As of right now, my schedule for next year consists of Math 7 and Pre-Algebra. Any student who was in Math 7 last year (all of my students) will be in Pre-Algebra this year, which will be interesting to see how they've grown over the summer.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to blame their last year's teacher for any gaps in their understanding...
There was interesting division between the 6th grade boys and girls. The girls seemed eager to make a good impression while the boys seemed eager to show off on how silly they were.
All of this was good and interesting, but it wasn't the most important part of my day.
Bump-Up Day was after lunch. Before lunch, we ran a shortened schedule where the students went to their regular classes for a grand total of 20 minutes.
Since the grades were due in yesterday and 20 minutes isn't much time to get into anything, many of the teachers were showing movies or having kids help to pack up their rooms for moving in the fall.
I decided that I had a golden opportunity and I took it.
When I students came in, I was sitting at the front of the class with a notepad. I talked briefly about the importance of feedback and touched on several points that I had been attempting this year, such as discussion of process and the constant need for improvement. I reminded them that this is true for teachers as well.
I asked them for their help in making me a better teacher and making the class better for future students (or themselves, in some cases.)
Specifically, I was looking for ways to motivate them, make the class more interactive and improve my grading system. I made some suggestions and got their feedback. They made suggestions and I kept notes. Something came forward that was common across all of the classes:
"Homework should be graded or we won't do it."
I explained my issues with that.
1) Grading homework doesn't encourage kids to DO it, but it does encourage them to copy it, defeating the purpose entirely. They agreed with this point and acknowledged that they always copied someone else's math homework.
2) I care about proficiency, not compliance. If you do all of the homework and can't demonstrate proficiency, you aren't ready to pass and homework points give you a false sense of success. If you have mastered the skills, then there's no need for you to do the homework just to keep your grade from dropping.
3) If you're only doing homework because it's graded, you're missing the point entirely.
After some discussion, we came up with a new system that would encourage homework for those who needed the practice while not requiring it of those who don't.
The new plan is as follows:
Before each section/unit/skill, the class will take a brief (3-4 question, 5-10 minute) pre-quiz that will be scored on the 0-4 scale that I've been using all year. Based on their pre-quiz score, students will be set along different assignment paths, each designed to hit specific concepts and reinforce previous ideas.
"If you earned a 0 or 1, this is your assignment list for the section. If you earned a 2 or 3, these are your assignments. If you earned a 4, you'll do these."
At the end of each section, we will have a skill quiz, as we have this year. A major difference here will be that we will have more skill assessments that are shorter, rather than saving up several skills for a big test.
Students who do not score a 4 on their assessments will still have the opportunity to reassess, but the requirements to do so will be MUCH more specific. They will need to complete specific practice problems and attend a certain number of seminar periods, determined by their score. They will then get to schedule a reassessment to demonstrate their knowledge.
They also had several suggestions for changes to the warm-ups and various activities. I wrote them all down. I'm taking their suggestions very seriously and will be implementing as many as I can in the fall.
I am grateful for their feedback. Maybe next year, I should do this at the end of each marking period. I worry, however that they wouldn't give me honest feedback for fear of repercussions. That just means I need to do a MUCH better job of fostering trust in my classroom.