Another year over

Two more days to clear out my classroom, finish up my cumulative files and say good-bye to another school year. I’m finding leaving this classroom difficult because I set it all up myself from scratch and now I have to pass it on to another teacher and I don’t know where I’m going yet for next year. I’m staying optimistic that something will come up but I have a feeling it’s going to be a long wait this summer. Luckily I have lots of trips and rehearsals and adventures to look forward to.

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It’s been an amazing year with an exceptional group of students and wonderful staff. Despite all the crazy changes of classroom, new systems, new report cards being thrown at us this year, it was a great year. As always, I look back and wish there are certain things I did more or less but that’s always the way. And looking forward, I want to think of what ideas I want to try out next year.

HabitRPG
I loved being able to use this website with my students. It was a great way for them to collectively work together towards goals and it had lots of fun rewards that didn’t cost me anything and didn’t diminish the learning we were doing. I want to do this again with my class next year for sure. I just need to figure out how to re-start the accounts.

SumDog
Not only do I want to use SumDog again, I think I may even subscribe next year so my students can use other games and features and so that I can use it more for data tracking and quizzes and things. It was so much fun and I like how they keep adding new things to make practicing math fun. To be clear, this is not a teaching tool, this is a practicing tool. Students aren’t likely to learn new math concepts by using this site but they will get lots of chances to practice which is very important in my view. Plus it’s fun and I like putting fun and learning together.

Table groups
This was the first time I got to use tables instead of desks and I never want to go back though I know I may have to. I liked having students keep their stuff away from their learning area. I liked having groups ready made when we did group work. I liked that when we were switching up classrooms from students in other classes that there were no worries about other people “going into their desks”. I liked not having to have desk clean out days, though we did have to have cubby clean out times and table basket clean out times. I also really liked not having a set seating arrangement with my first group. With the second group it didn’t work as well so I did have to make a seating plan for them but I let them give me some feedback and did change things around a bit.

Games, jokes and music
Teaching Intensive French is often a lot like teaching grade 1 except that they’re learning a brand new language, not one that they’ve been surrounded by for a long time. They know little bits and pieces but that’s about it. To try to keep it interesting I get them to play a lot of games and we sing a lot of songs as well. And even with my most reluctant groups, there’s always at least one song or one game that they will enjoy so I try to keep as many as I can in my teaching kit to pull out when things start to get dull. Another thing I started at my students’ request was a “blague du matin” or morning joke to start off our French routine. It was very hard to find jokes that they would get because most jokes are built on double meanings of words but I managed to find a few and even explaining the joke gave us an opportunity to talk about the language a bit. I may change it to a joke every second day with something else on alternate days though.

ClassDojo
This is something I’ve been using for the past few years but I’m not sure if I want to continue with it. It’s a behavior management tracking app that I have on my phone and computer where the students earn points or get points taken away based on their behavior in class. I mostly use it for tracking how much French they’re speaking and very very rarely use it for negative behaviors. I like it because at the beginning of the year and throughout the year, we talk about which behaviors do we want to see in our classroom and which do we want to avoid which is also a conversation we could have by creating a class constitution or bill of rights or something and even one we can have with HabitRPG. I kind of like that parents can connect as well and see how their child is doing on a weekly basis but at the same time, I didn’t get much feedback from parents about how useful it actually was for them. I stopped using it part way through the year with my first group because I just didn’t feel it was necessary but kept using it for the second group. I think it may be one of those things that I might try to go without at first but implement it if I feel it would be helpful depending on the group I get next year.

Friday Letters
My partner in crime this year does this with her classes and while I didn’t try it out this year, I want to try it next year. Every Friday she had her students write a letter to their parents about what they did in school that week and things that were coming up. This helped keep parents informed and made a good home/school connection. I really like the idea of it and am going to try it out this year. I was hesitant this year, partly because I was low on my minutes for French as it was and didn’t want to take away more of their French time and also because I knew my students would be doing it in her class anyway.

What are somethings that you want to carry forward or try out next year? Anything you did that you’re dropping?

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Whose mark is it anyway?

I’m working on my final report cards for the year. We have a brand new reporting system in our school district this year as a part of a two year trial pilot. We’ve moved from letters to a 1-4 point scale and the program we’re using greatly limits the amount of comments we can give. We did two progress reports which were just a quick report to let parents and students know if they’re on track or not, and we’re doing two achievement reports which are more like the traditional report cards.

Parents and teachers are finding the change difficult. There are some positives to the new ones. You get to create a comment bank, which took a long time, but once it was done it was much faster to do my comments than it normally is. With the old report cards it would often take me about half an hour per child which doesn’t sound like much but even with a class of only 20 students, that means 10 hours of time working on report cards outside of my regular school work. These ones take a bit less time once I have a good comment bank to work with but they still take a long time to finish and the program isn’t super user friendly. It doesn’t feel like it was designed with elementary report cards in mind but I can see how it would be much more useful in middle and high school.

One of the problems that parents and teachers seem to have with this new system is with this new 4 point scale. Basically a 1 means a student is putting little to no effort in and is not getting the concepts at all. 2 shows some effort and is starting to get the concepts. 3 is working at grade level and 4 is above grade level work. For some subjects, like French, I found using this scale pretty easy and straightforward. Oddly enough, I found it much harder with Math. For instance, if I give a test and a student gets a 10/10, is that a 3 or a 4? Are they working at grade level if they get every question correct or is that above grade level? Or is it only a 4 if they get bonus points for extra work or going beyond what I asked of them?

In French it’s pretty simple. If I ask someone, for example, “Comment ça va et pourquoi?” and they refuse to answer because they have no idea what I’m saying or how to answer despite the fact we’ve been doing this since grade 4, that would be a 1. I don’t have any 1’s in my classes luckily. If they need me to model what the answer could be or they respond but with “Ca va bien parce que c’est…. comment dit ton sunny?” that would be a 2. If they answer “Ca va bien parce que c’est vendredi” that would be a 3 and if they make up a great sentence about why they are in the mood they are in then that’s a 4.

I had one parent last time we sent these report cards in ask why their child had received a 3 in art. I explained what each of the numbers meant again and explained that their child was doing what was asked and worked well in art but didn’t go above and beyond. They were a bit disappointed in my answer. After I thought about it I wondered why did that mark matter so much? In fact, why do any of the marks matter at all other than as a quick benchmark to see how each student is doing? Anything above a 1 shows that they’re making an effort and making progress and isn’t that what’s important after all? Beyond the student and the parent seeing their progress, are these marks at all important? Their teacher next year might glance at them to get an idea of where the student is coming from, but other than that, they really don’t matter. There is no way that some employer is ever going to say “Sorry, we’d love to hire you but we see you only got a 2 in Science in grade 4 so we can’t take you.” No one is going to put their grade 5 French mark on their dating profile. And no one’s going to be fast tracked to be able to adopt because they got a 4 in Math in grade 3.

So why do teachers spend hours agonizing over each and every mark and comment and why do students and parents get so worked up about these marks? Especially in Elementary, I’d love to try out a mark-less system where we give comments on strengths and next steps and that’s it. That’s the important part in my mind.