This week I was reminded of a truth that I have known in the past: Art is subjective. The students in my Junior High Technology class turned in their first big project this week, which was the front page of our school’s newspaper created in Office Word. When I made the assignment, I also created the grading rubric and thought that it was brilliant. However, when I actually sat down and applied the rubric to the student’s projects, I was soon lost. I find that I cannot grade students like a math teacher would because the work is not wrong or right. It is instead complete or not complete. I have some students who gave a 100% effort and were working hard the entire time, but their work cannot compare to the gifted students whose design looked better even though they kept goofing off during class. This bothers me. I want to award students for their hard work, but I also want to teach them what they are doing wrong rather than stamping gold stars on everything.
Where am I at right now with my viewpoint on grading? I tried to collaborate with other teachers at my school about this subject to learn from the wisdom of my peers. The teachers that I talked to said that this is just a hard subject and it should be something that should constantly be assessed and modified. I found that the teachers who had subjects that allowed for concrete answers had an easier time putting together grading rubrics. With that said, the best advice came from a fellow art teacher who told me to grade for completion of the project, class participation, and the effort that the student put forth in class.
This week flew by! Teaching days are so fast paced and I can’t believe how quickly everything occurs. I have had a couple of challenges this week, both inside and outside of the classroom. First off, what should I do when students have really good reasons for turning work in late? We had our first big project due this week and I had them turn the Word document online into a teaching resource site called “Moodle”. In Moodle, I have created pages for each of my classes and the pages include an online of the units for each course and resources for students to utilize. It also has a feature that allows students to upload files online since all of the projects that are created in my classes are digitally stored anyway. The problem is that at the exact time and date the projects are due, little technology demons run around creating havoc as students try to turn the projects in. I had one student who had finished his entire project just in time for his mom to turn the computer off which deleted all of his work since he forgot to save. I had another student who tried finished her project at home and the computer broke just at the right moment. I know that these stories are true because I also got worried emails from parents. All that to say, I wanted to give grace in these situations because life sometimes just doesn’t go your way.
The other problem that I had this week was outside of the classroom. I burned myself out this week. Instead of relaxing at home, I found myself planning lessons and grading homework late into the night. I realize that teachers need to put in some overtime hours to get things done, but there still has to be balance. I threw balance out the window this week and felt the consequences. In the future, I want to better manage my time so that I can get work done as well as finding rest and restoration to be ready for the next week.
I had the opportunity to observe a teacher who is a legend at our school. He has been teaching here for 45 years and has the wisdom to prove it. After observing his high school technical drawing class, I admired his consistent energy and enthusiasm. His attitude was contagious! I feel that a lot of teachers can easily get worn out after years and years of teaching, but this was not true in his case. The teacher is not only passionate about the student’s academic education; he is also concerned with their personal growth as a follower of Christ. As I watched the lesson, I constantly saw him referring to this question, “What is God communicating to you through this class?”
The teacher was extremely skilled in the art of multi-tasking. It almost seemed like he had eyes in the back of his head. I was impressed by how he weaved in and out of the rows of desks observing student progress and giving instructional input. Like me, this teacher also moves from room to room because of the diverse range of classes that he teaches. I feel that it is a challenge to not have a homeroom and this teacher overcomes this challenge by using all the resources that each room has to offer. Throughout this hands-on lesson, the teacher was constantly present with the students and supported them in their learning.
We have had a large amount of technical problems in both of my technology classes. We have had student’s accounts mysteriously deleted, user names being deactivated and passwords somehow being altered. Since this is how the school year started, I decided that we needed to have a unit dedicated solely to troubleshooting. I first taught students how to “think outside of the box” by describing the process of problem solving. Many students are honestly used to not having to think for themselves because whenever they do not get something they just raise their hand for the teacher. Teachers are of course an important resource and support for students, however I believe that this relationship should enable students rather than creating a crutch for them to lean on. With that said, after teaching students how to problem solve, I gave them a list of common computer problems and asked them to start troubleshooting. The students started to think for themselves as a gut reaction rather than asking me to solve the problem for them.
