did sign the quiz. I told her to bring in a note if that were true and if so, my apologies for doubting her. Otherwise, she'd better have it signed for real tomorrow. She called to apologize for faking the signature and lying to me. I gave the usual adult speech about being in trouble for one thing versus being in trouble for two things. And then I thanked her for her apology and wished her a good night.


Agree or disagree with the idea of merit pay, there is a huge amount of very off-putting cynicism and negativity among teachers, at least to judge by these comments. I don't even want to read Edwize anymore because the comments are so divisive, cynical, and show such deeply ingrained resistance to change. Call me naive, but isn't there a way to express ideas without coming across as bitter and angry? Without attacking one's colleagues as "kiss @ss toadies" ---? This is an open forum for teachers to express ideas, and I respect people's right to strong emotions and disagreement, but I think the tone and language used in some of the comments makes our profession look bad.


Blogger Polski3 said...

Interesting comments about 7th Graders. Yours are very urban kids, most of mine are 'rural' or 'third world'. I tend to look at my 7th graders as still being 'kids' and will begin to mutate into teenagers later in the school year. I've taught grades 7-12 and maybe it is because I have been teaching mostly 7th graders for the past 18 school seasons, I prefer them to the 8th graders.....they don't seem so jaded, many still want to please the teacher.

Motivation. This is a tough one for junior high. One poster on your post yesterday mentioned her students not being used to her 'higher' level of expectations. I find this very true, at least in my experiences. I also find that there is a bit of a 'fear' factor at work, as my students are coming to my school from seven years (K-6) of self-contained classroom experiences in which the major emphasise has been in reading, writing and math (not much experience in science, social studies, art, music, or pe ). NOW, they are thrust into a schedule where they visit eight classes per day, (one advisory, seven academic), deal with a bunch of new teachers, many of whom are not as nurturing or worried about their self-esteem as their previous teachers, and having to deal with a hoard of new, tough academic topics. It is a real shock for many of them.

For motivation I try:
1. Effort Grades (up to ten percent added to their academic grade, for turning in their home/classwork, at the end of grading period)
2. Frequent grade checks
3. Opportunities to make up missing work, sometimes these are assigned and they must notify and get parent signature in order to stay to make up their missing work and get the extra help they may need.
4. class rewards (free time at end of a class period, listen to radio while working, etc.) for percentages of students turning in their work. Class must reach 50 points for a reward.
5. Appeal to the Grade 7 mindset. For example, my famous segment of Roman History, the "Sponge on a stick" (because there was no toilet paper). "Crap" like this gets their attention and they remember stuff like this!

Bottom line, It is all hard work----for them and us teachers too!

Bravo for busting the little forgers!

11:51 PM  
Blogger soucouyant said...

Great advice above, I'll definitely be closing some of the gaps in my own practice.

I just want to commend you for an amazing example of reflection at work. For not pushing on, but for taking concrete steps to address these issues fairly early on, for talking to kids about their past experiences, hearing them, and letting them know that you care that they actually know what you are teaching, instead of just going through the motions. Without this, they go on to year after year of failure.


Also, I have recommended your blog to the science teachers at my high school. Keep on rockin!

5:45 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

On the motivation thing, I don't know if this is applicable, but my first year...
I had a class that I couldn't get to do anything.

(now, already the situation is different. 9th grade math, brand new teacher with no presence or control - me - vs 7th grade science with several years of experience.)
Anyway, a mentor suggested that I give them very very easy work, with immediate payoff. I made my homeworks short and easy, and gave daily homework quizzes drawn directly from the homework.

The good grades were too easy to earn for them not to try. And when they saw their friends getting perfect quizzes, many of the others joined in.

I ran it like that for about two weeks, and then slowly brought the standards back up. It never became a good class, but it went from a 0 to something almost tolerable.


8:39 PM  
Anonymous Leo Casey said...

Maybe a little humor will lighten the burden here...

Why do you think that lying about what they did is a peculiar 7th grade trait?

Unless, of course, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the rest remain in some sort of virtual 7th grade.

Perhaps you could tell your students the parable of Watergate and Plamegate, and they would understand that "it's not the crime, but the cover-up" that gets you into real serious trouble. If they don't stop here, think of what the future will hold... hard time in the White House and then on to the federal pen

11:51 AM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

oh, believe me, I definitely thought about the political parallels. I'm not one for "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" kind of thinking, but I guess it's hard to ask kids to be honest when this is how the adults behave.

and the Bush administration may well be a sort of middle school redux... then again, one could say that the Clinton administration certainly suffered raging hormones... sheesh, it never ends, does it?!

8:37 PM  
Blogger Leo Casey said...

And one more serious comment. DOn't the negative folks in the comments section get you down, or shut you up. We knew when we opened up the comments section that we would attract habitually negative and toxic types. And believe me, we also know that they present a very bad public face for teaching. We also knew that those of us on the blog, and Randi, would come in for a lot of personal abuse from them, but we figured that it is worth the tsuris. There's just no way that you can create a free speech forum without, at least at first, creating space that attracts that sort of person.

But we were also counting on folks like you to not let them have the final word. Even if you can't stand the comments, and lord knows, I have my problems reading through many of them, just read the posts, and offer your own comments. That is how the good guys win out.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Casey

You are entirely too self serving. You promote a completely anti-teacher contract and when we protest, you call us negative and toxic. Thank your lucky stars you do not have to work under it. If it affected you personally, you would not have embraced it. If you had to work under these "new and improved" rules during this "economically difficult time", you would quickly become "negative and toxic". No matter what happened during your previous years of teaching, nothing parallels this piece of useless rubbish. As real teachers, we deserved a real raise without giving up our time, dignity and rights..

10:13 PM  

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