The Wills and Wants of Sixth Graders

The first week of school went by in a blur. I cannot believe that I am sitting here in the middle of the third week already! Time really does fly by when you’re having fun, and fun is definitely something that I am having. It is hard NOT to have fun when I am surrounded by these sixth graders who are constantly cracking jokes, quirky comments, and keeping me on my toes to the random things they do throughout the day. I definitely do not have the same day twice.

These past two weeks have shown me some things about sixth grade and who these strange creatures (six graders) really are …

Sixth Graders Will:

  • laugh at anything referred to bowel movements, bodily functions, words that sound like such things, etc.
  • come into your class shouting, pushing, singing, and sometimes whipping and nae-naeing unless they have an incentive NOT to
  • become obsessed with things (ex: rubix cubes) and get their classmates to join in said obsession
  • say whatever they can to get a laugh from their neighbors
  • laugh at you – a lot!
  • tell you things that you don’t necessarily want to hear (who they’re dating, who they like, etc.)
  • question why you are teaching what you’re teaching – always have an answer
  • never forget if you offered them a reward or opportunity to do something

Sixth Graders Want:

  • to sit and work with their friends. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, why can’t they?
  • breaks from the classroom. I would too if I were sitting in these desks. Why not allow them to take a quick break to the drinking fountain as long as it is not a distracting time and they are not missing anything from the class period?
  • to listen to music. This keeps talking to a minimum because they want to be able to hear their jam! It also makes a great attention getter when you pause the music to address issues.
  • time to go outside. Take lessons outside and their willingness to complete an assignment grows.
  • their teacher to understand them. Taking the time to address issues with students show that you care about their learning and their success.

Overall, sixth graders can be wacky and very unexpected. This why I love this place in the Middle so much! I never have the same day and I never have a clue as to what tomorrow will bring. I am sure I will be adding to these two lists as time goes on and I learn more about these strange creatures I have found in the sixth grade 🙂

Differentiated Grading: Fair Isn’t Always Equal

Grading. It’s a concept that has recently become a controversial issue within the classroom. Especially with the current focus on moving towards standardized testing, grading seems to be something that needs to be analyzed more closely. We need to move away from the traditional grading and look at what it really is doing for our students.

After being in the Middle Level program, I view grading differently. I was given a different definition of what grading meant, not just slapping a grade on the top of their assignment. This past weekend, I was very fortunate to sit on a session put on by Rick Wormeli, a former middle level teacher and author – basically celebrity material in the middle level world. His session solidified my beliefs towards grading solid and made me think about the concept more deeply.

He began with saying that the main purpose of grading a student’s work is to give us an idea if they understand the material, or if they do not. The grade must be “relevatory” or “reveals a story” of what a child knows and what the child does not know. It should display how well the student understands a concept. For example; if a child is being graded on how well they understand a math concept, they should not be graded on whether or not they brought in a calculator.

This ties into grades having to be strictly towards academics. Unless a standard is to see who can fill out a crossword puzzle/etc, you should not hand out a crossword puzzle or a coloring page and then give that student extra credit because they completed it. This is only giving a student false accreditation. For example; say you’re doing a unit on the Civil War. A student may earn a B because he/she completed all the extra credit of coloring pages or completing word searches, but he/she still does not understand the concepts of the Civil War and has not met any of the standards.

This is because “grades are not compensation, they are communication. Communication that is an accurate report of what happened”. You should not tell a student to do an extra assignment and you will give them an A or bonus points. This again, is false accreditation.

Extra credit is a concept that I do not believe in. Having extra credit says that there is a standard above the highest standard. “Meeting the standard should be a 4.0. If you meet the standard, you cannot go above and beyond because that is a different standard”. Extra credit was designed for students to get a second chance at making their grade better – which is great! However, like previously stated, grades are not compensation. If a student did badly on a test/quiz/assignment, they should be able to re-do that assignment in order to improve their grade.

Some teachers may think that this is is not holding students responsible to doing it right the first time. I’m sorry, but who the heck cares? As long as students understand the concept at the end, what does it matter how many times or how long it takes for that student to get there? “We mark a grade against the outcome, not how they got there”.

