No essay -> no passing my class

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Linguist92021, Feb 24, 2017.

  1. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Feb 24, 2017

    Has anyone done this?
    My students were writing a compare / contrast essay (2 civil rights activists). I have spent the time teaching them how to write it, gave them brainstorm organizer, outline organizer, sentence starters, examples of general statements and thesis statements (told them to change it around, but if they can't I'm ok with them using my examples), went over and over how I need details, the structure of the essay, what to put in the conclusion, etc. I'd say my work is done.

    I always have / had (over the past 4 years) students who refuse to write an essay. Most of them do this because they think they can't write, so why even try. A lot probably have been able to get away with not writing an essay and still pass the class.

    So last week I announced in all my classes that if they don't turn in an essay, they will not pass my class, even if they otherwise they would have the grades for it.
    My reasons (this is what I told them)
    - you cannot possibly pass a high school English class without ever turning in an essay. You can't just sit there and always do the work that we do together or copy or read, but not actually produce something that shows your thinking and shows that you're capable of writing more than a paragraph.
    - if you keep passing classes and never write an essay, we're going to have high school graduates who never produced a piece of writing. How are you going to write a letter to your landlord, explaining the problems you have? How are you going to give a written notice to your employer? Write an essay for a job? Help your kid write an essay in elementary school?
    - this is an English high school class and to pass you need to demonstrate that you can read and understand what you're reading, answering questions about it and formulate your on thoughts. That you can produce a piece of writing about various topics with acceptable language skills.
    - you do not have to turn in an excellent essay. It can be an essay that doesn't even get passing grades, but you have to attempt it, it has to be about this topic, attempting to answer the writing prompt and show me that you're capable of producing more than a paragraph. Then, given that otherwise you have the grades, you can pass the class.

    (of course my speech was shorter, but I did repeat it in a couple of classes to make sure it sinks in.
    What I didn't tell them was that they will have another opportunity to write a persuasive essay and if we have time a business letter. So if they write me an ok essay out of those 2-3, I'm fine with that. They won't have an A, obviously, but can pass.

    I don't think I'm too harsh. Some of these kids think they can just sit there, copy things and if they behave they will pass the class. a lot of them have spent some time in juvenile hall where I think the curriculum is much lower level, and they all come out with As and Bs. Then they go back to regular school and can barely pass. I have always been against dumbing down lessons, and have never done it.

    I mentioned this to my principal, just in case some kids will complain. To my surprise, she didn't even bat an eye and said that I'm absolutely right, this also goes with what we've learned in a training 2 weeks ago. It was about English learners, how so many of them never participate, and many go through 8-12 years of school and never say a word, out of fear, out of language skills and because teachers leave them alone. She said the writing is the same thing.

    So I stand by my decision, but I'm curious what others think.
     
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  3. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Feb 24, 2017

    I agree that too many students slip by without having had to write. It may be late, but that is not a reason to let them continue to pass without any effort at writing. Have they had to write introductory paragraphs before this? Maybe make that the first writing assignment due prior to the entire essay. I find that starting sentences is the biggest challenge for many kids. After all, most of them can write lists of things. Joining those thoughts is a whole different task. Have them practice that as often as possible, perhaps starting with connecting introductory phrases with sentences, both provided by you. Sounds kind of like 3rd grade, but, frankly, that is the level of writing produced by many older students.
     
  4. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Feb 24, 2017

    I say rock on!
     
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  5. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Feb 24, 2017

    Yes, like I said I gave them 4 general statements, the sentences they start the essay. Told them to just choose one if they can't think of anything else. I gave them 3 different typs of thesis statements. One that was ok, but kind of weak, one that was better because it was more specific, and one that was strong. For a lot of the lower level kids I just pointed to the weak thesis statement and said to use that, but change the names (there were 4 people they could choose to write about).

    In my opinion these kids can write well enough to put their thoughts on paper. The problem is the fear of failure, the fear of not doing it well enough or just laziness.
     
  6. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Feb 24, 2017

    I have a kid who has very strange work ethics. He's very smart, but his spelling is very bad and I think that is the reason why he refuses to write. But I have seen him writing several paragraphs before (we did creative writing last semester), and his writing is ok.
    He told me a few weeks ago that he doesn't want to do any of this work, because it's of no interest to him, and he will never use it. I gave him a pep talk about it,and then told him he has to do enough work to pass the class. Last semester I gave him a 50 multiple choice question about the book we read, because I had that test, saw that he was trying towards the end, and knew that he did pay attention and can recall most of the information. He did really well. Passed my class. Told him it won't happen this time, so if he's waiting for me to save him at the end, it's not happening.
    Then I left him alone. I can't make him do anything.

    Then when I announced my new policy about the essays, he sat there for 15 minutes, then got up, got a piece of paper and started writing. He wrote a half a page. No introduction, but he was writing about the topic. That's a start. Since then every day I motivated him to write a little more, so I think it's working. Whatever he turns in, will be good enough for me to see how he writes, I can work with that, and as long as he does enough work to pass the class, he will.

    I had a few more kids restate my policy to me, asking me to confirm that as long as they try and produce the best they can, it's ok, and then started writing. Not everyone, but I can't save everyone.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2017
  7. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    Feb 24, 2017

    Fear of failing applies to many students and adults. Rarely will anyone look forward to anything that recalls unpleasant experiences. Ideally one wants to follow the art of diplomacy: If you need something from somebody always give that person a way to hand it to you. The primary goal with fearful students is "movement" as you are doing not mastery. When working the crowd during writing consider praise-prompt-leave. It's an excellent technique to counter helplessness, fear and start those students who sit and won't engage.
     
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  8. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Feb 24, 2017

    I agree. But here I'm talking about the students who are not struggling writing, starting but then are helpless and need help. I'm talking about those who flat out refuse. They say they can't write an essay - and even though I tell them how to start, even point to the first 2 sentences on the board, they even refuse to write that - and then just sit there. I'm not gonna sit there next to them, begging them to write word after word.
    And I'm talking about those who say they won't write one, and put their head down. Some say they don't care, no matter what they won't write.

    I still have a few who refused to write. I allowed students to listen to music on their phones while they were writing, and I told everyone: If you refuse to write an essay, you need to put your phone away. You're not gonna sit here, and chill while you slap music. So at least that worked, they put their phones away and sat there bored.
     
  9. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I was thinking though: how will I justify not passing them if their grade otherwise is a C or above? Then I realized any student who has a C or above will make the attempt. Those who won't write an essay, will probably have a D, and y not writing this and the next essay their grade will be lowered to below 59 % anyways. I give them points for everything: brainstorm, outline, edit, rough draft (points for completion), and final draft. This project totals 80 points. If a student did everything including an outline, they would do the rough draft, because all they have to do is transfer the outline and add to it. So it's probably either do almost nothing, or all of it.
     
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  10. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Feb 24, 2017

    :clapping:

    I think kids are getting away with a lot and passing classes by doing far too little lately. I think it's time that we toughened up on our standards.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2017
  11. MathGuy82

    MathGuy82 Companion

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    Feb 25, 2017

    Ahh, I completely understand the original posters concern as I do right now. The daily drudgery of teaching an unmotivated class, especially during this time of the year when we only have about 3 months left. The flu has been going around, so when students even recover they are not really their best until a week or so after the fever leaves. So this complicates things even more. I agree that I have to toughen things up during Feb/March because some students are already starting to check out. "Why do we have to do this" Why do we have to take this quiz, I'm tired of it. I think Linguist is on the right track, if you don't do it, they should not pass. I tell my students if they get more than one zero on a test for not taking it, there is a chance that they will not pass the class or get a D or low C at the very best. If I were you I would talk to the class about not turning in the essay, maybe extend the time for it and add an extra essay to complete this semester.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2017
  12. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Feb 25, 2017

    My first thought was, make sure you check with admin to see if they'll back you up.

    Since you did this, and your principal was supportive, I think this is a great policy.

    I've also tried to give more and more writing assignments at an elementary level. Some kids hate it, but they need to be able to write. They more they do it, the better they'll get. I agree with you - they should not be able to pass a high school English class if they cannot write an essay!
     
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  13. MathGuy82

    MathGuy82 Companion

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    I also agree with Loomistrout. This can be hard to do but so true and couldn't agree more. . And people say that teaching isn't hard and we just get summers off.
     
  14. Jerry Dill

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    I have a lot of ESL students, but I find even they are able to write a 3-paragraph essay in 40 minutes as long as they feel the need to do so. Many of the ESL students delay and delay finishing the writing assignments, but when they are faced with either finishing the writing assignment on their own or else staying after school to finish the writing assignment, I have seen the same students sit down and 40 minutes later, they have the 3 paragraphs written. I don't think requiring a short essay is unreasonable. Do your students plan to attend community college or college? Both require a fair amount of writing in the required first-year English classes. Multiple choice tests are way too easy and students should be pushed to achieve more.
     
  15. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    Hug your P for me. I'm glad she has your back.
     
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  16. MathGuy82

    MathGuy82 Companion

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    Feb 26, 2017

    Yes! A good principal that backs things up is always a good thing!
     
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  17. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Well, like I said I talked to all my classes, I announced it and explained it. The next day, I reviewed it, for students who were absent, and so that it can really sink in. I don't want to extend the time, I have given them enough. On top of it, I was sick Thursday and Friday, they were supposed to turn in the essays to the sub Thursday, but I don't think that happened. Technically they got a few more days.
    And like I said, there will be at least one other essay they will write this semester (but didn't tell them)
     
  18. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Feb 26, 2017

    I agree. All my students, even ELLs are at the level where they can produce something, if they really want to. I emphasized to them, that it doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be their best effort and that will be enough for me.
    Very few of my students plan to attend college. This I s a charter school + community/court school.
    We have a mixture of students, some come here by choice (anxiety, not fitting in, etc, and smaller class sizes and more attention works better for them. These are great students, and should be college bound), some are simply here for credit deficiency, failed too many classes in their freshman or sophomore year, or had way too many absences and the district expelled them for a semester, (these students should also be college bound) and we have those students who have been expelled from the district due to physical violence, incarceration, gang affiliation, probation, etc, some are permanently expelled. These kids are lower level academically, but not all of them, and definitely capable to produce a very good essay.
     

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