- Day 1: Orientation
- Day 2: Survey
- Day 3: In-Class Essay
Day 1: Orientation
Full day of orientation for all middle school students. Lots of running around, crossing out administrative t’s and dotting technical i’s. Some of the teachers complained that this used to get done in a half-day. I must admit I, too, was exhausted by the end of the day, but I also appreciated that it gave me a chance to acquaint myself with this new 7th grade in a more warm and informal way than I would present myself in class. I generally felt that my advisees sized me up in a positive way by the end of the day, and that can only help me as I make my way as a teacher this year.
Day 2: Survey
Assigned seats. I distributed a survey that asked for 1) e-mail contact information, 2) which books they chose to read and do assignments for as part of this class over the summer, and 3) how they would rate themselves as a student in several categories. I then spent a good portion of class reading to them what they should consider when they rate themselves in these categories:
- Do you like to read? Do you consider yourself a reader?
- How difficult is the reading level of the books you read for pleasure?
- Is it easy for you to get “into” a book? Do you find yourself fully immersed into the story when you read? Does your imagination get fired up when you read?
- Do you easily remember details of characters and plot after you read?
- Does reading a good book make you think about deeper issues? Or do you just read for stories?
- Is it easy for you to sense what the theme of a book is? Do you sometimes find yourself “talking back” to the book or author?
- Do you sometimes admire how a book is written? Do you notice, for example, an author’s style or voice, their use of language?
- Are you good at writing essays?
- Can you explain yourself well on paper?
- Are you good at making clear and persuasive arguments?
- When you write, do you tend to ramble, or do you deliberately try to be clear and organized?
- Do you have interesting insights about what you’re reading?
- Do you know how to support literary points with evidence from the book?
- Are you annoyed when someone makes a point that is illogical, irrelevant, or insubstantial?
- Do you have a sensitive ear for language?
- Does your academic writing sound mechanical and stilted or natural and flowing?
- Do you read a lot?
- Do you know a lot of words?
- Are you good at memorizing?
- When you learn a word, do you try to use it in conversation?
- When you learn new vocabulary, do you tend to forget it quickly or do the words stay with you?
- Given a word, can you identify what part of speech it normally is? (noun, verb, adjective, adverb)
- Given a basic sentence, can you easily identify the parts of speech of the words in that sentence?
- When you write for classes, do you generally avoid mechanical errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and syntax?
- After you write a first draft, do you sometimes find that what you’ve written doesn’t make sense when you read it aloud?
- Do you consider yourself a creative person?
- Do you like doing school projects?
- Do you consider yourself a self-motivated person? In other words, given a task, do you generally pursue that task diligently without the need for reminders and prodding?
- Do you try to learn how to do things outside of school?
- When you make something, do you care how polished or beautiful it is? Do you pay attention to aesthetic issues? Are you meticulous and attentive to little details?
- When you read, do you sometimes come up with ideas on how you can translate that book into other mediums (film, song, musical, animation, etc.)?
- Are you comfortable presenting in front of others?
- Do you have trouble sitting still in class?
- Do you have trouble staying on-task in class? Are you easily distracted?
- Do you tend not to participate in class discussions and activities?
- Do you tend to over-participate sometimes? That is, do you have a tendency to interrupt others or in other ways demand attention out-of-turn?
- Have you sometimes antagonized your classmates in the past because of your behavior in class?
I asked students to rate themselves from 1-10 in these categories, with a 5 rating being what they consider average among their peers. I also let them know these ratings do not have any bearing on their grade; that they are purely subjective measures meant to give me a sense of their own confidence and self-assessment in these areas. I also encouraged them to write down any notes to me that they thought were relevant or clarifying; I was surprised how many took up that suggestion.
I think I’ll keep this exercise. Not only did it give me some preliminary insight into my students, but it also indirectly communicated my objectives and expectations for the class.
After I collected the surveys and the summer writing assignments, I presented a brief slide show that just listed the items students needed to bring to class the next day: something to write with, loose-leaf paper, and a composition book. I also asked students to check their e-mail that night as their homework.
I then put a tripod in the middle of the class (I now have students sitting in a U facing the front of the class) and took a series of photographs of the students around the room that I could overlap together in a panorama. Doing this gives me something to put on the empty wide bulletin board outside in the hallway, and it gives me a visual prompt that I can use to help me memorize my students’ names.
I had a lot more time left over than I anticipated, and I ended up blowing some hot air about the year’s theme and class expectations. Note to self: don’t expect to students to come up with questions about the class. At this stage, they’re willing to be just passive consumers.
After class, I noted which students brought in their summer writing assignments and tweaked the names on my roster. I started a spreadsheet to record the results of the survey, and then went online to sign into my blog on edublogs.org where I invited all my students to sign in to become co-authors of the blog (that was the e-mail message they were to check).
Day 3: In-Class Essay
Yes, that’s right. I started the year with a 30-minute in-class essay. I told students they could sit anywhere and collected the composition books they were to bring in. I passed back the summer writing assignments I collected the day before and then passed out these instructions:
It basically says that I want a 5-paragraph book report on the book that each student chose to do their summer reading writing assignments for. Students were allowed to use their writing assignments as open notes for this essay.
So what’s with the shock and awe strategy? Well, I really dread grading all these summer reading writing assignments; they’re tedious to read and assess. There is also always the question of how much of the summer work truly reflects the student’s individual ability and insight. So this year, I’m trying this. It’s non-critical essay; I’m not asking for much literary analysis, just a summary of the book’s narrative arc. And I’ll give the option to students that if they don’t like their grade on the essay, they can request I grade their writing assignments instead.
At the end of class, I requested that students bring in the one summer reading book they were all required to read (The Bean Trees for the 7th graders, The Lord of the Flies for the 8th graders) and check their e-mail and the class blog on Sunday.
After class, I noted who brought in composition books like they were supposed to and also noted who still hadn’t turned in their summer writing assignments. This year I’ve made it a goal to make more specific my comments about each individual student, and so I’m making more of an effort to keep a running written record of my mental notes of my students.
On Saturday, I made up mass e-mail groups for each of my classes, created a Facebook group for my classes, and polished the Google Sites web sites for my 7th and 8th graders. I then sent out mass invitations to the Google Sites web sites and the Facebook group to all my students and posted a blog post suggesting students subscribe to the blog by RSS or e-mail. After a little equivocation, I decided to bite to bullet and pay to become a supporter for a year; the extra features and control are worth it. It’s also worth setting up a Feedburner feed for the site, if only to allow students to subscribe to the blog by e-mail (I’ve found students just don’t use RSS readers).