Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's About Time!!

This week is the last six weeks of our second six-weeks grading period, with an additional two days thrown in next Monday and Tuesday prior to a much needed 3-day Holiday for Thanksgiving. This year, I'm giving thanks to deadlines, for without them, very little would ever get done.

The last week of a grading period is always filled with stress, anxiety, and a renewed sense of urgency among students and teachers alike. Some students are trying to finish unit projects, while others are desperately trying to salvage their grade by completing work that should have been done six weeks ago. Teachers, realizing that they need to squeeze in another test have ALL decided to give one at the last minute.

Part of the problem is that 6 weeks grading cycles are too short for classes that only meet every other day. In any given grading cycle, individual classes only meet about 15 times. As a requirement, at least two exams must be given each cycle. Since my tests are cumulative, comprehensive, and HARD, they not only require and entire 90 minute period to complete, but I typically spend the entire class period immediately preceding the test doing nothing but review. This leaves 15 - 4 = 11 days for actual instruction.

How are THESE remaining days spent? Well, typically, we need to spend at least a half day per exam going OVER the exam, so that's another day (now down to 10.) We are also required to have at least 4 quiz grades per cycle. I design each quiz to be short, about 15 minutes, but in reality, they stretch into 20 minute range, plus the 10 minutes it takes me to go over the quiz. Because I typically quiz every other day, I get 5 quizzes in each cycle. This form of assessment, then, accounts for 5(20+10) = 150 minutes of class period, or one and two-thirds full class periods. This leaves 10 - 1 2/3 = 8 1/3 classes every six weeks for teaching new material. This means that assessment accounts for slightly less than half the total time spent in class, and incidentally accounts for 90% of their grade (40% quizzes and 50% tests.)

The final 8 1/3 days are usually broken up by intercom announcements, deliveries from the front office, fire drills, stay-in-place drills, tornado drills, Alien-attack drills, pep-rallies, group panoramic photos, not to mention the multitude of student events like athletics or band that require several students to be absent on any given day. We are NOW even required to practice School Bus evacuation TWICE a year--everyone!

Of the students who are actually in class the 8 1/3 days of instruction, we spend the first 5 minutes of class doing a review "warm up" and 20 minutes of clarifying problems from the previous night's homework. This adds up to 8 1/3 * 25 = 208 1/3 minutes of class time, or about 2 1/3 full classes. This really leaves only 8 1/3 - 2 1/3 = 6 full class periods for delivering new information. Because of the required 2 tests, this means students are tested over information they have learning in only 6/2 = 3 class periods, not a great deal of information by any rigorous academic standards.

Because there is a particular scope to each course, we teachers are consequently accelerating our pace, tying to give quality, in-depth meaning to a multitude of topics in a very short time frame, teaching bell-to-bell. This places a great deal of responsibility on the students' shoulders for being diligent in their individual practice: doing their homework, taking good notes, reading their book, and coming in for help unsolicited.

But teachers feel the severe pinch as well, and it only feels like it's getting tighter. With so many students falling under Individual Educational Acronym Plans (IEAPs), and policy changes that require teachers to do more and more for students who are doing less and less, making the precious few minutes in the classroom count is becoming very difficult, not to mention increasingly unfulfilling.

So this week while teachers are creating and grading tests, and while students are presumably cramming in information for each class, the Earth will continue to spin at 1000 miles per hour on its axis, as it travels 68,000 miles per hour through space in its orbit around the sun, as the Aliens in outer space look down at our celestial ball, laughing at our struggles while they plan their attack.

I hope they attack during a school day, 'cause with all the practice drills we've done, we'll certainly be ready for them.


Anonymous said...

How sad when you look at that way -- 3 days of new material for each test. Geez Louise!

Anonymous said...


kwkorpi said...

Woo Hoo! Audience Repartee!

Anonymous said...

You gotta love block schedule...

kwkorpi said...

I think the whole alien attack thing might be a pretty good alternative to our current situation. If nothing else, maybe they'd teach us how to build cool spaceships.

StephenR said...

Mabey we should talk to the school board about having a couple extra drills you know like Tsunami drills, canadian mounty attacks, etc... but seriously mabey it should be sugested to the school board that we switch to a 9-week system but keep the same grade requirements

kwkorpi said...

I think 9 weeks for a block schedule is the way to go. Coincidentally, statistics show that Canadian Mounties are less likely to attack under those circumstances. That's the definition of win-win in my book.

Brenda said...

Now that I'm in college, I appreciate how little information was really on my high school tests (At the time, I felt it was overwhelming, you know, covering 1.5 chapters on a test. I thought you were crazy for doing that to us, but I never told you). My tests these days are usually over 4-5 chapters and they're always HARD.

I understand what you mean about short grading cycles. I'll sign a petition to extend it!