Free Download: End of the Year Teacher Survey!

Survey

I remember the terror of handing out my first end of the year survey to my students.  I was thoroughly convinced that they would come back completely extolling all my virtues or completely destroying the last shred of dignity that I had as a young teacher in May.  To my utter shock, I have uniformly had the opposite situation.  Students have been incredibly honest and fair with me. Some things they love, some things they hate, some things just needed a little tweak.  Since I have found student surveys so beneficial to honing my craft, today I want to share with you my simple survey along with the reasons why I suggest you give a similar one.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to Give an End of the Year Survey: 

  • Learn what to edit out or change. We all have these grand plans that sometimes fizzle out.  No matter how amazing the assignments, projects, or methods sounded in our head, the bottom-line must be student learning.  I don’t think that we have to make everything a carnival ride, but we should know if some assignments are doing more harm than good.
  • Learn what necessities need to become more palatable.   Every student on my survey can write about the challenge of the research paper or the unsatisfactory ending of The Great Gatsby, but that certainly does not mean I will edit them out of my class.  What I can tweak based on student feedback, is the presentation and timeline of events.  Again, it is all about student learning.
  • Create continued equity. I want to know if students don’t think I’m not fair or if I get positive reviews only from girls with As.  Equity in education is paramount.
  • Validate the good. I’m not going to lie.  I love reading my glowing reviews.  In my humble opinion, teaching is one of the hardest careers and it can really wear a person out.  Sometimes we need confirmation of the good we suspect we are doing.
  • Consider other perspectives.  Of course students cannot dictate curriculum with their surveys because they come from a limited perspective.  By the same token, we  will be much more effective educators if we take the chance to walk a mile in our students’ moccasins.

Tips for Proctoring the Survey:

  •  Make a list of the class readings and major assignments/procedures/methods and write them on the board during the survey so students can remember what has been covered and how.
  • Consider using Google Forms so you can easily see the data and run some analytics. (More on Google Forms in the classroom here!)

Click here for the FREE DOWNLOAD of my simple survey that you can make your own!  Feel free to leave questions, comments or concerns in the comment box below and check back every week for more teacher tutorials, tips, and tirades!

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Teacher Tips: Writing Letters of Recommendation (Free Form Download!)

Letters of Rec

I teach primarily juniors and seniors this year and so I have three main waves of recommendation writing: junior enrichment opportunities, senior college apps, and senior scholarship apps.  Many of these opportunities ask students to obtain a letter of recommendation from an English teacher who can give insight into student reading and communication skills.  Whether you are sitting down to write one letter or fifty letters, here are some tips to get you through:

1. Be authentic.  Sometimes you have to be honest with students and decline to write a letter of recommendation when you feel that you don’t have the time to complete the task, you don’t know the student well enough, or you don’t think that you can write a positive letter.  Allow yourself to make the professional call either way so that you can avoid writing an untruthful ode to the student constantly cheating and disrupting class or a boring form letter about that extraordinary student in dire need of a scholarship.

2. Consider starting with a few general form letters. Every student is exceptional, but letters of recommendation may come in batches.  I have general templates for categories like: the student athlete, the most improved, the extra-curricular star, the service oriented, and the consistent hard worker.  I then fill in the general template with the specifics of the student so that I can quickly, but accurately get the letter done.  In my 10 years writing letters, I’ve had a few every year that break all molds and require me to break out all of my rhetoric skills from scratch.

3. Ask for a brag sheet and the details of the opportunity. Even if you know your students well, give them an opportunity to fill out the whole picture.  The form below is a tremendous help to me and it helps to keep students accountable.

4. Quote students. I like to include quotes from student essay writing or brag sheets in order to show and not just tell the student’s strengths.

5. Put on the finishing touches.  After you have spent time writing this letter, be sure to proofread it, print it on letterhead, and sign it.  These letters are important and you want to honor them.

 

What recommendations do you have?  Is my form helpful?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

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Simple, Effective Essay Rubric

A few weeks ago I wrote about the 10 struggles that surprised me in the classroom and one of those was the crazy number of hours I spend outside of the classroom grading papers!  Then, I wrote a post about how I get through all those papers and a couple of people reached out to me to ask about the rubric that I use.  Although I have no miracle cure that will shrink the papers, I have found that a simple, effective rubric reduces the time that I spend writing feedback, so I’m sharing it today!  