In the middle of this unit, I had the students do “The Marshmallow Challenge” that I learned from Chad Donohue’s class at SPU. I wanted the students to recognize that they use problem-solving skills in their everyday lives, in and outside of the classroom. In this challenge students were given 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string, 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 marshmallow and 18 minutes. In these 18 minutes, students got in groups to create the highest tower with the marshmallow at the top. Students learned to create a plan, test the plan and the re-evaluate their approach if it failed. They also learned that there is more than one way to find a solution to a problem. The students are now able to practice their growing troubleshooting skills in our technology class and I am very pleased with their progress.
Take a look at my Junior High Technology class taking on The Marshmallow Challenge:
In my second week of teaching junior high and high school technology classes, I have learned that the end of the day is hard for students. It is really difficult to expect teenagers to sit still after they have done that since 8:00 am, and they can also see freedom just on the horizon. This is not to say that these students hate school; on the contrary, most of the students that I engage with truly enjoy school. I have found that there are usually two types of students at the end of a school day: the students who have the jitters and need to sit on their hands to stay still, and the students whose eyes are glazed and desire a good nap. Since the classes that I teach are 6th and 7th period, I am brainstorming creative ways to keep the students engaged. If I give a lesson, I try to make it no more than 10 minutes and I always work to have some sort of class activity. So far this has proven to be a good approach and I will continue to think of ways to keep class time moving along.
Surprisingly, I have had more trouble with my high school class than my junior high class. The junior high class is comfortable with engaging in class discussion and they are honest about their understanding of the subject matter. However, some of my high school students can easily “check out of the building”, which presents a problem since technology contains so many details. Those students miss important information and then later exclaim, “I don’t get it” when we are working on projects. With this said, I have learned that it is important to incorporate repetition into each new idea that I am presenting to class. I have also learned that the students need to both “see” and “hear” the information. It is still frustrating when some students complain about not getting it because they are too lazy to listen or look at the board. In these moments I enjoy the fact that teenagers will honestly say, “I wasn’t listening” and the truth is refreshing.
Today I observed an SAS special learning session for one of my students who has an IEP plan. It was very interesting to see the teaching techniques that are used for these students. The student that I was observing has specific difficulties in connecting meaning to words. I noticed that he can easily grasp patterns and sometimes big ideas, however, he has a difficult time with specific details. The challenge here is that I teach technology classes and the information is full of specific details.
In my observation, I noticed how well the teacher spoke to the student. She used short sentences and carefully chose each word to create a sentence that he would understand. When the teacher spoke, it was quite respectful to the student and did not belittle him at all. She complemented him when he made progress and encouraged him when he made a mistake. I was also impressed by how the teacher held the student to higher standards. When he made a very small mistake in a sentence, she always kindly corrected him. I think that this is very important in special education because if teachers overlook small mistakes, then students will not know that there is a problem. This observation gave me an important look through the eyes of my student. I got to see his perspective on education and personal challenges first hand. This experience is something that I can directly apply to my teaching because I have a number of students with 504 plans and IEPs in my classes, and it takes extra time and effort to ensure their understanding of the subject matter.
I observed a High School Junior English class this week and it was refreshing. When I entered the classroom, I immediately noticed all of the personal touches that the teacher had decorated his room with. In one 360, I could see the teacher’s hobbies, passions, and personality traits. He had large model Lego’s that were displaying scenes from Star Wars. In the corner were bookcases filled with books and comfy area to read them in. The teacher also had helpful reminders of what a good class should look like on the board and on the walls.
When the lesson started, I could instantly see that the students were comfortable with their teacher. The students engaged in an open discussion, which did not actually involve the raising of hands in class. At first I was thinking, “Why is the teacher just letting the students talk out of turn?” However, I soon realized that no one was rudely interjecting their comments. The students were engaged enough in the discussion that there was actually no need for students to be called on by the teacher. I think that this approach works better for Junior or Senior classes, and it also requires a foundation laid down by the teacher. This teacher had already shown the students how to respect each other and how to have a good discussion.