I am trying to assign regular writing assignments to all classes. One paragraph, consisting of five sentences, including a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion. Complete sentences only. “Are fractions easy or difficult?” “Was yesterday’s lesson successful?”
I’m happy with the results. Most students required very little explanation to understand the assignment. Even more noteworthy, students had opinions about the assign itself; one girl insisted that these were not “essays” since they were only a paragraph, so I now refer to them as “mini-essays.” A few students cut corners, but most students really warmed to the opportunity to share their thoughts.
Ultimately, I hope to have the kids tell me what they get and don’t get about a lesson’s concepts, giving them access to higher-order learning modes.
A more positive environment? I work on this all week long. I have rewards cards (“operate the projector,” “one homework freebie,” “one minute tardy pass”) for good deeds or especially insightful questions. I give out gold stars and “Wow!” stickers. I give an EC point to anyone who points out (after silently raising his or her hand and waiting to be recognized) a typo or math error I’ve made on the whiteboard. I have a 15-minute period of music, videos, and origami at the end of each week – “Festive Friday” – set up as a reward for my classes which maintain a consistently high level of readiness and homework completion during the week.
So how can I create a more positive environment? I am working on “compassion-ifying” all my student interactions: corrections, suggestions, consequences and other behavior discussions need to be always motivated by concern for the student, even if I secretly would rather not deal with a given student ever.
For my 8th-grade Algebra classes, I’m developing a post-testing (probably May) project that will give the “non-math” kids an opportunity to succeed in math. I’m going to describe the optimal angle for solar cells at our latitude and then have the students survey the roofs in the school. (There are at least five different roof angles on our campus.) They will be measuring and computing slope. They will be required to present their results on a science-fair board, giving them all kinds of graphic-design opportunities. They will learn a bit of science and a bit of math. The rubric will include language-arts requirements.
Last year for the year-end project in my Geometry class, we made “creatures” out of rectangular prisms, cones, spheres and cylinders. They had to build the creatures, make up stories about them, measure all of their dimensions, and compute their surface areas and volumes. It was a huge success. They kids had fun, cooperated with each other, said they learned a lot and wished they could have done it earlier. It would be great to create something similar with this project.
This week I’m trying to come up with corrective actions for a student who makes inappropriate comments in the classroom. Danny has been doing this since we met in September. He has improved; he no longer chooses words such as “Jap” and “faggot,” words which got him a referral and us a meeting with his mother and sister (who had been told I was picking on him). However, I still hear “shut up” several times a week. Danny and his friends apparently say this to each other a lot. Danny apologizes to me now, sincerely I think, but continues to say “shut up.” Sometimes he says it to someone on the opposite side of the classroom.
I don’t really want to keep writing Danny up for these things. I’m trying to minimize the amount of paper I submit to administration. I’m looking for a small reminder, some kind of levy which Danny will have to fork over but which is outside of the usual escalating intervention matrix. We were collecting money for a cancer-charity campaign, and I was thinking of asking Danny for a quarter or two for each “shut up.” (This would not be “required” but would instead be a voluntary choice that Danny could choose in lieu of the regular escalating consequences.) The campaign is over, but I could still collect money toward a pizza party or something – after checking with the administration.
Today’s assignment was right out of the book, a review of the basics of the coordinate plane. I’m trying to help the kids get more involved with the material, especially in a verbal way. I required them to copy all instructions from the book and to underline several key terms, including ordered pair and coordinate. I good-naturedly chastised the room for verbal imprecision. I’m trying to deal with behaviors such as citing a single number or pointing at the board (when I tell someone to identify a point) instead of just naming an ordered pair, hedging verbal bets (“the y-intercept, or whatever…” and saying “and then” instead of “equals” or “over”), and hazy justifications for steps in solving equations.
I have a couple students with some issues. One boisterous girl who was belligerent and confrontational in September lately seems to be working hard to get my approval each day, at least when she’s with us. Her flakey attendance got worse lately – she recently disappeared for a week – and I found out today that she’s started having auditory hallucinations, voices that tell her to kill stray animals and classmates in ways that are detailed and bloody. The counselor is working hard to get her some mental health help. I’ve decided to give her a break on my usual lunch-”invitation” (detention) for a while: I’ll invite her in if she doesn’t bring in homework, but with no pressure, just as an opportunity to help her stay caught up with the rest of the class.
Another girl has some anger things going on, mixed in with complicated family dynamics. She also disappeared for a while. I found out yesterday that she was in the hospital for a week after slashing her forearm with a big piece of glass. She has been trying to strike up conversations with me, and I decided to let her visit once to talk during lunch. (I checked with the administrators this afternoon, who convinced me it’s probably not in my interest to do this again, even though I kept my classroom door open.)
I will find ways to make this girl more comfortable in the classroom, through errands and other responsibilities, regular greeting, and queries during the lesson. I’ll also be sure not to try to “rescue” her, as we’ve been trained to do in our CSUSB classes.