Here are the things I like about the rubric that I have been tweaking for the last 10 years:

  • I give this rubric with the prompt at the beginning of a writing assignment, which makes grading clear for students from the outset.
  • I create the rubric on a full page so there is plenty of room to add short comments in boxes when needed.
  • I can easily just circle issues in the category box to explain my score if no comment is required.
  • There is a place for self-assessment, which helps students to go through a more effective proofreading before turning it in.
  • There are only 7 categories, which represent the overall areas of emphasis in my class.
  • The final category can be changed with each paper to reflect mini-lessons during the unit or other skills I want to emphasize.

You can download and edit this rubric here! 

(The above link should save as a word document in your downloads folder, but if you have any issues accessing it, here is the PDF version)

SS RubricI’d love to hear your feedback so I can keep refining this rubric.  Thanks so much for stopping by! 

 

 

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Teaching Students to Determine Credibility of Online Sources (Free Student Handout!)

Credible Sources

Two important revolutions have come together to make online source credibility testing an important skill to teach our students:

  • The Common Core emphasizes research and informational texts. 
  • Our students have incredible access to online sources.

Even though most of my students walk around all day with the internet in their pockets, they do not know innately how to determine the credibility of a source for my research paper, infographics, and other assignments.   More alarmingly, they consistently report bad habits including the use of fast information sources that they know are not reliable and the use of copy/paste functions to get homework done in a hurry.  In order to send students into college and into the world with valid research habits, I consciously teach students a checklist to determine the credibility of a source.  I  go through the list with them a few times and make them use it regularly in the hope that they will internalize the information for future use.  Here is my credibility check list:

I’d love to hear your tips, questions or suggestions to add to the list!  Leave a comment below and add to the conversation.

Determining the Credibility of Online Sources:

When using online sources for formal research, you must determine credibility in order to validate the reliability of your own research.  Keep in mind: Articles from peer reviewed online journals like those found in JSTOR, EBSCO Host, and other databases include all citation information and can easily be found credible.  Sites like Wikipedia, blogs, and social media are open forums for non-experts and while they may be great brainstorming tools, they are not credible sources for formal research.  With so many sites in the spectrum between JSTOR and Wikipedia, it can be difficult to determine credibility, so here is a checklist to go through when making an evaluation:

  • What is your topic?
    • You should always look for sources appropriate to your topic.  For example, if you are researching heart disease, you should look at sites run by The American Heart Association and not a side note blog post from Huffington Post.
  • What is the URL?
    • Always be sure to record the entire URL.  You will need this information and more to cite properly.   Be sure you are aware of the root site of the page you found.
  • Is the extension appropriate to the content?
    • .gov and .mil are government run sites, .edu means it is an education site, and .com/.org/.co can be purchased online.  This does not mean that .com/.org/.co are not reliable, but you should make note of the extension for overall reliability testing.
  • Who is the author?
    • You should use sites that have a stated author.  Sometimes the author’s name will be on the article or page, and sometimes you will have to dig a little deeper to an “about the author” page or a link on the main site.
  • Is there contact information for the author?
    • Credible authors will have some type of contact information. It may be in the form of an email, phone number, address, or online submission form.
  • What are the author’s credentials?
    • Look for authors who hold degrees, experience, titles, or memberships to recognizable professional groups relating to the topic.
  • Does the site appear to be professional?
    • Look for sites that are professional, clean, and organized. For most research, personal blogs are not a reliable source.
  • Are there typos and other errors?
    • Grammar, spelling, and other errors are a hint that the information has not been reviewed carefully and may be suspect.
  • What is the purpose of the site?
    • Are they trying to persuade? educate? preach? other?
  • Is there bias?  If so, what is it?
    • For example, if you take medical information from a cigarette company or sports information from a particular college, understand the bias.  Bias does not mean you can’t use the page; you just have to be aware and use the information accordingly.
  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
    • The closer to the primary source a page is, the more reliable the information.
  • Are there citations or a bibliography?
    • These will help you determine the legitimacy of secondary sources.  Ask yourself if the bibliography shows quality research material.
  • Is there a date for the publication/revision of the page?
    • You will need this information to cite properly.  It is also important to know that your information is current.  You don’t want to research current educational trends and use high school drop out rates from 1990.
  • Does the information seem in depth and comprehensive?
    • You want to look for sources dedicated to the information you are looking for, not a source, which briefly touches on your topic.
  • Overall Evaluation:
    • Based on this list, do you find this source to be credible?  Be sure that you are able to justify your evaluation with evidence.

