Monthly Archives: August 2008

Up To Your Ears in Paperwork?

You’re not alone. At least 50% (if not more) of teaching requires ugly, nasty, boring, time-consuming paperwork. Where does all this paperwork come from? From my experience, it comes from the following:

  • lesson planning and grading
  • communicating with parents via email/notes
  • writing and modifying assessments
  • documenting missing work from students
  • working with the resource department (and by this, I mean REALLY working with them, not just checking the boxes.)
  • printing and copying
  • professional development work
  • writing out detentions/disciplinary forms or reports

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

So many college students decide upon a teaching profession because it seems like simple solution to getting a job once they graduate. Some are also under the mistaken notion that teaching is easy. It usually takes about a few months in the profession to quash that concept.

But before we get frustrated and negative about paperwork, let’s think about all the wonderful things that the paperwork actually does, assuming that we are filling it out in a disciplined, thoughtful way.

  • It allows us to grow as teachers and create more exciting activities for our students.
  • It allows us to help parents become better at their jobs and us to become better at reaching the student before they get to the point of giving up.
  • It allows us to treat all students fairly and meet their different needs in a more effective way.
  • It allows us to keep track of student work before they get so far behind that they can’t catch up.
  • It allows us to work more effectively with LD and ED students and reflect caring by making stronger connections with the Resource professionals.
  • Printing and copying are two functions that we can sometimes take for granted. I know of many school districts who impose very strict printing and copying restrictions on their teachers or even block off the copier with impossible codes! This function allows us to take advantage of so much from giving students typewritten tests and quizzes to including visuals and manipulatives in our classroom activities.
  • It allows us to achieve our credits and maintain active and up-to-date in our profession.
  • It helps us train students how to be self-disciplined and choose appropriate social behavior, taking learning beyond the academic aspect of the classroom to a level of life enrichment.

Thus, paperwork, unfortunately, is a necessary evil. (I know, it was hard to reconcile myself to it also.) Try to remember that next time you’re sitting next to a stack of essays, or trying to grade a constructed project sitting on your classroom floor. Try to remember that next time you get annoyed at having to keep paper records of your grades. Try to remember that when you get to the point of wondering why on earth you became a teacher in the first place. And also remember: We’re all in the same boat.

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Rubric Grading: Uses and Benefits

Grading can be a time-consuming enterprise. Yesterday and today I stayed at school until 5:30pm grading papers and essays. Especially for the English teacher, grading writing assignments can be a daunting task. For elementary and secondary teachers, the temptation is to spend plenty of time nit-picking on each grammar and spelling error, commenting on all of the transitions and rewording sentence structures for students. Unfortunately, doing the editing work for students we all know is something that we should avoid as teachers. How do we address these problem areas in a way that is conducive to the student’s learning and yet efficient with our time as teachers?

Rubric grading can provide a number of benefits to the writing instructor. Not only can rubrics help the teacher approach the “6 Traits of Good Writing,” a current trend in writing instruction, it can also help teachers provide specific feedback to students without editing their work for them. Using an online rubric generator, such as that offered by Rubistar (http://www.rubistar.4teachers.org/), teachers can choose the criteria that best fits their writing assignment. For example, if students are writing a personal narrative, the teacher can choose the criteria of 6 Traits that best applies, such as “Word Choice” and “Voice.” Or if the assignment is a persuasive essay, you can choose areas of “Organization” and “Content.” If the pre-written criteria doesn’t suit, you can certainly go in and type in your own personalized criteria for the assignment.

Best yet, rubric grading is less time-consuming. Students can easily use it for peer reviewing, and teachers discover that determining that writing project grade to be less subjective and easier to define into letter format.  

However, rubrics are helpful for assignments other than writing projects. Projects of any kind can be given a rubric grade. Digital media projects, for example, are perfect for rubric grading. If students create a blog portfolio or create a Powerpoint presentation, you can grade it using a rubric. If you need criteria for a participation grade, a rubric can help you define your criteria between an A, B or C grade. I use a rubric for grading online bulletin board assignments, which requires students to post responses or comment on another student’s project. (http://www.nicenet.org) Perhaps your students are constructing a model of something; a rubric is an excellent way to give specific feedback on accuracy and appearance of the model. Certainly a rubric keeps you from looking at a student’s work and giving an offhand, cursory, “Um…I think it’s about a…B+… or maybe a B.” It isn’t fair to the students and it isn’t really helping them achieve results.

