Category Archives: Classroom management

Report Card Time!


Report Card

Some of you on a six-week grading period may have already sent home your first report cards.  Others, on a nine-week schedule, may just be getting ready to send report cards out. Either way, it is not uncommon for new teachers to find themselves sorely lacking in graded assessments.  How does this happen?  Collectively, you grade a lot of papers across subject areas.   As a high school teacher, each of my biology assignments yields approximately 143 papers for five classes.  It is overwhelming!  But when you count the number of assignments per subject/class…it can be surprising how few different assignments you actually have.

If you teach elementary, you are just so plain busy meeting the needs of young students that you work together in class, send the page home for the parents to see, then POOF!  It’s the end of the grading period and you only have three grades in the grade book.

This is an EMERGENCY!  But here’s what you can do about it:

Upper Grades and High School:

  • Give a 5 point bell ringer twice this next week. (10 points total)
  • Have students write a paragraph on a topic that you have been studying that will reflect their level of understanding.  Assess it on understanding of the concept only.  10 points)
  • Give an exit slip on class material (5 points)
  • Give one homework assignment (10 points)
  • Announce a quiz and administer it (15-20 points)
  • Assign a task that students can work on in pairs.  Collect and assess the work (10 points)
  • Ask students to make a PowerPoint presentation, speech, or some other simple demonstration that shows what they know. (Don’t do this unless you realistically have time in class for the presentations)
  • Give a performance assessment that you can grade on the spot.  Can the student focus a microscope slide, bisect an angle, read music, or do anything else that takes five minutes or fewer for you to assess?

Lower elementary:

  • Use one assignment/activity to produce multiple grades:  for example, have students write a few sentences with their spelling words; correct the spelling and check handwriting (if you assign handwriting grades)
  • Have the student read the sentences to you.
  • Have students read a paragraph from their reading book and answer comprehension questions orally
  • Send students to the board for math practice; you can tell a lot about math ability by watching board work
  • Following a science activity, students can demonstrate what they have learned by writing a few sentences.  They can use math WITH science and you can glean two grades from one activity.
  • You can use a social studies activity to assess reading, writing, spelling, and math (with a little creativity)

The key here is to plan multiple assessments that will generate grades quickly and fairly. THEN, for the NEXT GRADING PERIOD, avoid this can of worms by promising yourself to get two assessments per week for each subject.  Mark the items you will assess in your lesson plan book with a yellow highlighter.  If you do this, you will not come to the end of a grading period and panic when you find that you have collected very few grades.

While having a ton of grades is not necessary, upper grade/high school students will feel like your grading system isn’t fair if you don’t have at least two grades per week.  Students in lower elementary will probably be oblivious to the number of grades, but the parents won’t be.  Use your good judgment, take care of the lack of grades THIS TIME, then vow not to get caught in the same position next grading period.  You will be OK!  Just get back on track and stay there! :)


Documenting Student Behavior

Documenting student behavior

During the first few weeks of school–sometimes even on the first day–interesting behaviors begin to manifest themselves.  It doesn’t take long to notice that Harry is usually not on task, the Jill talks incessantly, and that Amelia’s desk if full of trinkets from home that she plays with constantly.  While some behaviors are easily addressed and corrected, others become a pattern.

As the classroom teacher, you will want to make note of these behaviors in either a card file, on the computer, or in a notebook.  You will be glad that you did this when it comes time for parent-teacher conferences.  It is not good enough to tell a parent that “Amelia is always messing around in her desk.”  You need to be specific and have a record.  For example, I often record such items as the following:

Harry Smith:  Homework not finished on 8/22, 9/3, 9/7, 9/20, 10/1 and 10/8

Sally Smith:  Observed the following on 9/7–Playing with Polly Pocket in her desk from 10:03–10:23 on Sept. 2 (Yes, I have allowed this to go on so that I can record data);  On Sept. 4th, spent 10 minutes of math time taking apart bracelet that she had worn to school; Sept. 7, was observed tying her shoelaces to desk chair during silent reading and playing with trading cards in her desk during math

Bob Smith:  9/23 Refused to take out book when asked to do so.   Threw assignment in trash can on the way out of the classroom.  9/24 Had head down on desk during video clip, refused to work with group on biology project; 9/28 Absent from school, did not turn in his portion of group project;  9/30  Arrived late to class, said he was looking for his cell phone in the library; 10/1  late to class, said it wasn’t his fault he didn’t have his homework as it was taken from him in the lunch room and not returned

Clara Smith:  9/12  Asked to sharpen pencil at 10:02, stopped at Carl’s desk on way to sharpener, looked out window, stuck arm in fish tank, stopped to look at the “good work” board, and after sharpening pencil, returned to seat at 10: 08

We would like to think that we all have good memories when it comes to remembering what our students do during the day.  But if you are like me, when I am sitting with a parent at a conference and they are upset, I want to have my facts straight.  There is something more convincing about having written documentation than just telling a parent that “Bob isn’t doing well in class,” or the “Bob doesn’t use his time wisely.”

