A Teacher’s Holiday Anthem

At this point in the semester, I am simultaneously exhausted and invigorated. I can feel the same sentiments coming from my virtual and school site colleagues. As teachers, we have been beaten down by the workload and frustrations of everyday teaching, but we’ve also borne witness the beauty that is student learning.  We have wanted to bash the copy machine in when it jammed again.  We have felt the utter satisfaction of reading a masterfully constructed student argument.  We have answered angry emails and rebuffed last minute requests for extra credit.  We have seen the light come on mid-Socratic seminar. We have wiped down every sneeze covered surface.  We have victoriously matched all papers with their respective owners.  We have created all necessary forms of final exams with appropriate accommodations.  We have battled all semester and now we have made it to the holy grail of winter vacation.  In the spirit of the season, today I am sharing my teacher version of a holiday favorite: 12 days of teachingWhat have your students left you with this semester?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

The Plagiarism Problem

Today we are sharing this great infographic from health informatics at The University of Illinois, Chicago to continue our discussion about the importance of teaching students about plagiarism.  Below is a creative lesson plan idea for helping students to connect meaningfully to the idea of academic integrity.  UIC_Plagiarism_InfographicThis infographic offers information and suggestions for stemming this growing issue.  We want to give a big thank you to The University of Illinois at Chicago for bringing it to our attention!  I also wanted to share a creative idea for helping students connect meaningfully with this crime that they often think of as victimless.  I’ve known a few English teachers to do a variation of this assignment and I think it could be adapted to work at many grade levels.  Here is the gist of the assignment:

1. Assign a creative assignment that can be presented in a 60 second class presentation.  (For example: creative writing or research with a visual aid)

2. Have students present their projects to the class so everyone gets a good idea of the quality of each student’s work.

3. Post assignments up around the room.

4. Give students post it notes and ask them to write their name on them.

5. Have students walk around and vote for the best projects by placing their post it notes on their favorite.

6. Cross out the original names on the projects and tell students that their grades will be based on the project that they selected and not on the work that they actually completed.

Inevitably, there will be projects that were completed with mindless haste and others that were created with care and critical thinking.  There will probably be a few students who didn’t do the assignment at all and will get credit. Students who put time and effort into their project will likely be outraged at the idea that others will get credit for their work.  With the face of outrage real in their peers, the students who are getting the undue credit will likely feel the pangs of guilt.  This is the perfect moment for a discussion of plagiarism that will hopefully stick with many students for a long time.

What do you think of this idea?  Do you or your colleagues do something similar? What have the reactions been like?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Tips for Creating Final Exams

As we enter December, most high school teachers are preparing to end the semester, which means entering grades, contacting parents, wrapping up major units, and creating a final exam (among 100 other last minute tasks).  Making a final exam can be a daunting process, so this week I want to share some tips that I’ve picked up over the years and I would love to hear your questions, comments, and suggestions in the comment section below!

1. Strategize about the grading process. Writing is a major part of my curriculum, but I have deadlines and class sizes, which make it exceedingly difficult to include a long written portion on my exam.  Because we have a fast final grade report turnaround deadline, I give a written exam a week before finals week and then add the grade to a scantron test that I give on the actual exam day.  This gives me enough time to grade essays, while still valuing them as part of the exam.  If you want to add something like a project or essay to the exam score, be sure to check with your department chair as some schools have policies against this.

2. Let the test reflect your priorities. If you spend a majority of your teaching time on literature, don’t make your final exam entirely vocabulary and grammar.  Be sure to include all of the major strands in appropriate proportion.

3. Keep an eye to fairness. Questions should be rigorous, but not tricky.  As much as possible, there should also be equal access to all students who diligently prepared for your exam without bias toward particular groups.  For example, including brand new academic language in question stems can severely hinder English language learners who may otherwise know the content discussed in class.  In that case, mindful preparation and question writing are key.  In my opinion, this is a very difficult but worthy task.

4. Think about ways to discourage cheating. Consider rearranging your desks for the test day to spread students out.  It may also be a good idea to create multiple versions of the test.

5. Be aware of time.  It can be difficult to find the right time balance, but it is important.  If your test is too short, students will get antsy and potentially disturb other classes.  If your test is too long, student may not finish, which makes it very difficult to grade fairly.  I give 200 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes, which works for my class, but you have to judge your length based on your class make-up.  (Side note: in my experience, matching sections take longer than regular multiple choice.)

final covers6. Have some fun with the cover. Comic strips, memes, meaningful quotes from literature, and inside jokes can relieve some of the tension for students right before a stressful exam.  Last year I did a Hunger Games meme with Effie Trinket wishing that the odds were ever in their favor.  To the left are a couple other recent covers I’ve had, which included quotes from Tennyson and Fitzgerald.

What would you add to this list?

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