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Grades Again

I have written about grades before (January 2017).  Yet, I think it is a topic worth revisiting.  This summer I have been reading numerous books and articles about grading practices, and it has led me to want to revamp my practices even more than I already have.  Grades, in my opinion, should reflect a student's mastery of standards and skills.  They should not reflect compliance. They may or may not reflect effort.  However, with effort, all students should be able to be successful. So, what do I believe needs to happen?

1) Allow students opportunities to redo, revise, and retake.  Yes, that includes tests.   Oh, and don't average the first test with the retake.  Give the student the highest score.  Some may argue that this isn't fair; the student should have studied harder the first time.  Well, some students don't learn in the same way or at the same pace as other students.  They are already having to spend more time studying and retaking the exam; that is enough of …
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Musical Peer Reviews

My students just finished rough drafts of an argumentative essay about whether students should have the responsibility of cleaning their school. I provided them with two sources, an article and a video. Because I wanted to take them through the process step by step, I required them to all take the same side of the argument. Each day, I modeled what I wanted them to do and gave mini-lessons on citing sources, writing hooks, writing clinchers, etc. Students spent several class periods writing in class, and after each period, I read each student's draft and gave as much feedback as I could. As they worked, I walked around to answer questions and help them revise. Since they had so much feedback from me, and I was pretty tired of reading their essays, I decided to have them give peer feedback before submitting their final drafts. While driving to school this morning, I got a great idea-MUSICAL peer review because what ISN'T better with music?

Here's how it worked:

1) Studen…

Free Form Stations-Give This a Try!

Everyone in education is talking about differentiation and UDL (Universal Designed Learning). For once, this is a bandwagon I want to hop on!  I have always believed in differentiation, choice, and helping students be successful using different paths.  Not all students work at the same pace, and not all students learn the same way.  Free Form Stations allow me to better meet the needs of all of my students.  I have used the regular Station Rotation model touted by the eminent Catlin Tucker, but I hadn't yet tried her Free Flowing Station model. We are getting ready to begin Animal Farm (which I have never taught before) and there is a vast amount of prior knowledge students need to truly appreciate this classic.  I thought this was the perfect time to give Free Flowing Stations  a try!






First, I made sure everything was ready to go in Google Classroom and that I had all the hard copies of handouts I needed.  I explained to students that they would have to complete all five activiti…

Dogs in Class

Everyone knows that dogs make everything better.  My twenty-year-old son still comes in every night to give our golden retriever a kiss goodnight.  As much as I would love to bring my dog to school each day, I can't. However, I did the next best thing--Beanie Babies!  Lucky for me, I connected with a woman looking to give away her collection of dog beanies. She finally realized that they were not going to be worth a million dollars like so many people back in the 90s had hoped! She wanted to give them to someone who would appreciate them, and that person was ME!

Anyhow, I brought them into class, and just as I expected, the kids went nuts.  They now try to arrive early to class to get a dog to keep at their desk and keep them company!  One boy even asked if he could get one for his friend who was running late.  They put them on their computers, on their arms, on their heads, and even in their pockets.  They all have their favorite dog.  I can truly say that these little dogs have a…

Duck Races Equal Fun

I have found timers to be so helpful in my classes. It's easy to tell students, "Five more minutes" and lose track of time.   There are some great online timers available that students seem to love.  I project them onto my screen, so all students can keep track of how much time they have left. My favorite is the Duck Race Timer!  What is unique about this timer is that you can select the number of ducks for the race.   In my class, all students know their roster number for both my cell phone caddy and their assigned computer.  So, when I use the duck timer, the student with the winning number gets a prize! Beware!  The students become glued to the screen the last thirty seconds.  They began to count down in unison. There's lots of laughing and cheering (who doesn't love laughing and cheering?).  You would think the winner won an Olympic event! I especially enjoy using the timer in my Read 180 class for our twenty minute rotations.  I do turn the sound off for thi…

Magical Moments: Not Always Curriculum Related

When I asked my students for feedback a few months ago, many said that they would like to be able to choose their own article on occasion.  This seemed like a reasonable request, so every four weeks they get to choose their own article. They LOVE it. Yesterday in class, one of my students turned in his Article of the Week on how the song "Baby Shark" has gone viral.  
Anyhow, as I read his response to the article about the song, I became intrigued. I had never heard of the song, and apparently I am pretty out of it.  The song has been around for years, but a few years ago Pinkfong, a Korean children's entertainment brand,  created a  new version of the song on Youtube.  To date, it has 1.6 BILLION views!  
I looked up from my student's paper and asked, "How many of you know the "Baby Shark" song?"  Some began singing, some began laughing, some began imitating a shark opening and closing its mouth, and they ALL begged me to play it. So I did!  I proj…

Writing an Essay...with a Partner

Teaching writing to middle school students is not easy.  All students come with different skills and knowledge.  With 35 students in a class, it's impossible to sit down one on one and assist students with the writing process.  Teaching students to write a literary analysis is particularly challenging because most seventh-graders have little, to no experience.  Students need to learn to  develop a thesis statement, find evidence from the text to support it, provide the context of the selected quotations , and write insightful commentary on the evidence they selected. Remember, these kiddos are twelve! Graphic organizers are particularly helpful to these young writers. The biggest challenge is providing feedback to students as they are writing, rather than after they turn their work in for a grade.  Students need to be able to use the feedback they receive and see the difference it makes in the final product.  I was adamant that I was not going to grade over a hundred horrible essa…