Despite a number of snow delays and closures, our first semester ended Monday, and second semester began yesterday. The last few weeks have felt a bit like being stuck in stop-and-go traffic, and I am eager to get back into a routine. Here’s what I am doing to shut down first semester and begin anew with very little breathing time between.
First Semester Finals
I have a love-hate relationship with high school finals. I recognize the benefit an extended final period affords some teachers who take advantage of the opportunity and provide a more robust testing situation. I also appreciate how it mimics college in some ways. I have struggled, however, to create authentic assessments that I can appropriately evaluate in the turnaround time required. It doesn’t make sense for students to complete a traditional multiple choice test recalling all we have covered throughout the semester, and I am thus always in search of engaging activities requiring the application of skills we have practiced and/or mastered. I think I have finally stumbled upon something worthwhile.
In my August 2016 blog post titled New Year, New Routines, I discussed my plan for teaching with articles this school year. As the mid-point nears and I reflect on this endeavor, I am pleased with the progress we have made. My turn-in rates are high, and student writing is improving. We started the year simply responding–agreeing or disagreeing–with what we read. From there, we moved to writing claims relevant to the articles, citing applicable evidence to support our ideas. As of right now, students write a 4+ paragraph essay each week. It makes sense, thus, that they showcase their writing proficiency for my school-required English finals this year by completing an article response.
I mostly select the articles we read from Kelly Gallagher or Dave Stuart Jr.’s archives based on current events. This time I let the students have some input regarding topics of interest. All of my English sections agreed that politics were out, and so we ended up with four options: animal rights, smartphone addiction, soccer scandal, and student privacy. After a semester of teaching with articles, I have developed some tricks for eas(ier) evaluation so I am not too worried about getting them graded by Friday at 8:20 a.m., and I am eager to see what the final products reveal.
Beginning a New Semester
Night fell on Semester 1, and dawn rose on Semester 2. Normally, we have a weekend or so to get ourselves ready, but the calendar did not work out that way this year. It’s not easy for me to make such a quick shift, but this post has helped me brainstorm some “reset” to-dos in the next week or so.
The “Clean Slate” Speech: No matter our feelings about it, in high school grades matter. High marks are preferable to low ones. At the beginning of each new term, I like to remind students that they are starting fresh, that no matter their performance the semester before, the slate is clean. For some, this indicates they need to amp up their performance because they had a solid B when they quit doing their assignments two weeks ago so their semester grade held in the short-term. For others, this means they have a new opportunity to earn the grade they want, the one that will help them get into the college or vocational program of their choosing.
Review Expectations: Our students behave very well overall. We are a PBIS school and use the acronym PRIDE to teach and reinforce important behaviors–positivity, respect, integrity, determination and excellence. In the long months since September, however, our comfort with one another has led to a slight decline in the quality of our interactions. The beginning of a new semester seems the perfect time to re-establish those expectations by reteaching and reinforcing them. This year, I will take a portion of one class period to briefly review them, and then I will then zoom in and focus on positivity. I see my students getting increasingly negative about school, about one another, about the future, about life. I want to brainstorm some ideas for improvement in this area.
Purge and Reset: Taking time to clean out the old to make space for the new is important. I have been working on this since winter break. First, I cleaned my desk. Then, I took old student work off the walls. I made a new seating chart. I reorganized my bookshelf. All of these tasks put a spring in my step. Tomorrow, I will give time for the students to do the same with their class materials because I think it is worthwhile to help students maintain their organizational system.
Goal Setting: We’re currently working on a school-wide goal setting protocol that I plan to blog about in coming months. This process will begin in English classes once semester grades have posted and involves helping students identify a grade or GPA goal and steps to reach it. Students will monitor their goal throughout the quarter with grade check activities shifting between core classes so that nearly all teachers are involved in the process. We know our students need help breaking their big goals into smaller, achievable steps and this is our solution. I expect we will learn as much as they do.
I feel better now that I have all of this down on paper…er, screen–thanks for reading! How do my plans compare to what you are doing or have done? I look forward to hearing your ideas.