Thursday, October 29, 2015

Grading without rose colored glasses.

It's four am.  I've been awake since 3:15, and finally succumbed to accepting the awake-state for the day, as my head continues to process all that needs to be done, and all that has been left undone over the last five weeks -- even after attempting four rounds of 4-7-8 to go back to sleep.  Usually it works.  Apparently today/tonight is not destined to be usual.

It's been a bit of a bumpy ride over the last five weeks, starting with the BUMP on the head, followed by learning to "not think" in an effort to improve.  Talk about oxymorons for teachers.  Early on, I was given orders by one doctor to improve brain healing:

1.  Decrease calories, eliminate artificial sweeteners.
2. Increase fish oil, Omega 3s
3. Limit screen time (tv, computer, smartphone) to a total of less than 2 hours  a day)
4. Wear earplugs
5. Rose Colored glasses.

Yes, it's true.  Rose colored glasses are supposed to have improved my brain functionality.  Unfortunately, my sunglasses choice is determined by the pair's ability to fit over my reading glasses, and sunglasses are sold in places with fluorescent lights -- which hurt my brain.  So despite my having secured written documentation for new eyewear in a color symbolizing optimism, I haven't actually made the purchase. 

Fortunately for me, I am light years better, and thinking more clearly every day.   I am back to half days of teaching -- shhh, don't tell the doctors that a half day of teaching for a teacher is really closer to 6 or 7 hours when you include the work at home.

In just about 36 hours, grades for the first marking period are due, with report cards scheduled to be printed and mailed next week.  25% of the school year is gone, leaving many of us scratching our heads wondering how the Fall of 2015 could travel at the speed of light.  (In my case, it sped by me, I believe, while I was under doctors' orders to avoid looking at lights, but I digress...)

Late Penalties?

There is nothing more motivating to a high school student than the impending doom of the end of the marking period.  "A flurry of activity" in my email inbox is an understatement:  it's been a downright blizzard of submissions of outstanding assignments and re-submissions by authors "hoping to regain some points" to improve the almighty grade for the quarter. (And, presumably, keep their rights to play on videogame systems, go hang out with friends, and talk on their cellphones, instead of being grounded for the foreseeable future.)    I've been out for two full weeks, and only in half days for the last three weeks.  I know that this is an unusual situation, and I've been more flexible with my assignment due dates than ever before.  (And I've always been pretty flexible -- my motto has always been "Talk to me BEFORE it's due, if you're not going to hit the due date -- not after!" , attempting to foster some executive function and communication skills that might be helpful in the real world down the road.)

In a recent blog entry, Tom Schimmer, and educator and fellow teacher, waxed philosophically on the ideas associated with grade penalties for late work.  More than a decade ago, our district pushed the philosophies of Ken O'Connor, HARD, encouraging us to grade on the quality of the work, and not the punctuality.  O'Connor's theory,

The punitive nature of the penalty is a powerful disincentive for students to complete any work.” 

 in theory, makes for a good argument for increasing student achievement.  It also does nothing to prepare students for college expectations or the real world.  I'm certain that if I failed to keep the lines of communication open with my administration and my substitute, simply shrugging my shoulders with a "I'll get to the work when I feel like it" attitude, there would be unpleasant repercussions.  

I'm not talking about "do-overs" here.  I'm talking about students who just plain fail to turn in assignments for WEEKS on end, and then expect full credit (as in 100%) for their efforts, or are choosing the 11th hour to realize that they actually DID care to prove competency at a higher level on that assignment that was due last September.  Let's face it.  In the real world, there are penalties for lateness.  Go ahead, mail your mortgage or credit card payment after that deadline, and see what happens.  Choose to ignore April 15th for the IRS.  Shrug your shoulders at your boss the next time that big report is due.  Chances are pretty good that none of those intended recipients are thinking of you as a 100% effort individual.

Tom Schimmer claims he never received a deluge of work, not penalizing students for lateness.  I beg to differ.  My earplugs and (metaphorical) rose colored glasses have given pause to much flexibility on my part this semester, and there are more holes in my gradebook than ever before.  

In theory, I have 3 hours of screen time, maximum, to allocate over the next 36 hours, to still be following the recommendations of my physician.  It's going to be darned tough to read and grade all of the assignments I anticipate receiving today and tomorrow, and still follow doctor's orders.

Fortunately, my syllabus contains a late work policy AND the suggestion to open the lines of communication BEFORE there is a problem.  I may be concussed, but I am still more flexible than the IRS, when it comes to deadlines.  There will be grades -- but they won't be anywhere near 100%.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Were you FIRED?

For the last couple of weeks, there have been two invitations sitting on the island in my kitchen; one is for a wonderful wedding of a former student at the end of the month, and the other for a 90th birthday celebration for my first cousin, once removed.  I've spent the last two weeks in limbo.  Mental limbo, not knowing whether I'll be able to ride in a car with my eyes open, to attend either one of these events, both of which are very important to me.

If you've never been the recipient of a blow to the head that resulted in such uncertainty, and the diagnosis of a concussion, you probably don't understand the turmoil that has been occurring in my brain - wanting to deal with "the pile" on the counter, and feel normal again.  Today I was labelled 80% normal.  Great, a B-.  Not the usual standard I hold for my academic self, but definitely better than the failing grade of two weeks ago.

So I made a phone call to 2nd cousin, Emily, whose mother is turning 90 this month.

"It's the middle of the day.  Why aren't you at school?  Were you FIRED?"

Thanks, Em, for the incredible vote of confidence in my teaching abilities.  "No, not fired, just resting, blah blah blah, pudding, lunch duty, " etc.  We'll connect again in a few months, but I know that 10 days from now my brain will not be firing at the rates necessary to follow the fast-witted banter of my very humorous family as they celebrate 90 Years of Doris.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1.6 - 3.8 million concussions occur each year in the U.S.  My 3 lb (approximate size) brain hit two sides of my skull, in a traditional contrecoup concussion, and that females are twice as likely to be concussed as men.  Teachers are directed to Reduce Cognitive demands, Educate themselves about concussions, Accommodate the concussed, and Pace the demands for the concussed to allow for full reentry.  Yes, I'm REAPing the benefits of my first-hand experience.

In the last seventeen years, I have received more than a dozen notifications of students recovering from concussions, while assigned to learn in my classroom.  I've been sympathetic, in a maternal, concerned, way.  The Banana Pudding Incident of 2015 has offered an additional, first-hand perspective, that has changed my understanding in a most personal way.

So here's the plan:  Next week, I get to go back to school -- if the stars align, and I hit the B+ range of normality.  I'm starting to read books, five pages or so at a time, and spend a little bit of time online.  Scrolling on the computer and watching HDTV is brutal, and high-pitched instruments and clinking plates and glassware are still awful to listen to.  My brain has taught me to slow down, and not think for a bit.  I'm going back -- partial days at first.

And I've learned a whole lot about anti-metacognition in the process.  (That's the idea of intentionally not thinking about thinking.)   And no Emily, I'm not fired.  They're going to reactivate my badge and let me back in the classroom, probably with raised eyebrows as they watch my non-traditional teaching practices, green chairs, and dark glasses on my face.

And I'll hold a whole lot of sympathy for any concussed kid who stumbles into my classroom, with a hoodie half over his or her eyes after colliding with a ball, a helmet, or banana pudding.