Friday, January 27, 2012

Green Sheets

At my school, the 6th and 7th graders participate in the ACE program. ACE stands for Assignments Completed Everyday. It works like this: if a student doesn't have their homework, they get a "green sheet." They have to bring the green sheet back the next day signed by a parent with the completed assignment. If they don't have it, they get another green sheet and a call home. Three green sheets in a week and they are "blue-listed" which means that they have to get their assignment notebook signed by every teacher at the end of each class. If they have a green sheet free week, they get an ACE ticket and ACE tickets can be used for different things, like a special lunch brought in.

In the 11 years that I have worked for this school, I haven't had much to do with these except when my own sons were involved. That is because the 8th grade team (and I primarily teach 8th grade) doesn't follow this program. We say they are getting ready for high school and don't need it. Anyway, I quit grading homework this year and at the end of October, I was feeling pretty good about the fact that most of my students were still doing it. Well, now it is almost February and only about half of my 8th graders are doing homework and I am suffering for it because they are taking a long time to learn everything due to lack of practice. However, I have one 7th grade class and because they get "green sheets" they always do their homework. Class always goes better with them because they all come with the skills practiced.

Anyway, today I told my 8th graders that they will now get green sheets when homework isn't done. Since they only will get these in Math, I told them 2 in a week will mean lunch detention. Boy, they were mad, but I had a couple of them thanking me because they are so entrenched in this points game that they won't do the homework if they don't get something for it. Clearly, they thanked me because they knew that they will do it to avoid punishment. This seems a bit weird. I've been asking them "Do I give worthwhile practice for homework?" They say "Yes." Then I ask "Do I give a lot of homework?" and they say "No." They do trust me, they just can't be motivated without some sort of reward (points) or punishment (talking to their parents).

Middle schoolers are goofy... I'll write again to report how this experiment with "green sheets" works.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Yoga and Practice

I've been on break for the holidays and I have been taking yoga from a different teacher. I am a novice at the practice of yoga and I have been in much better shape at other times in my life, but this has been making me feel really good about myself and tonight I figured out why. Yoga teachers are always referring to where you are in your practice and when it is time for a certain pose they might say "and if this is available to you..."

So there are a few things about this that correspond to my "practice" as a math teacher. The first is that it is my practice and it's hard to get it perfectly right. I have to do what is available to me and that depends on a lot of things; it depends on how I feel, what I did the day before or right before class, where my head is and the students who show up to class. I was thinking of how this teacher feels with the novices and experienced members of the class and how she has to do something for all of us. Tonight, I didn't change for yoga and showed up in my jeans that are stretchy but still totally inappropriate for good practice. This sounds like my students. Last week during yoga, I had a nagging cough. Many times, I am so exhausted that I fall asleep at the end (and snore, disturbing the other members)...

I like the phrase "if this is available to you." How often have I presented something without saying this. My yoga teacher gives another option if the pose is not available. How often do I do that with the practice of math?

Then the word "practice." Homework is practice and I don't grade it. It would be ridiculous to be graded in yoga and it is fine to not get it right, you are still more relaxed and more limber and flexible after you have practiced. I suppose the only way to fail would be to not show up. Even if you just laid there for an hour in child's pose you would gain something though I would never do that because I choose to go to yoga and I definitely want to at least try everything, even when I am not feeling 100%. How come we can't be more like this in our practice of teaching and learning at school?

I like the way this teacher meets me and the other students where we are. She gave a challenging class tonight and I did most of it (even in jeans). I like to think that I meet my students where they are most of the time. I know that most of them believe that I understand them and that can go a long way with eighth graders.

I've been reading Robyn Jackson's Never Work Harder than Your Students and it is all about working on your practice both as a teacher and as a student (of teaching). It is amazing to me how a break in the routine can help me figure out this kind of stuff. The "gift" she talks about comes from hard work and also from how we are put together, just like in yoga.