The Snowpocalypse and Judgment Day

These past several weeks have been quite eventful.  Baltimore was hit by one-two combination of storms that <i>each</i> dropped more snow than the city usually sees in an entire year.  The entire city was basically stopped dead in its tracks, and when it was all said and done, 6 entire school days were cancelled, and 4 more were reduced to half-days.  People are calling the storms Snowmaggedon and The Snowpocalypse, although there is no consensus as to which one is which.  Needless to say, I was completely ecstatic.  Typically, I travel as soon as I get any scheduled time off, but because of the snow, I was stuck at home.  This actually turned out to be a very good thing.  My living space is now more organized than ever before, and I think it ended up being a great time to relax and get my head right, without the stress of being out on the road.

The school schedule includes 5 emergency days in June, to be used for replacing days when school was cancelled.  But at 9 total snow days, we’re way passed that.  The state superintendent is petitioning for a waiver of the 180 school day requirement, and it’s not clear what would happen if it is not granted.  All I know is that my spring break tickets are booked, so they won’t be seeing me should they decide to truncate the break.

Counting the time we’ve actually been in school, we’re now in the fourth week of the new semester.  My back to basics strategy for this semester has been marginally successful so far.  At the very least, I’m seeing an increase in student engagement, and this is with relatively abstract material.  I’ve been trying to keep the momentum up, but I’m starting to sense rebellion.

One of my biggest problems has been getting kids to do classwork and settling on a grading policy that is fair, motivational, and sustainable.  This semester, I’ve decided to make a radical change.  I call it Conference Day.  It should be called Judgment Day.  Sacrificing some instructional time, I have decided to have my students hand in their work individually.  If it is complete and correctly done, it’s 100%.  If not, it goes in my gradebook as missing.  The grade can be recovered if they follow my instructions for rectifying the problem and resubmit the work on their own time after school.  Otherwise, it stays a zero.

I’m trying to kill several problems with one solution.

– I can’t grade at home.  I’ve tried it a million ways, and I can’t make it work.
– Turnaround is quick.  If a kid is slacking, they get called out on it face to face.
– Lastly, and most importantly, it gives me a chance to confront the issue of kids BS’ing their work by just filling the space with ink, but not understanding what they’re doing.  If it’s not done right, I tell them what’s wrong, show them an example, mark it missing, and send them back to the drawing board.

I’m hoping that this system will also lead to increased engagement on the day of the lesson, because students will want to avoid the endless series of revisions results from carelessly done or incomplete work.  And I’m really hoping the new system kills the end of quarter blitz for makeup work.

Backlash has been swift and vicious.  But I’m hoping it will pay dividends down the line, and that on the next Judgment Day–I mean, Conference Day–things will run much more smoothly.

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