Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why are kids failing?

This is a question that has riddled me all semester. I have changed my grades to reflect a "truer" grade. In my 9th grade classes, I have 3 categories: homework/responsibility where students can turn in late work for 50% of its worth; reading applications and analysis where students can do any assignment for 100% of its worth as well as the writing category where again students can do (and re-do) any assignment for 100%. This allows for penalties with day-to-day work, but allows for growth in the 2 categories key to English class. Out of my 49 9th graders, 21 students have low D's and F's. I have 10 F's in my 4th hour alone!

So what is the problem? I have contacted parents, written referrals, talked one on one with students, and have talked to my classes as a whole. A few minor assignments trickle in, but still the low grades remain.

One girl did take advantage of the grading and "opportunity to learn" (although I doubt she saw it this way since it was her mother's warning of being grounded the rest of the semester until her grades went up); she worked with me twice a week during school for 4 hours, and every day after school--for a consecutive 2 1/2 weeks. She was able to complete work, but more importantly, she re-did writing assignments and reading analysis assignments. We talked about her growth and improvement of her grade; "I'm so glad, Mrs. Davis. Thank you for all your help. I really thought it was impossible." This gave me insight, of course. Were others feeling deflated?

I visited with the class, explained about the success of one student who brought her grade up from a 17% F to an 80% B-. Two weeks have gone by and still no improvement. In fact, I had an assignment due yesterday that only 3 students out of 25 turned 4th hour!

Is it this class? Is it my style? I personally feel I am teaching skills more than complacency, but then why are kids revolting? Is it that these students don't connect with me as a teacher? Overall from these kids I hear, "You're my favorite teacher, Mrs. Davis."; "This is my favorite class" from these folks failing and yet no work. Is it just how they are??! Are they lazy, apathetic, overwhelmed? Should I settle with the fact that almost half of them are failing, but that it's their issue?

When I started teaching, I taught at a private school; we could keep students who were failing after school for grammar class or writing workshops. Students really improved. Of course, they had the same conversations with their parents as my one student above had about being grounded for grades. Is it the extra demands of both the teacher and parents? Is that the only difference? Have my 9th grade parents today have given up? it a scarier reality: I have made the grading seem too easy and thus, students feel they can just slide along, turn a couple things in and their grade inches up enough to get by? The first 9 weeks I thought this could be the case, but as I continue to talk to my students, they do not come in to get help.

I talked with our gifted/talented, at-risk teacher. She pulled grades related to middle schools students attended. Almost an even split. We did find out that out of our approx. 500 9th graders, 110 of them are failing at least one of their classes, if not 3 or 4. This too was shocking.

So, students, WHY are so many of you failing?

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Another Google Use I wanted to join the live blogging, but have never done a fishbowl, so I was reluctant to do a fishbowl for the first time AND try live blogging. So I decided to try using Google Docs, but the spreadsheet. I used this format with my Creative Writing class in small groups as they were writing a multi-voice poem. It worked well in small groups and thought I would try it as a class.

What I love about the spreadsheet is the opportunity to have everyone responding at once without the document stalling. I also love that it provides a chat window on the side; I can prompt them to think further, explain more, etc. Plus they love being allowed to have a silly conversation while still doing serious work.

Here are the 2 classes and their thinking. These are the documents at the end of the hour. I had the questions at the top and they answered, read others' responses, agreed, disagreed, etc. Some did not finish, so they are adding to it before our next class. I am then, going to print out the page and give them a copy. We are going to hold a scored discussion on Friday to discuss even further their thoughts and find connections beyond the text.

1st hour
6th hour

Here's this year's wiki on Life of Pi.

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