Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Standards-based case study

Feb. 6 | Summative writing project due in class of eighth graders. Of 29 students, 22 submit the work on time, and 28 of 29 deliver within a week. One student's work remains missing in action.

Feb. - Apr. | From time to time, I check in with the student, during reading time as class starts or via email. "How's your progress on that missing assignment?" I ask. In response, I hear stories about how busy the student is. I tap dance between validating those stories and coaxing towards a plan for catching up. I point to lame leverage like, "You know this missing work is keeping you on what I'd call the wrong side of the pass/fail dividing line."

May | I ramp up my communication as May 14 approaches (which includes copying parents on emails to the student). That May date is a partially arbitrary one I've announced as a last chance for students to turn in missing work before the end of the school year. It affords me time to clear any backlog before teachers are expected to finalize grades for the semester.

May 14 | The crucial piece remains missing, so I toggle electronic grade-book marks for the student's work from missing -- a.k.a. 0% along with a weekly email notification home from Infinite Campus -- to 50% (as stipulated by standards-based practices by which I operate). Officially, the student fails.

May 19 | I see this tweet, on which I ruminate, from a history teacher in Indiana:

May 20 | I sweep through Google Classroom, to review work for a different class on my to-do list, when I notice a turned-in assignment I'm not expecting to see from that February task. It's the writing I've been asking that one student about for four months. In my head, I hem and haw: Should I make an exception and still accept it? Should I hold a firm line in service of enforcing consequences and teaching responsibility? After near Hamlet-level equivocation, I choose to review the work and update grades accordingly. The student passes.

May 21 | I receive this email from the student:
Hello Mr.Rozinsky,
Thank you so much for grading my work on Growth Challenge 4 so late in the year. This really brightened my day. Next year at my new school I will strive to do my best in school. If there's one thing I learned from your class is that I need to make time for the things I love and school to live a fulfilled life.  I will carry that lesson with me for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for being patient with me throughout this year.
Will that one thing the student learned lead to changed habits? I don't know, yet I remain hopeful.

Postscript! I traded direct messages today with Kevin Cline after sharing this blog entry with him. We revisited the context of our previous Twitter chat and clarified newer ground, too. Among the key points I'll spotlight: Age matters. For instance, what I expect of the eight grader in this story versus what Kevin expects of the juniors and seniors he teaches may necessarily differ. There are tightropes to be walked -- sensitive to, yet independent of students' ages -- that account for individual cases while still communicating expectations underscored by purpose. Accountability and compassion need not be mutually exclusive.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Not nothing

Wasn't going to write, then I did. Didn't have much to write about, until I did. Could write about playing laser tag for the second time in two years, teaming up with teacher colleagues, going toe-to-toe with our students as part of a school fundraiser. Sweaty, silly fun, in 10-minute intervals.

Or I could write about the weather. Always a topic that's reliable in its mundanity, or is it mundane in its reliability? Well, it did snow. "Is this what May's like around here?" a teacher, in passing, asked with a smirk. She's finishing her first year, which is definitely not her first year, though she's new (not so new now) to our school.

Or my writing could dwell on hackneyed, derivative movie sequels that wring just a little bit more from desiccated franchises. Ocean's 8, Creed II: entertainingly predictable, predictably entertaining. Or there's the book I'm reading, Golden State, that likewise rings familiar bells (noir! dystopia!), and yet I'm still not quite sure what the tune is as I keep turning pages.

In the end, what did I write? Snapshot sentences of this week tonight.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Unexpected connections

A few minutes after 7:00 this morning., local time, as I stepped off the transit bus near school, the driver asked me a question as he sometimes does. "Which of your students are most successful?" he asked. I paused, then said, "I'm not sure how to answer that." I paused again. "Going to need to think on it." We fist bumped, which has become a quirk of my a.m. commuting routine, and went our separate ways, him behind the wheel and me on foot.

About three hours later, a student who will be graduating Saturday dropped by in the middle of a class. She carried a smile and a small box. The box was in my hands and she was gone before I could say much more than hi and her name. Inside the box were a mug with the initial of my first  name, a few sachets of tea, a Starbucks card, and a thoughtful note she had written. The student -- a 12th-grader days from graduating -- had delivered similar gifts to all of her middle-school teachers.

Maybe I'll share this story with the bus driver tomorrow because I'd sure like to think this student's generous kindness will play an integral role in her success, now and long into her future.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Not an ode to my socks

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day, and a student gifted me a pair of socks. These socks, specifically:


The present made me smile, or rather the sentiment behind it. The socks themselves are problematic: They're stuck in a world of cliched tropes: male teacher in tie at either black-or white-board in front of cluster of raised hands, female teacher who points at a globe, looking extra matronly, though decked out in a superhero cape (you can see her boot and skirt running up my shin). Look more closely near the left instep. There, you can spot part of what says 'Book Report.' Continuing across the top of my left foot, you'll see a pencil that forms the I in 'Inspire.' I'm skeptical book reports in the forms that I've known them are reliable sources of inspiration.

My take-away? While one ought not look a gift horse in the mouth. one would do well to beware the pitfalls of too-easy imagery. If you were to redesign these socks, what might you include instead?