Dearest Parents and Legal Guardians,
First, I want you to know that my class is rigorous – in many ways more rigorous than any on the hall. This is my opinion, and as I have been told, the opinion of some colleagues. A key feature that makes it so rigorous lies in the fact that I leave a lot to the students for collective informed decision making. They must own their task assignments as related to content required by the state, district, school, and as related to content they self-select (novels). Through their ownership of the tasks they themselves select, they end up being almost solely responsible for their grades. I run, what some call, a student-driven classroom, and it works. I have not bought into and have never fostered the dumbing down of our country developed through federal education policies over the past twenty plus years and are still to some degree mandated, although some damage has been undone in recent years. I have to tell you that I put my conscientious objection to that reality to work in my room through my student-driven model. There is an atmosphere of great responsibility among students in my room. Your children benefit from my methods whether they recognize it or not. Year after year I am reminded of this fact when I get emails, Facebook messages, posts to my website, and visits from past students telling me how my class content and methods made their high school, college and even workplace careers possible. I don’t believe that, though. My feeling is that they did that for themselves. I am merely a participant for some of their journey. I know that my job is to inspire children to become who they are intended to become in their own rights. I know that I am the static secondary character in the story of my students’ dynamic lives.
Second, I want to speak a bit about content area curriculums and how they are dissimilar in some ways. I feel it is important for me and every teacher to be aware of how content curriculums are varied and sometimes incongruous. Math, Science and Social Studies curriculums are relatively static – they can be compressed or stretched, and while they can be taken out of order – pieces shuffled – they are generally not very flexible and are usually not delivered out of order. Contrastingly, year after year, in Language Arts, curriculum does not exist on a static timeline; it is completely dynamic and changeable. What items you see below are all that can be predictable throughout this year in my classroom. Add to this our move to common core which presupposes team planning between Language Arts, Social Studies and Science (although less so than S.S.) to work on what could end up being a somewhat more predictable and inter-curricularly coherent calendar for which a draft idea is being worked on throughout this year, and may be operative next year. However, even that calendar will have to be very flexible.
Now, let’s focus our attention on set item due dates as detailed below. These expectations are communicated to the children within the first two weeks of school. These should be in your children’s agendas.
- Students are expected to READ for 20 minutes every night. In the first week of school students are told, “Unless I give you other HW to take care of, you MUST read every night.” Subsequently, they are to journal about their reading each night that they read. The journal entries are to be done in the regular notebook – I check them periodically as part of a Notebook Check. (Fiction or Nonfiction sources)
- Students are expected to turn in an Article of the Week (AoW) every Friday. In the first week of school, students are given explicit notes that detail my expectations concerning where to download the article, how to deal with the article and what must be turned in. Students will from time to time depending on projects assigned, be told to skip the AoW for the week. (http://kellygallagher.org/resources/articles.html – Nonfiction sources).
- Students are expected to turn in Approach Papers monthly. Students are given the format & explicit notes on Approach Papers (book reports) in the 1st week of school. Approach Papers are due monthly although there is a month or two all year in which there are two due dates. All due dates should be in agendas already. (Fiction or Nonfiction sources)
- Students are expected to work on Vocabulary throughout the week. This includes posting details for the word a student’s group is responsible for to this website, creating a poster for the group’s word, creating VISS Chart(s), making some kind of Vocabulary Artifact, and studying the list. I always suggest studying 3 words the first night, 6 on the second night, 9 the on the third, and all 10 words from that night on until the test. Make Up Tests generally run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday mornings. Afternoons are not an option. (Fiction or Nonfiction sources)
- Other HW assignments will be given as needed throughout the year. The 20 minutes of reading will yield to other HW responsibilities for MY class only. In one sense, a child could choose not to read for an evening in order to get some vocabulary work or studying done, or an Article of the Week done that night, etc. Further, in order to give the children time to work on projects at home over a period of time, I can choose to withdraw the Article of the Week altogether during a period of time. I will never accept the reason for not having done my homework as “I had a lot of math HW,” or “I was at ((insert sport here)),” or “I got home too late.” They must do 20 minutes of HW for me every single night, whether they work on vocabulary, read in a personal novel, complete a part of an Article of the Week, or some other assigned task. This includes weekends and holidays. (All genres and modes)
Here is an example of how the children should put #5 to work for them. Any in-class assigned project related work is supposed to take the place of HW items on the regular calendar. Toward the end of the 1st quarter, for instance, in order to give the children time to work on their Anthem Group Projects, no Article of the Week is due (5 weeks worth). After the projects are done being created, I would add the AoW back into the HW expectations. Additionally, during the reading of Anthem, personal novel reading at home could (and should) be pushed to bedtime reading with no journal entry required in order to allow for even more time to work on projects outside of the classroom. All of this is communicated to the children repeatedly over the span of a quarter. This logical shuffling of priorities – an essential skill – will be their modus operendi when it comes to high school work and assignments and even more so later in college and university work.
And so I will describe another specific scenario, this one surrounding a Treasure/Moustache Project and the related workload. This is a project and as such is part of #5 above. This project does not fall on the predictable calendar except in the sense that anything on the calendar that can be taken out or adjusted (novel reading at night pushed to bedtime and no AoW next week) can be adjusted as I see fit to make those adjustments. The children are told they would be given a due date once we finished reading the short stories; they will have about a week to get the work done on the tasks they selected. We finished reading them Wednesday (1st, 3rd Blocks) and Friday (4th Block). During this week we also enjoyed going over each others’ projects from the book Anthem. All of the classes are beginning work today on the Treasure/Moustache Project. Including today, they will have time over the course of 5 days to get their work done alone and in some cases with a partner. Here is the breakdown for this project: Day 1– 77 minutes in class; Day 2– 20 minutes at home; Day 3– 20 minutes at home; Day 4– 77 minutes in class, & 20 minutes at home; Day 5- 77 minutes in class. This adds up to 4.85 hours of time to devote to their tasks.
During the school year, please bring your concerns to me directly. It can be very difficult for me to piece together concerns communicated by word from an email someone else gets that should have come to me directly initially.Also, please be clear and specific in your emails to me. I am thankful to colleagues, and parents over time who have taught me the value of being clear, specific and direct.
Thank you for your time.