Friday, October 28, 2016

Shake it Off.

It's Friday, and I hit the "Finalize Grades" button for the first quarter slightly before 3 pm.  Grades these days are instantaneous -- the kids get an update on their phones whenever grades are put into Powerschool, the electronic gradebook our district uses.  Students were dismissed at 12:50, allowing teachers to finish grades, work ethic letters, and comments in the two hours and 10 minutes before the official final buzzer, signaling the end of the first marking period.

Of course, working in a high school there are a fair number of students who never left the building today, staying after school in preparation for the pre-football game carnival, or the movie in the auditorium for the freshmen, or to pop into my room and BEG for ONE MORE CHANCE to revise that last assignment for a better grade.

So how can students (and parents) survive the inevitable delivery of the first quarter grades?  Let's face it.  That instant update on the cellphones should reason that no one should be surprised by grades, yet somehow there is always some plea for leniency at the almighty "end of the marking period."  Whatever the grades are mid-semester, there are an equal number of days ahead as there are behind, to change the course of human events.
Clearly there will be curfews that will be shortened, and allowances that may take a hit or two, but the change has to come from within. 

Deep, deep within.

 Mindset Shakeup.

For some kids, the less than stellar grades are directly attributed to less than stellar amounts of time dedicated to the cause.  To others, it's about the process of spending more time convincing oneself that one is incapable of learning the concepts being taught.  Carol Dweck refers to this phenomenon as a Fixed Mindset. The good news is that there are many ways to nudge that stuck cog back into working order.  

A few weeks ago, a member of my grad class talked about her strategy for success in the mathematics class she teaches at a local community college.  Her midterm exam consists of two parts, and an intermission.  After the first half of the test, she distributes paper and asks her students to clear their mind, and to write, list, or draw their frustrations about math.  For ten full minutes, they curse, cry, scribble, list, draw, and whatever else, all that stands between them and success.  Then they are invited to crumble and toss all of that away, breathe a bit, and tackle the second half with renewed energy.

I love this idea. I think it is a brilliant way to create a visual representation and outlet for feelings that need to be somewhere other than bottled up inside.  The results?  The average of the mathphobic students who participate in this model score better than those who don't.

And guess what?  The weekend between the marking periods, midway through the semester is just like that blank piece of paper waiting for the frustrations to be unloaded.  It's one of the blessings of teaching school -- there are so many natural breaks, that a clean slate can happen with very little shaking up at all.  

So, as Taylor Swift reminds us, "Shake it Off."  We're heading into the second half.