Mailbag I: The Paper Load

December 21, 2008
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My seventh grade web site has been up since 1997, and I have received quite a few e-mails over the years. Many people have questions. I try to answer all the questions (and I really appreciate the kind words), but I’m sometime sort of lame about returning e-mails (I don’t answer the phone much either – and I will never own a cell phone).  Since many of the questions are about the same things, I sort of kept writing the same e-mail over and over. Now I have this blog thing. I can answer the most common questions for everyone, all at once.

1. “How do you keep up with everything?  It seems like you have a lot of activities and writing that has to be graded (outside of the CPS stuff) that would start to be overwhelming”

Ummm. That depends on what you mean by “keep up.” I am often laggy about returning work. However, I can buy time as it were, as I lag on grading, by pulling examples from each class, making overheads, and grading them live in front of the kids. We use the rubric for that assignment (always use a rubric, and always give it to the kids in advance), and grade it together. I can demo a couple per day to show them what most of them did (right and wrong) so they can work on the next assignment, while I finish the individual papers. This is much more efficient and effective than 150 individual comments.

Don’t correct every little mistake. I know that’s blasphemy for some, but just hit the major ones. Or the ones you’re working on in class. Or the ones that kid needs help with most. Mark the first couple reps, and then write something like PROOFREAD! or READ THIS OUT LOUD. Use abbreviations and shortcuts, and then translate for the class all at once:
“WDILL? means what does it look like.” (This is for Show not Tell papers.)
“If I write haha, that’s good.”
“WTP? means what’s the point.”

I read their KBAR responses live on Fridays while they take the weekly test. They leave out their notebooks for me to check the chart and read the response. I have time to write one comment (examples: don’t summarize, what makes you think so, what do you like about this book, nice comparison) and interact a bit with each kid (“I think it’s time we moved up from Goosebumps” or “This is all summary. Do you like this book? Why?”  or “How’s this compare with the first one in the series”). I scribble the score in their notebook, enter it into my Palm, and move on. If I don’t finish, I can use the time Monday when they take the spelling or academic words pretest to get the rest.

This also helps me keep up on what these young whippersnappers are reading these days.

With CPS, I don’t really have a lot to grade except writing, academic words sentences (also usually taken care of while they do something else) and the occasional short answer questions on the Friday test. Oh yeah, also end of novel projects. I guess I do lag a little.

I also have two student assistants, who are trained to update the web page, tally up the mental floss and extra credit, and check off who did and didn’t turn in all/nothing type assignments. They also tidy, click in absentee make-up tests, and suchlike.

In a nutshell; try to do as much as you can while they’re working, and you won’t have as much to take home.

2. “Do you give much homework outside of K.B.A.R.? and what do you do for the students who don’t get it done at home”

Well, you can check the homework page for that one. I try to give all the homework for the week to them on Monday. Most weeks look a lot like this:

Week of September 29

  • KBARR. Read 15+ minutes nightly through Thursday, get chart signed, respond 1 page by Friday. (All in notebook.)
  • “Pink” Sheet: (Verb Phrases. Not available online.)
    • p10 due Tuesday
    • p11 due Thursday
  • Show not Tell II:  Pick one of the two, due Tuesday:
    • “Weird Planet”  or
    • “_________ is Sooooooooo Fun!”
  • Vocabulary due Wednesday.
  • Academic Word Sentences due Thursday.
  • Vocabulary is always there. Always. Like I tell the kids, “You can’t think the thoughts if you don’t know the words.” If I am having them read our class novel at home, that reading often takes the place of KBAR. There is usually a grammar/mechanics “pink sheet” and some sort of longer term thing, like an essay or a novel project. I alternate spelling and academic word lists from week to week.

    What do I do for those that don’t get it done at home? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

    More mailbag tomorrow.

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    Mr. Coward has been teaching on the beautiful central coast of California since 1989. He sometimes tweets when he's in the right mood: @mrCinSLO.

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