Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pencil Wars

The pencil wars are coming.  But first off...

I am part of this research team called "SERP", which stands for "Strategic Education Research Partnership".  The premise behind the organization is that lead researchers at Universities around our area team up with local educators, and create tasks/lessons that can be analyzed to assess student thinking.  The team has come up with a number of different ways to evaluate students thinking, and have some really interesting approaches towards doing math and introducing students to new/difficult concepts.

I bring this up, because today the SERP team came to my classroom and recorded me while I presented a particular lesson.  This particular question is called "The Dragonfly".  I'm not totally sure how much of what we did today I am at liberty to share on my blog, but the general approach is this:
  1. Introduce the body of information about the question, but no question.  Students think about/consider the information presented.
  2. Students hypothesize as to what types of questions might be asked using the information presented
  3. Present the students with the actual question I want them to address.  When they finish with that, then they work on one of the other questions that students came up with previously.
  4. Students present and justify their particular approach to solving the question.  There is no one right "approach" to answering the question. 
After arranging the appointment with the SERP media team to record the lesson, I was nervous.  I was nervous, not because I didn't think my students could handle the lesson, but because of their behavior in class.  If I am not continually on top of them and riding them for their behavior, they go out of control.  And a big part of the lesson is me getting down with my students, and pushing their thinking, which limits the amount of energy that I can expend keeping them in check.

Today, my concerns were completely unjustified.  When the students saw the big camera in the classroom, and me wired with a microphone, they knew something was up and their behavior was extra, extra amazing today.  To be honest, they were probably up to par today with any other classroom, but for my kids, they were awesome.  Maybe I should have them come film my classroom every day... because they truly were stars today!

On the flip side, another one of my policies, one of the programs that makes my class succeed (occasionally), one of my high expectations for my students, one of the ways for me to ensure that my students are prepared for class has been shot down by the administration.  They're claiming that it is against the law to prevent my students to come to class without the supplies that they are EXPECTED to have with them every day, like their math binders or more specifically - a pencil.  I literally haven't been letting my students into the classroom without a pencil, and if they show up without one, then I tell them they'd better find one somewhere because they're going to need it.  Every day.  There has never, ever, ever in the entire history of my classroom been a single day where we haven't used a pencil.  I don't know what makes my students think that they can show up to my classroom without a pencil, and be ok with it.

This was a huge war for me last year.  I literally would spend the first 10 minutes of class making sure that all of my students had pencils, and were able to finally do something about their work.  I tried everything under the sun to make sure that they were prepared, like trading pencils for something of value to them, charging them for pencils, having them work them off in my classroom, calling parents to get pencils for their child, giving them broken pencil stubs to encourage real pencils, tying being prepared in class to their grade, giving them participation points (which evidently is also illegal... although I'm lacking the evidence to support that stance) and even just giving them out.  That last one failed miserably, as I started going through about 50 pencils every single day.  I HATED the pencil wars with a passion, and I just figured it was one that I was destined to lose.

Until one day I finally just got so fed up with my students not bringing pencils that I told them "You aren't entering my classroom tomorrow unless I see a pencil in your hot little hands."  Ever since that day, 98% of my students bring a pencil to class, unfailingly.  In our little chaotic corner of the world, I'd gladly call 98% a success.  And now I'm being told that I can't do that any more, and that I have to just give my students pencils because that's what the Williams Law requires.  I'm personally calling bull crap on this one, but unfortunately until I can find the evidence to support my position, I'm going to have to cave.  If anyone out there can help me find the full write up on the Williams Legislation, I'd be extremely grateful. 

Day by day, it seems like the systems that I've found to be effective in my environment are being pulled out from under me.  My motto at school has always been "Do whatever it takes for me to get the job (educate my kids) done", but it seems the tune these days is changing to "Be hesitant to take any action because odds are you're stepping out of line with some unknown protocol or breaking an obscure law, so be mediocre and play it safe".  

1 comment:

Brad said...

I love reading your blog! Love you bro.