Monday, June 13, 2011

Turning it In

If you will be a brand new teacher this year, don't forget to read Harry K. Wong's The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher.   Often it's the thought of their first days that make new teachers the most nervous.   The first week of school also sets the tone for the year.   Sure, you'll make some mistakes.   Just make a mental note about what didn't work, so you'll remember next year.   Relax a little.   And...congratulations on getting hired!

Anyhow, read the book for all of the great, practical advice.   My favorite time saver is designating a place for students to turn in completed work.   My students use plastic in-boxes labeled by class period.   Depending on the number of classes I teach, I also have a matching out-box.   (I taught 6 classes this year, so I did not have a plastic tower of 12 trays.   It's back to block this year, so I will be able to use 6 total.)

These boxes live on a table close to the computer I use for entering grades.   There is also space on a nearby wooden chair for their spiral journals, should I ask for the entire notebooks to be turned in.   These locations are at the back of the room, along with the electric pencil sharpener, trashcan and other student supplies.  

Why the back of the room?   Every year you will have a few students who love a parade.   Well, they love their parade.   Any trip to get out of their seat is prolonged and includes side conversations, slothlike movements to complete the intended task...which frequently involves searching for that "missing" pencil for five minutes that they are currently sharpening for three minutes while blocking traffic and instruction.   The back of the room cuts down on some of this behavior.   Also, students should use the trash can at the beginning or end of class...unless they are ill and need an emergency receptacle pronto.

You can't change who they are, so please use these students when appropriate to pass papers back to their rightful owners, assist you with handing out photocopies, books, etc.   In short, give them teacher-approved time to let everyone stare at them for a portion of class.  

If you want students to collect the papers by rows before turning them in, have the children pass their papers to the person behind them until all papers arrive at the back of the room.   Passing papers forwards is much more chaotic and just asks for someone to be cracked in the back of the head.   This is another sensible process I learned from Mr. Wong.

Why is having a predictable place for completed student work so important?   Well, when you are able to steal a few minutes to grade papers while your students are working independently, you really don't want to be interrupted again and again with a student asking where to turn something in and/or adding it to your current stack of papers.   There's never enough time for grading, and you will just have to cobble minutes together here and there.  

Timely feedback, especially when it comes to student writing, is important.  Don't collect more papers than you can grade in a few days.   Combine a couple of small assignments for one grade in the grade book.   Touch the papers as few times as possible.   Think of other ways to simplify the task of grading while still being fair to students.

And, yes, there will be at least one student in every class who will still ask you from September to June, "Where do I turn this in?"   One's better than 20!

Thanks to Christopher Newport University's Student Virginia Education Association President Rebecca Capel and her fellow chapter members for purchasing organizational classroom supplies, so I can hit the ground running.

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