This ties into differentiated grading. If you have a bad test taker, why would you have that student show what he/she knows by taking a test? Have that student put on a skit, write a story, interview that student, anything that is able to show that the student knows/understands the material. When handing out tests to those who have test-taking anxiety, if you could read those students’ minds, you would hear, “I can’t take this test. Interview me or so something else because I know information! I just cannot show it in this way”. Once again, “We mark a grade against the outcome, not how they got there”.

Another thing a lot of teachers are doing is averaging a student’s grades with retakes, assignments, etc. to get an overall grade for that unit. If you think this is the way to go about things, picture this. 

All of these students to the right have one thing in common, they all average to be a 70% range. They all have different scores, but you would never know that because of their average rate or 70%. If every student was told they were a C- average student, they would never know what areas they struggled in or did well in. That grade of a 70% is a lie for all students except Student A. For example; Student C performed at an 85% level four times. The reason he/she got a zero on writing is an issue that must be addressed, but should not be averaged into his/her final score. Saying that these students have an average of 70% means nothing.

Another issue regarding grading is that “the grade a student receives shows more of the opinion of the grader”. An idea Rick used was he put an essay up on the screen. It was filled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, the topics were all over the place, there were not any transitions – what most would qualify as a bad paper. He said that this student who handed in this paper was an straight-A student. He/she was great at writing and deep down you knew that this student scribbled out this essay 15 minutes before class started. Well, what do you grade it? He asked the audience and many said “An F! This is barely trying. This student can do better!”.

He then changed the student’s story. He said that this student was homeless. This student lived on people’s couches and never knew where he/she would end up that night. This student is always hungry because the only meal he/she gets is the one the school provides. This student barely partakes in class, but actually made an effort this time around. You know deep down that this student worked four days on this essay and it is his/her best work. What do you grade this essay now?

This is why you must have standards. It limits biases of students who are our favorites, students who we feel sorry for, and students who make us pull out our hair. With standards, we know if a student has met them, or needs another chance to reach said standard.

All these practices are what I hope to incorporate in my future classroom. I believe that a standardized test does not tell me what my students know or do not know. Grades are being used more and more to sort kids, when that isn’t the point of education at all. School should be to learn, not to sort kids because the State says we should.

Leadership Safari 2014

This past week I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of CMU’s Leadership Safari. This program is put on during the week before the fall semester starts for new students coming to CMU’s campus. Though the majority of these students are freshmen – I had the great pleasure in working with a group of transfer students. Throughout the week, students sit through an array of speakers, activities, and other undergo other experiences to better themselves as a leader and overall person. Along with this, they alsoare able to move to campus a week earlier than everyone else and get a more familiar grasp on Central as a whole.10514473_10202853370750413_1093436684468699746_n
My week was an amazing one. I had ten transfer students out of about 100. I made connections with everyone and saw them grow together as a group from the awkward first meeting to the emotional last meeting. Throughout the week, my students shared things they said they normally do not share with others. For example, one of my students said that her parents are recently divorced when her mom came out as a lesbian. She said that her mom now has a significant other and she was talking about how she has been affected because of it.

Another student of mine said that he is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and that he was not sure if Leadership Safari was the right program for him to partake in.

10355883_10202853369950393_3292025600691122277_nAfter saying this, he continued to explain that other people have told him he is “better off in his grave” because of his diagnosis. Hearing this, my heart broke. My other participants’ mouths dropped to the floor and could not believe the cruelty people could have in order to say these things. My participants told this student how brave he was to continue on and not let people bring him down. His face lit up and made my heart grow strong.

At the end of the week, I did an activity with my participants; The Touch Someone Activity. In this activity, I had my students sit down and close their eyes. When I tapped someone on the shoulder, they were to stand up and follow my instructions I say out loud; “touch someone that has inspired you”, “touch someone that you can see being friends with for a long time”, “touch someone that has changed your viewpoints on things”, etc. It was so amazing to be on the outside and look at everyone touch someone who has made their week an amazing one. Once someone was touched, they still had his/her eyes closed, but the way his/her face lit up was such a great thing to see.10351453_10202853371510432_4468720802463873071_n

I also did warm fuzzies with these students and after they handed them back to me, I was able to see what everyone wrote about everyone else and it was so fulfilling. Taking these students who did not know anything about CMU or the other people in this group to being excited about the upcoming semester and depending on the people in the group.