Having written documentation also shows the parent that you are professional, and that you are on top of your game!  Just be careful that when you deliver the information to the parent, you are courteous and matter of fact.  You do not want to inadvertently communicate, “Gotcha!”

On another note, my faulty memory has often worked against a student.  Is Jimmy really turning in quite a bit of late work…or am I confusing him with several other students.  I have actually thought to myself, “This student is absent A LOT,” only to find out that attendance records do not corroborate my assumption.  Keeping careful documentation can be not only be helpful in problem solving, but also help you avoid embarrassing situations.

Decide early in the year how you will document behaviors, then be consistent.  It only takes a few minutes to jot down information that may become useful at IEP meetings, conferences, student intervention programs, and so on.


How Much Homework is Too Much?


When you’re a new teacher, it’s often hard to decide how much homework to give your students.  First of all, you need to check whether or not your school has a homework policy.  If there is one in place, you must adhere to it.  If there is not a policy in place, then you need to consider the following:

1.  What do your colleagues at the same grade level recommend?

2.  What are the ages of your students?  (This is a BIG factor.)

3.  What is really necessary in order to move learning forward?

Teachers are often in disagreement when it comes to how much homework to give.  I have had parents who have said that I gave too much homework when I taught 5th and 6th grade, and parents in the same class that said I gave too little homework.  Many times, it is not the amount of work you give, but the pace of the student who is doing the work.

There has been much research on how effective homework really is, but nothing that has settled the question once and for all:  Should all students have homework, and how much should they have?  Here are the factors I weigh when assigning homework:

1.  You want to promote literacy for students at all grade levels.  This is especially important during the early elementary years.  Will your homework increase literacy or increase tears?

2.  Will the amount of homework you give at night allow children and parents to have family time together?  Many parents work outside the home.  It is discouraging for parents to have Judy sitting at the table for three hours every night and not be able to participate in family activities.

3.  Is the work you are going to assign simply busy work, or does it serve a valuable purpose?

4.  Could the work you are sending home have been completed in class if you had planned your day more carefully?  For example, could Susie have done those ten math problems if you had not chosen to watch a movie for a class party?

5.  Are you assigning a project that mom and dad will end up doing, or will the student do it?  Will you have the whole family in an uproar running to Wal-Mart at 10:00 p.m. for supplies?

When I taught 5th/6th grade, the school policy was “no homework on Wednesday nights.” I was in a private Christian school, and Wednesday nights were to be set aside for attending services should a family choose to do so.  I usually gave a math test on Wednesdays which worked out great, because math usually created the most homework.  There are ways you can plan at least one or two NO HOMEWORK nights per week.  I encourage you to do this!

My conscientious students were usually able to get their homework done during the school day, because after making an assignment, I allowed students time to work on it. Most homework was either reading, long term projects, or work that did not get done during class time by students who worked more slowly.  Typically, homework from my class did not exceed thirty minutes.

In high school, where it is impossible to know how many other teachers are assigning homework, I usually give assignments twice a week.  Think this through.  If a high school student has seven classes and five teachers give thirty minutes of homework, the student will have to work two and one-half hours to get it done.  (And that is based on how long the TEACHER thinks it will take to complete the assignment.)  Consider the fact that the high school student may have a part-time job out of necessity, may be participating in sporting events, and/or may have other family obligations in the evening.

All that to say, make your class time count.  Maximize time on task.  Maximize learning. Be careful of doing so many special activities during the school day that you have to send all the academic work home.  Many parents are just too tired to fight the homework battle every night.  Many small children are also overwhelmed by it.

Choose your homework assignments carefully.  Make sure they are meaningful.  Make sure they are age appropriate.  More homework doesn’t mean you are a better teacher.  

My recommendation based on over thirty years of experience is that no elementary student should have to work over an hour per evening on homework. Frankly, one-half hour should be sufficient.  Homework every single night is not necessary.

At the high school level, you will have to use your personal discretion according to the type of course (is it a remedial or an advanced course?), and the type of student you are teaching (are you teaching honors students or students with special needs?)

Next, watch your students’ ability to complete the work.  Are many of your students overwhelmed?  Do they seem to be handling it well?  Are you getting calls from parents? Make adjustments as needed.  As you learn to gauge age-appropriateness and the time it takes to complete assignments, you can adjust your requirements according to your students’ abilities.