Finally, a rubric grade assists you with modifying your grading systems to accomodate all learners. Students receive feedback on the areas that need work, but you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s say that you have a student who happens to have a processing disorder or a form of dyslexia. The essay may be strong in ideas and organization, but be weak in spelling and grammar. The student can feel good about their strengths without being considered failures because of their weaknesses. With a rubric grade, a student earns an F by not doing anything to work toward their grade, either by not turning in the assignment or turning it in incomplete. Effort is always rewarded. Since rubrics are given to students before they begin the project, gifted students are able to work more strategically toward earning a higher grade. It motivates them to see exactly what they have to do to earn an A.

Because of rubrics, teachers can widen their methods of assessment and actually save more time grading them! If you, as a teacher, have never used a rubric before, I suggest you try it at various points during the year. Think of the projects, journal entries, written papers, etc. that you demand of your students and imagine the improvement that you will see in their achievement. To save even more time, google search for rubric generator websites and take advantage of the work that others have already created. Some sites, such as Rubistar, actually allow you to save your rubrics in an account where you can access them at any time. Once you print them out, you can make copies and save them for use next year.  Teachers who used rubrics will be pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to make and use.

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Classroom Management

As a first-year teacher just out of college, I didn’t have a clue. My students appeared to be well-behaved, interested individuals. I thought that if I had enough interesting lesson plans and assignments that all would be well and they wouldn’t want to interrupt, impede their own education and basically disrupt the class. Yeah, right. THAT turned out well.

Regardless of all of the theories that you have heard about classroom management and the philosophical base for each one, the theories pale in the face of actual practice. So let me tell you what REALLY works. First of all, consider your own prevention methods–things that you can do yourself to have better control over the attention span of the kids. When they enter the room, do they have something to do? Is there something on their desk or a routine activity that puts them in their seats? Do you usually have your lesson plans clearly defined? How much of your lesson plan requires “busy work,” “worksheets,” or “seat work” to fill up time? Are you using every minute of your class time, or do you have periods of time that are left for students to “talk amongst themselves”? Have you found yourself breaking frequently one of the “rules” for appropriate behavior that you expect your students to obey?

If you are not appropriately planning your time or directing your students through your expectations and classroom routines on a daily basis, you cannot expect your kids to fit into your idea of appropriate behavior. Also, if students are not allowed to have cell phones, but you pick yours up during class to ask your husband to pick up the dry cleaning, you are not earning their respect. Students learn from modeling, and you are their biggest role model.

Once your own end of the deal is upheld, students can then be presented with the discipline plan and procedures. The discipline plan presents easy, positively-worded rules in a short, simple-to-memorize list. Why? Because students forget! Narrow it down! The discipline plan sometimes allows students to take responsibility by creating their own rules, based on what they feel is appropriate classroom behavior. The discipline plan requires the teacher to set up contracts for classroom behavior with the student and with the parent by requiring signatures. The rules of the class must then be posted and frequently referred to during the year. Finally, all of that work does nothing if the rules are not consistently enforced. Follow your discipline plan all year long, without making little exceptions here and there.

“But what do I do?” you may ask. “Do I just give them a detention?” Students fight detentions that are given to them without warning. For upper level students in middle school and high school, give them a step-by-step process. 1 time = verbal warning.  2nd time = the student fills out a form explaining their infraction and what they will do to correct the problem. 3rd time = detention. Staple the form to the detention slip after making a copy. If the student “accidentally” misplaces the detention slip and doesn’t return it signed, take the student to the office and have them call their parents in your presence. When the parent hears about the infraction from the student’s mouth and sees the written documentation that you have talked with the student about it prior to giving the detention, neither the parent nor the student can complain about a lack of warnings.

