Friday, May 17, 2013

10 Lesson Ideas for the Post State Test Doldrums

With our state and AP tests upon us, we’re faced with a new challenge: how do we keep students engaged in learning?

We often complain about the constraints associated with prescribed curricula; the end of the year liberates us—and our students—from these shackles. We’re finally free to teach as we want to teach! We can develop lessons that require collaboration, higher-order thinking, creativity and more (notice: I did leave 21st century skills off the list because I know many of us don’t have access to computers because they're used for testing).

Here’s a list of some great year-end activities I’ve seen in the last two years. What’s your favorite year-end activity? I’d love to add to the list, so please comment! 
  1. Create a book or video review. Each student/pair of students creates a chapter reviewing material from the year. These books could easily be used for next year’s review sessions. 
  2.  Make use of flip cameras and have students create skits, chapter/unit reviews, etc. Again these can be shared with next year’s students.
  3. Make use of Skype—host an expert, collaborate with another class from around the world, compete versus a class from a nearby high school.
  4. Teach a fun unit that you didn’t have time to teach.
  5. Debates and discussions.
  6. Have students write a letter to next year’s students.
  7. Cumulative assignments. As a history teacher, I tried to take a thematic approach to my teaching (some themes: role of geography, power, economic haves-have nots, etc.), so at the end of each year, students were assigned a theme and created a project highlighting examples of the theme from throughout the year.
  8. Give the students a FedEx Day. Essentially, a FedEx Day is where you allow the students to take an idea of their own and run with it. For more  
  9. Try a new teaching strategy or style. This is a great time to take risks and become innovative. For example, I always wanted to use Project-Based Learning part of my classroom instead of simply assigning projects. The end of the year was a great time for me to try it out.
  10. Begin preparing students for next year by pre-teaching a lesson from next year's curriculum. If possible swap classes with another teacher. For example, if you teach fifth grade science, have the sixth grade teacher teach your students.

What are your best end-of-year lessons?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Late Work Policy That Supports Learning

In my first fifteen years of teaching, I struggled to develop an effective, fair and student-learning centered late work policy. My policies changed from year to year. One year, I’d accept no late work. The next, I’d accept any and all late work with no consequences.

I faced four conflicts as I tried to create a policy that maximized student learning while instilling responsibility.

Conflict 1:
I want each of my students to be responsible and submit their work in a timely manner.
In the “real-world” deadlines are often negotiated and extensions are often granted.

Conflict 2:
As a teacher, I need to maintain a pace to meet curriculum requirements.
Given the choice, I’d rather students submit work late than not at all.

Conflict 3:
Late penalties may deter students from turning in work late.
Late penalties don’t work for many students who are consistently late turning in work. 

Conflict 4:
Given no due dates, students rush to finish assignments and will turn them in at the last possible moment (i.e. right before the end of the marking period)
Firm due dates are needed to allow me to provide feedback and meet reporting dates.

After much experimentation, I eventually created a policy that maximized student learning while emphasizing timely work completion. Here’s how it works.

Each assignment/assessment includes both a due date and a deadline date. The deadline date is the absolute last day an assignment/assessment could be turned in. As long as the work was completed by the deadline, students could earn full credit.

Students who did not complete work by the due date were required to complete a missing homework sheet. By quickly reviewing these sheets, I could determine which students needed additional academic support versus who needed help managing their time.

A couple of other items of note:
  • Often I involved students in setting the deadline date. This collaborative process created buy-in and simulated real-life negotiations.

  • My grading program, allowed me to create a footnote if an assignment was turned in late. Keeping track of such information was vital.

  • For students who were chronically late completing assignments, I worked with their parents, other teachers, guidance counselors, etc. to communicate deadlines (emails, text messages, posting assignments online, creating student contracts, etc.)

  • This policy actually helped students learn to better manage their time. For example, Susan was an excellent student who was involved in many extra-curricular activities and took several challenging classes. On Monday, I assigned a mini-assessment project on the Roman Empire with a due date of Wednesday and a deadline date of the following Monday. On Monday and Tuesday, Susan had several hours of homework from her other classes and she had away soccer games both nights. Instead of rushing to complete all of her assignments, Susan was able to concentrate on completing her work for her other classes and could dedicate the necessary time and effort later in the work on her Roman Empire project.

What are the advantages of this policy?
1.     Grades are linked to learning not to behaviors (poor time management)
2.     It makes the entire process more manageable for both students and me
3.     It enables me to work with students who have trouble completing assignments and provide timely feedback to all students
4.     It gives me an opportunity to help students learn AND build relationships with the students as I work closely with them

What is your late work policy? What do you like or not like about my policy?