Students Email Their Parents About Missing Work

In my last blog post titled, “Stop Taking Grading Home,” I explained how I use the Station Rotation Model to provide students with real-time feedback as they work instead of taking grading home. I had one teacher ask me what I do when a student arrives at my teacher-led station and has not done the work required. That’s a great question, so I wanted to share my very simple strategy with my readers.

If students have fallen behind on a formal essay, large scale assignment, or project, I require that they begin their session with me at the teacher-led real-time feedback station by writing their parents an email to explain why they have not completed the work they were assigned. They must CC me on the email, use the formal business letter format, and propose a specific action plan to catch up on their work.

This strategy is so simple but so effective! Students are rarely asked to take ownership of and responsibility for their work. Typically, a parent does not realize there is a problem until a zero is entered into a gradebook or report cards are mailed home. Requiring students to contact their parents and take responsibility for their work at various check-points along the process creates an incentive for students to prioritize their school work. This strategy also takes the responsibility off of the teacher, who is typically the person tasked with reaching out to the parents when there is an issue.

The most rewarding part of this strategy are the conversations that take place between parents and their children. Because I am CCed on the initial email, parents typically “reply all” and keep me in the loop as they dialogue with their child. I love the questions parents ask in their follow-up emails, like “Why weren’t you able to complete this part of the assignment when it was due? How are you using your class time? What can I do at home to support you in getting your work done?” I see so much value in encouraging students to have these conversations with their parents.

As soon as I adopted this strategy, more students completed their work on time and several parents thanked me for keeping them in the loop about their child’s progress, or lack thereof.

At the start of this school year, I posted a blog titled “Who is doing the work in your classroom?” where I said I planned to try to flip my thought process to make sure students were the ones working because the people doing the work are the ones learning. Each time I was tempted to say, “I could…” I challenged myself and my co-teacher to flip the statement and instead make it a question like “How can students…?” This shift in is what led, in part, to having students email their parents. I remember saying to my co-teacher, “We should email the parents of students who’ve fallen behind on their essays.” Her response was, “Why not make them do it?” Thank goodness for her reminders!

So, whenever you feel daunted by all you have to do as an educator, ask yourself how you can make your students do more of the work in your classroom. From that work will come real learning.

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Stop Taking Grading Home

In January I wrote a blog post titled “New Year’s Resolution: I’m Moving ALL Assessment into the Classroom.” I’m here to update everyone. Since January, I have not brought a single stack of digital papers home to grade! It’s been amazing!

It’s not that my students aren’t writing. In fact, they just completed a detailed six paragraph research paper on an environmental problem of their choice. This paper took them about 3 weeks to write from the time they started their research to when they finished their final draft and works cited page. We spent a significant amount of class time working on these papers. Students honed their research skills, organized their information, watched flipped videos on how to complete various aspects of the paper, like citing properly, and they received detailed feedback from me the entire way through!

I used the station rotation model every day during the writing process to build in time for me to provide real-time feedback on their work. I used my teacher-led station for synchronous editing. As my students wrote, I jumped into their Google Documents in suggesting mode and made edits. I also added static comments with questions, suggestions, and links to additional resources that might be useful.

Groups of 8 students rotated through my teacher-led station in 20-minute intervals. During that window of time, I was able to give every student written feedback on the section of his/her essay they were currently working on. One day I edited thesis statements and another day I was editing topic sentences. I tried to keep the scope of what I  was editing narrow enough to provide every student with detailed feedback.

When students were in the other stations, they worked on a variety of tasks, like reading and annotating a text on StudySync, conducting additional research for their papers, practicing a grammar concept on NoRedInk, drawing sketches of possible solutions that would address their environment problem, etc. I prepared directions for those stations ahead of time, so students could complete those tasks without needing me to provide instructions.

Here’s why I think it’s so crucial for teachers to stop taking grading home:

First, I knew where almost every student was in terms of his/her progress at any given moment. There were no surprises when the papers were due because I had been in and out of their documents several times over the course of three weeks we worked on it. I was able to support students throughout the entire process. If they had questions as they worked or needed additional scaffolds, I was right there to support them.

Second, I feel more energized and creative! I have more time and energy to invest in the aspects of teaching that I really love, like lesson design. Instead of spending hours at home wading through a neverending stack of digital papers, I am planning fun lessons, activities, projects, and guest speakers.

I realize that moving assessment into the classroom requires a shift in mindset and the strategic use of blended learning models, but it is hands down the BEST decision I’ve made this year.

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Make PDFs Interactive with Kami

Last week, my students began reading excerpts from The Sixth Extinction to complement our Environmental Unit. I shared the PDF version because our library only had a few copies of the book. When my students asked me how I wanted them to annotate the text, I said they could make annotative notes in digital notebooks since I wasn’t aware of a free tool that would allow them to easily annotate a PDF. Then one of those magical moments happened in class when a student becomes the expert and shares a tool I’ve never heard of.

My student, Derek, said, “Hey, Tucker, have you ever used Kami?” I said that I had not heard of it. I immediately paused the class and Derek shared this awesome Google Chrome Extension! Kami makes annotating PDFs super simple.

Features

Kami allows the user to:

  • highlight
  • strikethrough
  • underline
  • comment
  • add text
  • draw
  • add shapes

Even though Kami saves annotations every minute, some students immediately close their Chromebooks when they are finished reading and annotating, so it’s possible they might lose the last couple of notes they made if they don’t click the “save now” button. I’d encourage you to remind your students to do this.

Kami + Google Classroom

The best part of Kami is how seamlessly it works with Google Classroom. A teacher can find a PDF they want students to actively read and share that PDF via Google Classroom. When creating your assignment, select the option to “Make a copy for each student.”

 

If students have already added Kami as a Chrome Extension, then they will be asked if they want to open the PDF you’ve shared with Kami. As soon as it’s opened using Kami, your students will have access to all of the features listed above and you will be able to see their annotations when you click into their assignments in Google Classroom!

As students annotate the PDF, any collaborator on the document can respond to the questions and comments posted on that PDF creating the opportunity for an ongoing conversation about the text.

It’s so important in this digital age when so many students consume text online that they learn how to transfer their pen and paper annotation strategies to the online space. Kami is another fantastic tool for supporting active reading online.

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