Elementary teachers will many times use the “color system.” Small envelopes with the students names are hung on the wall and contain slips of construction paper. Students may start on “Green” with a verbal warning. The card is switched to “Yellow” for second warning. “Red” is the final warning and may warrant a “Time-out” or a missed recess. The cards can be sent home to parents at the end of the week or at the end of every day when the student takes home a folder of their homework/classwork. Set very specific routines set to key words from the first day of class. I knew a teacher who could make students sit in one place very easily just by saying “Criss-Cross Applesauce!” The kindergarten students would gather around and sit down while crossing their legs. They would stop talking and look up expectantly at the teacher.

Want to avoid chaos? The best solution is to have a plan. Now that you have read this article, contribute some classroom management tips of your own! What routines do you have? What is your “plan”? Share your personal classroom management disaster or first-year horror story (To be sure, we all have them!).

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Why Teach in a Christian School?

For some of us, teaching in a Christian school inspired a variety of reactions from friends and family. Some accepted it and supported us in our decisions. Others thought we were crazy and trying to brainwash children. For those of us who traveled overseas, the responses were even more varied. Believe it or not, an African-American man in a bi-racial relationship actually told me that he didn’t believe in American teachers going overseas because “we had plenty of kids that needed teachers in the U.S.” It definitely made me think of the values of a multicultural and international education. I will clarify that this site is for supporting ALL Christian teachers, including those who do teach in the public school arenas. There is, indeed, a need for Christian teachers in our public schools, and it is a calling in an of itself that deserves respect. However, it wasn’t necessarily the answer for all of us.

So why did you make the choice to become a Christian school teacher? And why do you continue teaching in a Christian school? What is the draw? What are the pros and cons? Feel free to share your thoughts here to inspire others who may be thinking about a career in Christian school education.

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School Department Communication Online

Our school is in the process of writing curriculum, and I have been chosen “Department Head” by default. I have been at the school the longest, and am the one with the English degree who has taught the most amount of “English” classes, so somehow I am supposed to lead the rest of the English crew into curriculum alignment.

This year our school will undergo accreditation, and one of the recommendations of the accreditation team that came two years ago was to communicate within the department. So far no time has really been allocated for department meetings, and I’m not even sure what I would say within the department that would make people willing to stay after school. So here is my solution: Create a WordPress blog specifically for accessing standards, asking questions, interacting as a whole school unit. We can make it a fun place and include pictures of people I “caught” doing something cool in the English department. I could talk with teachers about how they use the new textbooks that we bought for this year, and give ideas for the other teachers to use.

So will it work? Stay tuned.

If you’ve ever attempted something like this in your small school for teacher-teacher interaction, let me know, and let me know if it was a success or a complete failure.

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The Trend of Online School Management Software

Our school bought into the trend two years ago and began the software to use both “Edline” and “Gradequick” in combination with each other. Edline allowed our school to build a linking website to our home page that included a class schedule and forms for parents and staff. It also allowed teachers to build their own class websites and place updated quiz, test and project dates on a calendar for parent access. It provided students and parents with a code and password so that they could receive updated information and view current grades. Gradequick was a separate software program that connected to Edline and was used to upload grades into a web-based service that sent the grades to Edline for viewing. Edline also allowed for a combined test, quiz and project calendar for the entire secondary staff. In this way, we could control the number of major tests or projects students would be taking on a given day.

However, Edline was not without its flaws. It was not a comprehensive system. It required a separate grading program. It didn’t have interesting features like lesson plan uploading or behavior reporting for online archive files. It didn’t give administration access to individual student schedules.

So, after some consideration, our school switched to “Renweb,” which is a more complete school management software. They are currently attempting to make their program web-based this year instead of software-based, but it includes a variety of functions including lesson plans for archive, uploading of PDF files for parents to download, academic and behavior documentation and medical histories. It allows the schedules of students to be posted and for teachers to post grades using the same software system. Attendance can also be taken on the system.

So here is my question: It seems to me that school management software is now the ongoing trend. However, which system is the best to use? Which system is comprehensive, yet affordable? Which system has excellent customer service and less “kinks”? 

I would like to invite my readers to comment on the systems their public or private schools use and rate the following areas on a scale of 1-10: affordability, user friendly, functions, customer service, and time-saving. Basically, give me the name of your software, the main website from the software company and then rate the following areas. Provide a brief comment with your rating.

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