Sunday, November 17, 2013

Academic Awards: What's a mom to do?

Last week was the fifth and sixth grade awards assembly.  During the assembly, which all fifth and sixth graders attend, any fifth and sixth grade student who earned all A's during the first quarter was to be publicly named to the Headmaster's List.  For many reasons, I am not in favor of this award.  First, it puts emphasis on grades, which contradicts the work the teachers are trying to do with the students to help them be intrinsically motivated and attentive to their individual growth.  Second, according to my fifth-grade daughter, 10 out of 14 students in her class received this honor.  Picture the four who were not called up to the stage to shake the Headmaster's hand and how they must have felt.  I have a knot in my stomach imagining it.  Third, if 10 out of 14 received the award, what's the great accomplishment?  Earning A's is the norm--why reward that?

So, given my beliefs about awarding academic success for middle schoolers, I faced a dilemma.  Should I stand on principle and not attend the awards assembly?  Would my daughter's feelings be hurt?  Or should I just go, clap for her, and be a "normal" parent?  It helped that I had a meeting that went until 1:50 (the assembly began at 1:35) and that the assembly was just ending as I headed toward my office (my route there passes right by the theater). Lucky break. 

As I passed the stream of students going back to class, I scanned the kids for my daughter.  I wanted to tell her that while I don't believe in the award, I love her and am proud of her for doing her best in school.  She had already gone back to her class, so I ran up to her classroom to whisper my message to her. 

Before I could tell her anything she looked at me and said, "I know why you weren't there, Mom.  I know you don't believe in it."  That made me more proud than any award she could receive.  I gave her a quick squeeze and walked away.

I heard from several fifth grade teachers that the students, who are new to the idea of academic awards, wondered why the certificates weren't just mailed home.  If only one of them would start a petition...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Today's Meet Meets Macbeth

Yesterday my sophomores and I began a study of Macbeth.  My goal is to read through (or listen to/read) the whole play quickly so all of the kids know what I know about the plot and then back up and study certain scenes, monologues, and lines more closely.  But it still takes time, and we still have to stop and clarify what's literally happening.  I felt frustrated that I fell into the typical trap of stopping and saying, "So what's going on here?" and getting answers from a few kids. 

We picked up today with Act I scene 6 with a new gameplan:  Today's Meet, a free, easy backchannel site that does not require a login.  I explained to my students that I wanted to hear more of their voices and do a better job of understanding their understanding.  We talked briefly about the concept of backchanneling, I shared the link, tossed out a question, and we were off.  A transcript of their posts from the end of Act I and beginning of Act II is available here

I wasn't able to read their posts in class (though I'm thinking about assigning moderators for future discussions), but after class I scrolled through to see who was thinking what.  I found quoted lines from the play, quick jots, answers to questions I threw out verbally or in my own post, and general impressions. 

Overall, I think it was a success and I look forward to trying it again soon.