Classroom Mailbag II

Posted on April 28, 2010Filed Under classroom, Grading papers, Mailbag | 2 Comments

So it’s not tomorrow…

First, a correction. During the photo tour of my classroom, I said that I thought I had moved in about 10 years ago. My how time does fly. It was 1996 when I moved into my present digs. My 7th graders weren’t even born yet. (Scary thought, that.) I even found a photo of the room from the morning before the first day of school back then. The principal at the time was really stoked on our newly remodeled facility. She even took pictures of the rooms that didn’t get remodeled. Look how tidy! And empty. (Click for full-size.)

Whoa! So tidy and empty!

I showed the kids this pic today. They all thought it looked “boring.”

“Where’s the Popple?”


I am not one of those teachers who says that there are no lame questions. I believe that we junior high teachers get asked plenty of lame and stupid questions. My standard response to lame questions from my 7th graders is, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.” However, your question about the old “trade and grade” is definitely NOT lame.

I’ve been wrassling (sic) with this for years. In fact, when I got my clickers a few years ago, I celebrated the end of trade-and-grade. I too was sick of the friend trades and the surreptitious erasing and claims of  “I crossed that out before we corrected it.” The clickers solved all that. Sorry cowboy, I’ve got you now.

But lately I’ve been bringing TaG back. Usually these days we do warm ups about the academic words and such with five choices for each question. Recently though, I’ve been going “old school” and making them sift through the whole list of 20 words to find the one for the blank, like I used to. It’s more difficult, and it forces them to hang on to their pretest paper. But it means that we have to resort to the dreaded TaG.

First, have a stash of red pens. And replenish it often (or work out a system for getting them back, and let me in on it), because seventh graders are very apt to (sometimes even unwittingly) take the “five finger discount.” One year, my student servant got so frustrated with those pesky seventh graders walking off with my red pens, that she took it upon herself to tape a little message to 35+ pens that said, “Stolen from Mr. Coward.” I still have a couple of those from 5 years ago. Luckily our department head keeps a pretty good supply for when I run low.

Then tell them,

“If I see you writing with anything else besides the red pen I gave you while we are correcting, it will be considered cheating, and I will have to break your fingers.”

This is when I demo some of the scams that they might think they are clever enough to pull off, explaining that I was in junior high once, and that I’m not as dumb as I look.

1. The old holding-the-red pen-and-pencil-in-the-same-hand-and-deftly-swapping them trick. Only a few are dexterous enough to pull that one off, but I’ve caught a few.

2.The don’t-mark-it-wrong-even-though-it-is-so-I-can-change-it-when-I-get-it-back conspiracy. I combat this one by asking the graders, before they trade back to tell me if they have a paper in front of them that…etc. And I cruise the aisles.

3. The pen-with-many-colors juke. That’s why I make them use my pens; so I can see at a glance whether everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

4. The pretend-to-trade-and-then-grade-it-myself double cross. This one is defeated by careful surveillance of the trading. “Double-switch if you have to, but you better not be holding your own paper.”

The key is watchfulness and consequences. Punish anyone you catch, publicly and mercilessly.

“If I catch you cheating, then I gotta give you an F, publicly humiliate you, and then call Mom and tell her that she raised a cheater. I can assure you that moms don’t like to get phone calls like that.”

To summarize: Use the red pens. Watch and wander the aisles.  Smite the offenders mightily. If you can figure a way to get all your red pens back every day, give me a call.


2 Responses to “Classroom Mailbag II”

  1. Heather on April 29th, 2010 7:45 am

    My answer to stolen pens (I do have a stash of red pens for “peer editing” because they looove to go all teachery on each other’s papers, and was dismayed to have lost all 30, that I bought with my own money, by the end of September) is to use green florist’s tape from the craft store to tape a fake flower or a spoon or a feather to each pen. That way they remember that the pen in their hand isn’t theirs… I stole the idea from the bank. They like to ask me if the spoon one is so I can eat pudding while grading their papers. I guess it will also help me make sure that they’re using my pens when I get brave enough to try T&G!

  2. Louise on April 29th, 2010 5:47 pm

    I used to make the kids trade a shoe for a pen, which worked out famously until I had to explain to my principal why I had 6 kids missing a shoe outside during a fire drill. I’ve tried the flowers as well, but my kids systematically pulled them all off. So then I had flowers all over the room (mine is about as clean as yours, so flowers could be anywhere). Maybe what we need are those ball-chain things that some banks use. We could attach one to each desk somehow. Patent Pending 🙂

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