On the first day of school, students asked for the class syllabus because they received them in their other classes.
“Did you read it?” I asked.
Most kids said no; while a few read PARTS of it.
“What parts did you read?” I asked.
Grades, rules, homework, and some students said they read the required supplies. One student said, “I hate when the syllabus requires you to have a glue stick and then you never use it. ALL year.”
One student said the teacher READ the entire syllabus to the class.
On the second day of class, students wrote a class syllabus.
I have never given an assignment where I learned so much about the students. Most notably, almost EVERY student had Homework and a Homework policy. What does every kid complain about? Homework!!!
“Does there have to be homework? I asked the next day.
Yes! Most students responded.
“Why?” I asked.
So we know more
We won’t remember what we did in class
You at least have to read and fill something out
You just have to
Our Educational Practices Have Brainwashed Students!!!!
Students could not provide a reasonable justification for spending hours each night on homework and yet they included it in their syllabi. It almost seems like students have given up on the true joy of learning once they get to high school. As an example, one student didn’t fill out anything except for one class rule:
Class rules: This Section is Important to Students
First, it’s important to note that almost every student wrote about respect in their class rules. Second, all students included some type of rule about the bathroom. Believe it or not, I’ve had many students tell me about teachers who won’t let them go to the bathroom ; ( Third, most students want to be free to eat or drink in class. Finally, most students want to listen to music when they work independently and they also do not think using the cell phone in the classroom once in a while is a Major Crime.
A Funny Example
Can we as teachers give the students the same respect we expect? Is there a way to go to the bathroom, listen to music, eat a snack and maybe look at your cell phone during class in a respectful manner? What rules can I loosen up? The outcome will be happier students who learn how to function appropriately in class AND I might have extra time to notice something more positive about certain students.
Every summer, a week prior to the start of school, I receive a Pupil-Free Agenda that typically follows this format:
All Staff Meeting
Opening remarks from Executive Director
All Staff panorama photo (this takes too long)
This year was no different. . .until it was. The agenda came and I threw it on the floor for the cats to play with and rip into shreds. However, when I arrived, there had been a change.
This guy. . .and I still don’t know his name. . .ran the meeting.
We were placed in groups, given ingredients and told to make a dish that would be consumed by all. There were no instructions. . .and it was a contest that would be judged. Here is one picture of the results:
I have since forgotten every Pupil-Free day previously, but do you think I will forget this event? School starts tomorrow for the students and I’m so excited! There is only one shot at a #FirstDay and this year I will be sure not to waste it. Many of us have probably been following the twitter hashtag #FirstDay where amazing teachers have been sharing their ideas. While I previously stated that you can only have one first day, how can you add a little spice into EVERY day and have students excited to come to class? The following are a few things I’m changing this school year:
No more repeating instructions, answering the same question over while other students groan and wait to get started.
The slides are linked here so that you can see the videos if they won’t play on this format.
A ton of time is wasted in (my) class by explaining assignments and answering student questions that they should be trying to answer for themselves. What you see above is not complete because for each assignment there is a link to Google Classroom that provides some clarification or additional comments. However, part of preparing students to be successful in the future is to enable them to be self starters who can interpret an assignment and then create a product that is to be shared publicly. While students navigate the digital directions, I am then free to walk around the room and assist students who really do need more support without holding back students who are inventive and have their own ideas about how to proceed.
Students start class with 10 minutes independent reading and then they can transition to the project/activity for the day and move at their own pace. The videos are all around 25-30 seconds long because students won’t want to watch more than that at one time. The reason I’m posting the example of my videos is not to show how GREAT they are–but to prove the exact opposite. The videos are not that fantastic–and yet I feel it will really help the students to connect with the learning task and me at the same time. It’s extremely hard not to be critical of yourself on video and wan it to redo it, and yet we ask students to put themselves out on a limb, in public, all of the time!
This year, after seeing many examples on the internet (even from Chemistry professors who teach at the university level), I’ve decided to create an infographic syllabus. While I’m waiting on approval from administration to use this as the parents’ version also, this is what I will present to the students and also use with the parents on Back to School Night. Actually, this year I’m not going to ‘present’ the syllabus in class. Instead, I will have the students form groups that are each assigned a small portion of the syllabus and they will in turn create skits to perform for the class. I’m not doing this until the second day and I have no idea what to expect! I will most likely create a few scenarios or characters on index cards for students who struggle with creating the skit.
Ditch That Homework is an amazing book that just came out by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Above, I shared one of my favorite sections from the book that delineates many questions to ask before assigning homework. It looks like they put the most important question first, “Does it increase the student’s love of learning?” (XVI). Naturally, the answer is probably not. The natural follow-up question is: Does grading the homework increase your love of teaching?
Standards Based Grading
Finally, the last HUGE change I’m making for this school year is shifting TOWARDS standards based grading. I’ve read tons of literature that talks about the Why, but nothing that talks about the How. My goal is to do a 50-50 split between participation and standards based grading. In this way, students will be rewarded for participating in class and for improving their skills.
As you go through the year, there are obvious peaks and valleys of enthusiasm for both students and teachers. When you find yourself in a deep valley, revisit this tweet by John Stevens to lift you up: