Teaching 10 years - still overwhelmed & need advice

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by shanepunim, Jul 10, 2007.

  1. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Hi, I am, as many would say, a veteran teacher. I have taught both language arts and reading, but I currently teach language arts.

    The big issue I need advice about is probably common to all teachers - organization and paperwork.

    My school is a one school, K-8 district. I teach 6th, 7th, 8th language arts. There, in itself lies the main problem. Three grade levels to plan for. And, in my state, three writing tests to administer. :eek:
    I know I have the ultimate solution, but I have not been able to make that happen. I know I need to move to a bigger district where I am not the only teacher in the department. Until that happens, I need to make the best of my situation.

    I just teach writing and grammar, so essays are very much a part of my life. I have tried the Writer's Workshop method, and I know I need more "practice" with it. Seminars sound fabulous, but my district like others has financial issues.

    Am I doomed to spending my weekends locked away from my family pouring over essays and grammar tests? Are there any tips and tricks that I haven't heard of?

    I appreciate any bit of advice anyone can give me.

    :thanks: Kim
     
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  3. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Jul 10, 2007

    You don't edit the kids' work, do you?
     
  4. VA2500

    VA2500 Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    I have not taught Language Arts, but I have taught science with seemingly endless lab reports. One thing that I borrowed from the math teachers. Let students do some of the grading.

    Students can write on the papers, "this is not clear" "grammar error" and even give the paper a score using a rubric. I had my students grade 2 papers. They graded 1 paper than handed that one in along with its score - They could NOT write the score on the paper. I recorded that score and their name (so I know who scored what) then I gave them another paper. (I could randomly sample some papers to score in class while they were scoring) I used numbers instead of names so students were not sure whose paper they were scoring. When every paper had two scores, I compared the scores, if the scores for one paper were the same, that is the score they received. If they were one point off I sometimes just gave them the higher score. Papers with more than two points different I scored myself. Usually one of the scores was within a point of what I gave.
    I used scores 0-5.

    Added advantage, when kids had to do the work over - we were not allowed to give lower than a 50% on any work, the kids who had been there on scoring day always did much better. The kids who had missed scoring day did not do nearly as well. I think just reading other kids work helped them understand different ways to approach the work.

    I even used this for essay tests - which are loaded with content. I did give the students the various elements that had to be present in the essay as a guide. The scores they gave on these were very reliable, with the exception of the low kids. If they did not score well on the test they did not generally do well on scoring, but they did improve when retested.

    VA
     
  5. VA2500

    VA2500 Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Just one more thing,

    I remember hearing a speaker once explain that he had taken great pains to write editorial comments on papers. At the end of the year a student came up to him to say how much she had learned, but she wondered, "what does vagoo meaning."

    He said, "I do not know. Where have you seen this word." "it is on all my papers," she said. Sure enough there it was -- vague.

    Do kids really understand what we write on papers? Do they know how to do anything about their writing errors? English Language Arts has to be one very tough subject to teach.

    Perhaps there is a retired teacher or newspaper person or a stay at home parent in your area who could give you a hand with grading.

    VA
     
  6. WindyCityGal606

    WindyCityGal606 Enthusiast

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    Jul 10, 2007

    You should only be scoring the final essay. Editing should be done by peers. There are many websites with wonderful step by step instructions for writier's workshop. You MUST start doing this immediately. Do not take home stacks of essays...no, no no!!
    And don't assign too many either. One writing piece may take weeks to get to the point of publishing. Have something for them to do in between essays. This will give you the time you need to score the "Finished Product".
    Ideas: Show a movie that relates to the theme of their writing, have them put together a reader's theater script relating to their writing, or have them create a board game related to the theme. While they are doing this, you are scoring their essays in class using a simple rubric.
    Also, you are not scoring every single writing trait on each essay! No!! Pick one for the focus, let them know ahead of time that you have the freedom to decide which you will be looking at and they may not know ahead of time...this keeps them on their toes!!
    Simplify!! Do your work at school during your paid hours. Do not take it home unless you WANT to. It should be a once in a while thing not always.
    Good luck. Hope this helps.
     
  7. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    I have to make sure I edit the SpEd kids' essays, but , no I do not take them all home and edit them. We have in class editing. I only grade the final copy.
     
  8. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Zoe, Thanks for those ideas. Very interesting. It reminds me of the things I used to do when I wanted to extend the information of a novel the kids read.
     
  9. holliday

    holliday Comrade

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    Jul 10, 2007

    I teach 7th lang./lit. and I have found a few things that help with the overwhelming load of papers that come in.

    1. Stretch out assignments so that there are many steps involved in producing a final project (this was mentioned above). In my class, this means a prewriting stage, discussion, peer editing, final draft. Then kids write me a "draft letter" explaining how well they think they did on the assignment. They can also include areas they are proud of, weak areas, etc. It's a great metacognitive tool to have them reflect on the writing process. I also ask them to include requests for minilessons they thought would help them do better next time.
    2. When I grade essays, I highlight in pink things I really like in the paper. This could just be a great word, an insight, their title...whatever. Then I highlight errors/problems in pink. I DO NOT write why I highlighted those areas. When the kids get their papers back, they get a form to fill out on which they must explain each and every error in the paper AND write a way to fix it. This means they learn from their mistakes and I don't have to write out what each mistake is (highlighting is SO much faster!!).
    Students who don't have much or any pink highlighting are free to read or play an educational game while the others work on their mistakes. Once the kiddos see this, they are VERY motivated to make sure their next paper has few errors so they can relax during this time, instead of pouring over a poorly written paper.
    ---This has been a lifesaver for me!
    3. My last favorite assignment for writing involves oral papers. I assign 2 oral papers per student each quarter. These papers must be written out and students may only read them (no adding words on the spot). While they read us their papers, I time them (there is a 2 minute minimum) and grade them on a rubric. It's a great writing activity that also incorporates public speaking. The kids whine at first but then get to where they love listening to each other. They also pressure each other to write about interesting topics because they get bored of the same old stuff.

    Hope some of this helps!
     
  10. Mrs. R.

    Mrs. R. Connoisseur

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Unfortuately, if you are going to teach kids to write, you have to have them write A LOT. I do bring essays home to grade every two weeks or so; I can't concentrate on them at school because there are so many distruptions. I grade after the kids are in bed, and take a couple of nights to do each stack.

    I agree with the advice posted above to grade only for certain aspects of the rubric. I notice that you are an Illinois teacher. Do you use the ISAT rubric for scoring your writing papers? I tend to do this, and the kids know that rubric inside and out. I use the papers from the ISBE website and papers from other years as training papers for the rubric. Once the kids know the rubric, they can score each other's papers as part of the revision process.
    I score all of the final drafts. I don't write a lot on their papers, because they don't read the comments. Instead, I mark specific areas of the rubric where they need help, and one or two comments on the area we've focused on in mini-lessons.
     
  11. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Oh, these are fabulous ideas! Thanks so much for your help. I love the way you incorporate speech in there.

    I am making a Word document of all the great ideas.
     
  12. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

     
  13. WindyCityGal606

    WindyCityGal606 Enthusiast

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Highlighting the good and the errors is fantastic!! I will be doing that! I'm going to see about making a handout kids can use to evaluate pink highlights on their papers and make corrections. Great idea!! This means, though, that you are grading twice but I also think it will cut down on errors in the long run. No one likes to rewrite while others are enjoying a leisurely activity.
     
  14. holliday

    holliday Comrade

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    Exactly, Zoe! Plus, I have the kids work in small groups when going through the pink highlighting so they aren't running up to me to ask for help identifying the errors.

    I also use this as a way for them to raise their grade on the original assignment by fixing the errors. This helps them take it seriously.

    Plus, even though it is kind of like grading twice, you can still only focus on one area per writing assignment. That means that if you are just checking for use of supporting details or just looking for some grammar issue, you only have to highlight those areas. THen the kids are only correcting a small portion of their paper. That helps.

    Something that makes the whole process easier is to have them go through the paper and NUMBER each mistake (or you could do this as you highlight if you want...sometimes there's more than one error in a highlighted sentence - like it's a fragment AND has a misspelled word). Then they number the form and that makes it easy to see exactly which error they are correcting.

    Finally, this is a super way to quickly identify which areas of writing show up as problems repeatedly for each student (I ask them to help figure this out). So you can see if a student's major issue is spelling, organization, whatever.
     
  15. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 10, 2007

    Great! I like the additional explanations. I am adding it to my TIPS document.
     
  16. Mrs. R.

    Mrs. R. Connoisseur

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    Kim,
    Here's the link to the ISBE writing materials, including rubrics and anchor papers:

    http://www.isbe.net/assessment/writing.htm

    I teach seventh and use the 8th grade rubrics. 3 is meets, 4 & 5 exceeds. We shoot for all seventh graders to score at least a 4 on the 8th grade rubric when we do our district assessment.
    Hope this helps!
     
  17. ChangeAgent

    ChangeAgent Comrade

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    Jul 10, 2007

    holliday--I LOVE the "draft letter" concept! That sounds very effective and keeps the students engaged, responsible, and thinking!
     
  18. holliday

    holliday Comrade

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    Thanks!
    I have to say I definitely saw an improvement in their writing when I started having them write those letters. I was amazed by how honest they were (I got several saying things like "I sped through this assignment...didn't put much effort into it...wrote it at the last minute...etc.). They also did a great job asking for specific support.
    For example, I start the year teaching ways to write good leads. We spend a lot of time on that. For their first writing assignment, of course, I expect them to put a lot of effort into their lead. Many students wrote they were proud of their leads and were glad we spent time practicing them. Many also asked if I could follow up with how to close a paper effectively. Of course, this was already my next lesson, but because so many kids requested I teach it, they felt like I came up with it just for them. This kept them engaged in the writing lessons for sure!
     
  19. reverie

    reverie Companion

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    Jul 11, 2007

    I don't know if you incorporate a lot of vocabulary lessons into your curriculum, but I find that it's very important in improving writing. You can have students use a thesaurus and describe something using words they haven't used before. That can be applied to all middle grade levels.
     
  20. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Thanks for the link to the ISBE ISAT items. Very helpful.

    :p Kim
     
  21. ValinFW

    ValinFW Comrade

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    Jul 11, 2007

    RUBRICS, RUBRICS, RUBRICS!!!

    I have some revising and editing checklists that I have the kids complete...sometimes for their own papers, sometimes as peer editing. I'll post them on my website, then come back here and post a link. I also have a ratiocination guide that I have the kids use. Unfortunately, that is not on my computer. I really need it to be, so I'll work on getting that done and post that on my website, too.

    ETA: Okay, so I can't post anything to my webpage, since we can only edit them from our home campuses. :sorry:
     
  22. Aussiegirl

    Aussiegirl Habitué

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    Jul 12, 2007

    Holliday,
    Do you highlight errors and good stuff with the same color? What does your form look like? I like you ideas tremendously. Thank you!

    Quick question about vocabulary... How many of you have "formal" vocabulary/spelling lessons? If you have them, what is your usual process?
     
  23. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    I realized that I had the same question Holliday. Do you have a specific for you use or is it up to the kids to include the items in a free form letter? Do you teach the whole process in a mini lesson?

    Also, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who gave me so many great tips about how to manage this coming year.

    I can't believe I had to ask for advice after being in a classroom for so long, but like anything, fresh, new ideas help me see things in a new light.

    Kim
     
  24. holliday

    holliday Comrade

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    Here's how I do it...but I'm always looking for ways to improve the process so if you think of a better method, don't hesitate to let me know!!

    I start the year with a simple writing assignment (I change this every year but it's usually something like a goal paper for 7th grade or describe what a "good" student looks like...whatever). I like to get them to put down in words the kinds of habits they'll need for a successful year.

