Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Prepping for the School Year Fall 2016 Edition

Each summer I spend a lot of time reflecting not only on the past year but on new steps or tactics for the new year.
This year will be a bit different, and a bit of a challenge. I am still TAing for UNM, teaching the online Early Shakespeare class I built this past spring. But I'm also teaching high school full time. And completely rewriting my dissertation. This seems daunting. Until I realize for two years I taught high school full time, was department chair, taught at the local community college, taught online, and still presented at conferences and published. So I can do this.
It's just gonna suck.

My routines, my organization will be a big help.
But admit that when I looked at my online Early Shakespeare class I did look at the work load. In the end of semester evaluations some students said they thought the practice assignments were "high-schooly" and "busy work." Pedagogically I have them because they are low-stakes practice assignments for the skills needed for the larger assignments. But I get that a lot of students take online classes because they are busy, working, parents, and juggling a lot. So I went in and made most of those assignments optional. They'll count as extra credit under participation. I didn't change the assignments but I added language about why I made them and thought they were important.
I guiding question I think is important to ask about any class we teach is- what are we fighting over? And is the fight worth it?
Do I think these practice assignments are valuable? Yes, it's why they're there.
Is it worth fighting over? No.
So students that do them will do better. And I've told them that.
But I will not spend time fighting with students over it.

The syllabus scavenger hunt seemed to work really well this summer, so I added it to the fall class.
The scavenger hunt seemed to fix a lot of the "it's in the syllabus" questions we all struggle with. But I'm always looking for improvements, so I wrote this Note About Our Syllabus.
The more I teach the more important I think it is that we not only present things to our students but that we're more transparent about WHY we do the things we do.

In addition, I've added language to the syllabus about the required tech. I don't require anything weird or unusual but there were a couple of issues that came up last spring, so honestly this is CYA language now.

I'm also reading Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein.

Now, the longer I teach, the more I back away from grades. This summer I moved a lot of grades to just Complete/Incomplete and told the students that the feedback was important. 
I much rather just give feedback on papers not grades.
I tried a couple of years ago to go gradeless. I gave students the option to not receive grades throughout the semester, just check ins and feedback, and then a well-discussed final grade. 

No one did it.

I get it, knowing where you stand may not be great but it is comforting and it is known. But I like new ideas, so I'm reading this to see if there are ideas I can work into my classes as they are now.

BUT, I also had an interesting thought on Twitter based on a tweet by JJ Cohen.

So I joking made the statement that my new amended grading policy would only be stickers, gifs, and feedback.
Was a total joke.
But IF we give grades, for various reasons, mostly our and our students' comfort, is there a way to CHANGE how we give them and more importantly, how they are received? Most of us see grades as a form of feedback. But I think often students see them, have negative reactions, and this then shades their work and progress moving forward.
I woke up the next morning and wondered what this would look like. I couldn't get the thought out of my head. So I made this.
Now, I have no idea if this would work. Some people have less of a sense of humor than me I've found. In fact last semester a student complained about my use of gifs and memes in the course. So there's no way I'd make this required. But I am thinking about making it an option.
Students would make their own grid, supply how they want their grade, and then I'd give feedback.
Maybe it works. Maybe not. We'll see.

So I know it's a few weeks, for some of you a month, before you go back to school or are thinking about prepping for the new semester.
But I wanted to share some things:

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