More about the seventh graders...
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.