Citing an online source:

Please refer to the Owl at Purdue for information on citing electronic sources in MLA or APA format:  Owl.English.Purdue.edu

What would you add, take away or ask about this list?  I’d love to know!

 

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A Look at Common Core Aligned Performance Assessment

Performance Assessment

Both formative and summative assessments play important roles in the learning outcomes of our students.  In any given unit of study, as teachers we check our Common Core standards, map out our benchmarks and embark on the journey. However, if you are like me and you’ve been doing this for a while, sometimes our favorite assessments deserve a second look to make sure that they are lining up with the Common Core.  If you are in the market for Common Core aligned resources, check out this article to be sure you are getting what you pay for!

Today, I want to focus on summative assessment, which comes at the end of each literature unit. As part of my philosophy of education, I believe in multiple means of assessment.  For example, at the end of Romeo and Juliet, I love to give an objective test, a process essay, and some type of performance assessment or alternative assessment.  It takes a little extra planning to be sure that staggered deadlines are achievable and appropriate without prolonging the unit more than necessary.  For me, the return on investment makes any extra effort on my part completely worth it. Luckily, the process is simplified when I use a secondary solutions literature guide to inform my instruction as they all come with quizzes, tests, essay prompts, tons of creative assessment ideas and more! I love the Romeo and Juliet guide, which I use with my freshmen. Although my examples on this post all come from Romeo and Juliet, they can easily be adapted to any other literature unit.

Recently, I went through some of my performance assessments to specifically align them with the common core standards and create fresh rubrics based on those standards. The annotated Common Core standards for grades 9-10 and grades 11-12 were incredibly helpful in this process. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Write an song that retells the narrative of Romeo and Juliet. Songs may be in any genre including rap, country, pop, blues, etc. The narratives must be an accurate retelling of the drama. Include 5 verses (one for each act and a refrain)

  • Common Core Standard: W.9-10.3. Write narratives using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Student sample from my class: Click here!
  • Why I like this assessment: This project allows students to incorporate their own musical talents and aesthetics, while summarizing and retelling a narrative in a fresh way.  I tell students that Shakespeare did not come up with the original story for Romeo and Juliet, but he certainly used his wordsmith talents to bring it to life in a whole new way!  This is their chance to do the same.  The student sample that I provided here was from a very unmotivated student who loved his computer and music software.  Knowing this project was coming kept him engaged for the whole unit so that he could come up with this modern flow!

2. Create an infographic that takes a look at Elizabethan culture. Research topics like gender roles, class stratification, marriage, family dynamics, mortality rates, health care, music, popular culture, etc. Be sure to create a work cited page in proper MLA format to cite your sources. 

  • Common Core Standard: W.9-10.7. Conduct short  research projects to answer a question; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Student sample from my class: Click here!
  • Why I like this assessment: Infographics are beautiful pieces of visual rhetoric and are becoming prevalent in the online world that students live in.  They are also an easy, fun way to present research.  Of course, you still have to teach about reliable sources and flow of ideas, but I’ve found that if you just point students toward an infographic generation site, they can handle the tech with ease.  The student sample that I provided is not the best example because it lacks a logical flow of data and is limited in information, but it gives a basic idea of what students can create  with free online tools like picktochart.

3. Film a video that presents research about your given topic from the Elizabethan era.  Be sure to create a work cited page in proper MLA format to cite your sources.  (For this project, I jigsaw topics for different groups like health care, fashion, family, class structure, etc)

  • Common Core Standard: SL.9-10.5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
  • Student sample from my class: Click here!
  • Why I like this assessment: Students never cease to amaze me with their video skills!  This is a great option for the computer savvy student. The student sample here is about the plague, which started well before the Elizabethan era, but impacted the plot of Romeo and Juliet when Friar John is quarantined and unable to deliver the letter to Romeo sparking some hasty decision making! (This video is actually from a different project, but it represents a potential topic related to Romeo and Juliet.) There are an endless number of research possibilities around any given piece of literature.

I find that showing student samples to my class usually inspires them to create even more amazing projects.  Feel free to use my samples if that would help you.  When I assign these projects, I try to stretch students to create something meaningful and beautiful without taking the easy way out.  However, I do usually include a non-computer related option like creating a hand-drawn graphic novel, costumes, or a replica Globe theater.  Those option allow students who do not have access to computers to still be successful and creative.

What are your favorite performance assessments?  I’d love to hear your ideas and answer any questions you may have!

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at TheBusyMomsDiet.com

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