Monday, February 21, 2011

Did you drip salad dressing on my homework?

I love teaching and I even love reading the student's work. But occasionally, it can get overwhelming. The pile of papers to read and respond to is never-ending, like the dishes in the sink. I can get them all in the dishwasher (not the papers, the dishes!) and even Ajax the sink, but if I look away for a few hours, there it is again.

Well, that's how the pile of papers is as well. I empty my "Hand In" box and sort the papers before I take them home. Got the spelling packets, got the social studies packets, and seventeen - - - oh, no, they're not all here. Okay, who didn't hand in the reading cloze? I stop, put the papers in alphabetical order, see who's is missing, go look in some backpacks, cubbies, folders. Got them! And seventeen clozes.

By now, I'm late for a faculty meeting or I'm scrambling to a parent conference, or maybe it's Monday, the one day I must leave by 3:20 to get my daughter to her dance class an hour away. Anyway, I pile the papers all in my bag, pack up my computer and dash. Is the classroom tidied? Oops. Suddenly it's 7 or 8 or it could be 9 at night by the time meetings or dance classes or puppy training classes, dog walking, dinner preparation, working with my own children if they need something and even the dishes are momentarily done, so now it's time to tackle the pile.

I make it valiantly through seventeen spelling packets, seventeen responses to the social studies reading about bull jumping in Crete (Was it a primarily religious rite or a source of entertainment?) Of course, many of these papers need further attention from the students, so they go back into the "Work to Look At" folders. After the next independent work period, these papers will jam up the "Hand in" box along with any new work the students have done.

"Have the students correct their own work" some kind souls have said to me. Well, that can work for certain tasks, but not for the vast majority of what we do in school. In theory, it would work for the clozes, as there is only rarely more than one right answer. Occasionally, we read the cloze all together and kids correct their own papers as they go. But then, I don't see how they've responded and I don't have a clearer picture of what types of comprehension difficulties certain students may face. So, accomplishing the task takes away most of the value of the assignment on my end.

It certainly is no help to have the students correct their own spelling packets. Let's say one group has just done their best to learn the rule about doubling the final consonant before adding a suffix that starts with a vowel, and they may have correctly written betting, stopping and skipped, but then along comes sailing and a few kids wrote sailling. If I don't catch that and circle it, are those kids going to go through life over-applying the rule? (Cue to gasp or start up the argument that spell check will do away the need for anyone to learn any rules! So I'll just say right now that unless the student can recognize the correctly spelled word that spell check offers her, she can't use a word processor effectively.I'm not ready to throw away spelling instruction for those kids who need it.)

And most importantly, I want to know how the students presented their answers to the question about the bull leaping in Crete. We've been working hard on persuasive writing. I want to read topic sentences and reasons supported by information from their various readings. I want to see clear, comprehensible and complete sentences. I want to know what kind of work we still need to do to help the students present their thinking in a well structured and convincing manner, whatever their opinions were.

"Have them type their work and then spell check will take care of everything." Clearly, that kind soul has never seen much work done by a group of 9 to 11 year old students. Spell check catches if they write "teh" instead of "the", but not if they write "stake" instead of "steak" or "I write my mother" instead of "I wrote my mother." And while some children do have access to computers and have worked hard to learn enough typing skills so that doing homework on a keyboard is a reasonable alternative to writing it in a journal or on a piece of paper, not all have that access or that dexterity.

I can't see any alternative to constantly keeping up with the never-ending pile of work. Yes, I read their work while I jam a meal down my throat; yes, there might be a few drops of salad dressing on a spelling packet because I'm correcting it while jamming said meal down my throat; yes, I am still bringing work home every day and spending my evening reading student work and preparing for the next day's lessons; yes, I was mistaken when I declared that there would be a way to leave school by 4 or 5 o'clock, empty handed; and no, I don't think there's a way to get around it. I won't leave the pile of dishes untended in my sink for days on end and I won't leave the pile of papers unread for days on end. I'll just try to eat my salad more neatly!

I would love to hear how other teaching moms manage to write their own curriculum and read their students' work and take care of their children and household chores!

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