    Anyway, I get them started brainstorming and discussing this. I typically have them write a rough draft then. That's my chance to see what skills they are coming in with. I read the rough drafts and use them to decide what minilesson I want to start with (it's almost always how to write an effective lead and I use Nancie Atwell's examples to get them going).

    So...they take that minilesson and use it to spice up their leads. I then have them write a final draft. Oh, and of course peer-editing happens throughout this writing process. The day their finals drafts are due, I have them look through their piece of writing and then write me a letter explaining what they liked, didn't like, etc. and other minilessons they'd like me to present. I have a few of these that I read to them after I explain it so they can hear how they sound.

    Then I collect the final drafts, rough drafts, peer editing papers, and draft letters. I also have them staple a rubric on top that outlines what they should have in the paper and how much it's worth - they get that rubric the first day of the assignment.

    As I grade, I use pink highlighter for things I really like. I try REALLY hard to find at least one thing in each paper that I can highlight in pink (sometimes it's hard...LOL!). When I come across an error, I highlight it in yellow. I always grade for grammar and spelling, but the writing skill I'm grading depends on the lesson, so for this first paper, I'm not looking so much for word choice, strong conclusion, etc. because we have only focused on leads. I pay close attention to their lead and give them feedback on how effective it is.

    When I hand back the graded papers, I give them a form to fill out on which they identify and correct errors I pointed out. I have them number each error in the paper and then write why it got highlighted and a correction.

    Example:
    Error #4: I wrote "there" when I meant to write "their."
    Correction: Students who want to be successful need to stay on top of their assignments.

    When they are finished, the last step on the form is to try and identify a pattern of mistakes. This doesn't happen for all kids, all the time, but for many they start to realize that spelling is their biggest issue, or they write in fragments, or whatever. It's a great tool to help them zero in on areas they need to pay special attention to.

    PLUS, I don't know about you guys but we're under a lot of pressure to differentiate instruction, which can be tricky with over 100 students, but this method fits right in with that idea.

    I hope this makes sense...I've been up with my 6 week old for what feels like days so I'm not sure how coherent this is!!
     
  25. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Virtuoso

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    We have a state writing rubric, and I teach the kids how to use it right from the beginning of school. I help them with the planning stages of the assignment, and then I don't read their papers until the final draft. I do keep an eye on them while they're writing, and I can head off common problems through mini-lessons.

    I don't have every class turn in everything at the same time. Also, since I'm using writing workshop they're all turning things in at different times within a class, too.

    Our state writing program is NOT part of only the language arts class, so we're in charge of three pieces and all of the other classes submit pieces, too. That really helps.

    I know how it is to teach multiple grades. I taught 12, 11, 9, and 7
    one year. Then I taught 7 & 8 several years. One year I had regular 7, advanced 7, advanced 6, and regular 8. The years I had only 7 seemed much easier. This year I'll probably pick up a 6 or 8 just because of staffing issues.

    Organization is key, too.
     
  26. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    For essays my kids are only required to hand in a final draft. If they want to complete an outline or final draft and turn it in to me for feedback I will, but they are not required to do so. I have a general rubric that I have made up to grade papers. It mostly focuses on content. Spelling is only worth 5 points.
     
  27. Mrs. R.

    Mrs. R. Connoisseur

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    Brendan,
    I think that is one of the differences between teaching LA and social studies. When I taught SS, I only required final draft from my students. In LA, I need to see the process the kids go through as they write, so my kids hand in what ever prewriting/organizing they did, as well as all drafts of a piece.
    Hmmmm.....maybe I should have grabbed the all SS position instead of the all LA position; I definitely would have had less writing to grade!
     
  28. paperheart

    paperheart Groupie

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  29. shanepunim

    shanepunim Rookie

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    Jul 17, 2007

    Great link :D :D

    I read through it and I LOVE the tips. A few were mentioned here, but it just shows that great minds think alike.

    :thanks: Kim
     

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