This experience has shown me just how important creating a community among people is crucial. You need to set standards, create connections, and create that respect. I am positive this group of individuals will be able to rely on one another even though Safari has ended – which makes me a very proud Safari Guide.

They’re Not “Bad Kids”

I was having a conversation with my roommate and best friend about her internship experiences so far this semester. What she does is work with students who are “high risk”. The way she told me was that she deals with the bad kids. I was immediately taken a back. Mind you my roommate is not going into education, but I stood on my soap box and had a moment. Because these students who are at a high risk of dropping out or practicing illegal activities does not mean they are “bad kids”. She explained that these kids are being sexually active at a young age, smoking cigarettes, doing illegal drugs, consuming alcohol, and doing bad academically. All of this behavior has an explanation besides these students just being “bad”.

I think this is why teachers give up on troubled students. These students are already going down a dark alley, so why bother with their academic and personal success? If they are already bad, what’s the point? Why teachers are letting these rhetorical questions persuade their actions is beyond me. I feel that those troubled students are craving for attention. They are seeking out for love and care that they are obviously not getting elsewhere. What better place for a student to get attention, love, and care than the classroom that they feel safe and comfortable in?

As a teacher, you may be the only bright person they have in their lives. Telling them that they did a lot better on a paper/exam/quiz than they did last time and to keep up the good work, may be the only encouragement they here in months. Teachers should not give up on these kids just because they have a rough life. Labeling students will only make them more of that label. Telling students that they are “bad kids” or labeling them as such will only discourage them from peeling that label off. If that’s what they are, why bother changing?

This is why teachers need to address all students. Do not give up on those who you struggle the most with. Even if they say that they hate you every day and they do not want to do the assigned work, keep up with them. You may be the only positive thing in their life and they just don’t know how to handle it. Keep in mind that you may not see the difference that you’re making until these students come back to you in the future, to thank you for being there for them, and encouraging them to be the great person that they became.

“Christmas Break” & Addressing Diverse Issues in the Classroom

After spending a semester looking deeply into diverse learning, it has been a blessing and sort of a curse that I see everything differently. With Christmas Winter Break fast approaching, it puts it in perspective that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but society makes it seem like a norm – so it’s okay to address it as such. I thought this was a good time to address how I will address diverse issues in my classroom.

I can see myself addressing diversity in my classroom in a multitude of ways. One would be just changing my attitude and phrases towards different things. I tend to say, “You guys” when talking to a group of people no matter the gender make-up. I can see this possibly offending or belittling some of girl students in a classroom. I am also at fault when asking a male for help when I need something heavy lifted or a jar to be opened that I just can’t crack. Just because you are a male does not necessarily make you stronger than a female. I think by changing simple things such as these can make a lasting effect on my students so their perspective may change as well.

Along with this, I will be conscious of things such as religion, socio-economic status, and diverse topics that may make some students feel alienated in the classroom. I will make sure to not put anyone on the spot by making them feel at a loss because they cannot afford thing; such as bringing in Kleenex boxes for extra credit. I will make sure to have extra supplies for those who are unable to have them, but offer them to the whole class so students do not feel bad for asking. When holidays come around, I will try and address all of them. Making sure that even those that are not going around the “typical holiday time” are not forgotten and at least mentioned.

The different things I mentioned are only a start to the many things that can be done in order to make your classroom understand more about diversity. I think any change, no matter how little, is a start in the right direction. I think most teachers believe that it will take up a lot of time, but just changing your mannerisms about certain ideas can make a big difference. Overall, I want my students to come away from my class and understand that, different is different; not deficient. With accomplishing this goal, my students will have a different outlook on their middle school time. It will not be the time they feel alone, but the time they learned to accept themselves and others around them. I think that acceptance should be the best part about finding your place in the middle.