Ms. Bradshaw, why did you give me a C?!?!

With the quarter at a close and the reveal of their 9 week grades, students are finally seeing how the parts of their efforts in art add up.  As we have gone through the previous weeks, I have tried to make sure students understood the make-up of their grade; how many points things were worth, how one mistake on one project would not be their downfall, how not turning in a project at all might be, and how to make sure they were growing on their rubric.  However, it isn’t until they see that first report card that things kind of all come together.  I would like to work toward that happening more when it comes to individual projects as well, but for now, the report card is the ultimate showing of their hard work or lack-there-of.  This is the first year that I have had students tracking their progress in personal trackers (see the post Diagnostics and Tracking for details) and it is proving to be very useful in student understanding of growth and data.  However, there is always room for improvement and I hope this system continues to expand in detail and frequency so students are consistently invested in their grades and growth as artists.  I want them to be recording their daily participation points – perhaps in some kind of exit activity – and figuring out how to have them track mastery of objectives and/or elements along the way.  I will be brainstorming this for the coming semester so any ideas are very welcome!  The more urgent issue however, is once in a while, I still have students ask “Ms. Bradshaw why did you give me a C on this!?!?”  rather than understanding clearly how the rubric works and being invested in the fact that they earn their grades and I am merely there to record them and point them in the direction of growth.  In order to move closer to that I think 3 things need to be done:

1.  Students need to more clearly understand and be invested in the rubric.  I think this will come with repetition, review, and by breaking down and focusing on rubric rows.  Every time we do a project we need to go over the rubric before and after.  I think I will have them choose which rubric row will accompany our challenge each unit to up the critical thinking skills we are focusing on this year.

2. Students need to better understand the classroom expectations for independent projects. This will be helped by the rubric review pre-project and break down of rubric rows so expectations can be layed out for each category.  I think also encouraging students to move beyond the “scribble stage” in studios would contribute to growth in this area.  Students created great plans for projects at the beginning of this unit but I would say only about 15% of students stuck with their plan in any way.  I need to figure out a way to promote problem solving in order to create their way-cool ideas rather than making another gun out of toilet paper rolls because the kid next to them did and it looked kind of cool.  I had way too many last minute projects turned in this time around.

3. Students need to feel ownership of their projects and effort and operate with a growth mindset. The final piece comes down to investment.  If students are invested in their work and take ownership of it, they are more likely to see themselves as earning their grade rather than me giving it to them.  I need to impart on them a drive and value of hard work so that students are turning in their best work rather than a last minute piece just to have something in.  Students should be focused on getting better with each piece rather than seeing them all as separate entities.

This is far from a perfect (or complete) plan but I think if I am mindful of these three components and work toward improving them, students’ personal investment in their grades will increase.  I want to continue to improve the quality of student data tracking and the consistency in which we track.  When students become comfortable with the process, it allows for deeper conversation about why and how this can help them in both art class and how this can be transferred to other aspects of their school career and lives.  Hopefully…


The Balance


That pretty much sums up life as a teacher.  Or at least my life as a teacher.  Especially in October, in the week after i just spent 4 days in the homeland for the beautiful wedding of my friend.  There is so much catching up to do!  As I was trying to decide what to blog about this week, my roommate received an e-mail from a friend that lay within the same vein.  He is in his first year teaching (TFA also) in Baltimore.  This was his message:

question…when u go home, or during ur first year….did all u think about was ur kids? i like cant separate school and home, its driving me nuts. like i went for a jog and blasted music and i still thought about them. I need a psychologist.

So, as a house, we brainstormed.  I realized that I had had similar feelings, as had my roommates and we came up with a response to his concern which I have decided may be helpful to one of you.

First, we decided this was a standard feeling.  It is very difficult to separate work and life in your first year teaching, and especially in your first year teaching in TFA.  This is partly due to the extremely high expectations that are set upon us and partly due to the fact that most people who join are passionate about what they are doing and generally type A perfectionists.  Throw high expectations mixed with failing conditions our way and we’re bound to be stressed and obsessive.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Second, because of this, it is difficult and perhaps impossible to turn off your thoughts about work.  However, it is important to find a way to make those thoughts positive or at least less stress inducing.  In my roommate’s words, “It’s about self care because you seriously will drive yourself nuts or burnout and drop out if you cant find a way to live your own life separate from teaching.” 

We decided the two big things that helped us, actual ended up being kind of common sense.  1.) find an activity that calms you and de-stresses you and that you enjoy enough to relax about your work-related thoughts (camping, baking, or canoeing worked for me) or 2.) find an activity that you definitely cannot think during, like intense adrenaline-rush activities, such as rock climbing or insanity, or activities that require total focus, like chorus, video games, or painting.  When you are able to take an hour or two out to do these things, it actually refreshes your mind and you are able to tackle your classroom problems in a more positive, efficient, and productive manner.  Often it seems like we don’t have time to take for ourselves but really, in the end, we usually use the time we are given.  If we have an hour to do something, it gets done in an hour.  If we have ten, it gets done in ten.  The third thing I would like to add to the list is also common sense and most of you already probably have a system for, but just in case…prioritize.  Any time I am feeling overwhelmed, I make a list of the things I have to do or want to change.  Cross off the ones I have no power over and then organize the rest into manageable chunks.  Usually, I have done all of this with a very elaborate sticky-note system that my roommate loves to laugh at, but this year I made a grown-up planner system that is working pretty good as well.  I have the long term stuff I have to do across the bottom (broken up into categories) Then have the days at the top where I can split up and prioritize those long term tasks as well as daily stuff like lesson planning.  I attached it as a PDF because I used funky fonts but just shoot me an e-mail if you would like it in .doc form!

Weekly Planner

I didn’t want this to be a post about ideas to de-stress because each person is different and it will take a different thing to get them refocused.  What I wanted, was to let you know that if you are feeling this way you are not alone and it is ok to do that thing that is going to get you recharged and then come back to the task at hand.  Don’t let teaching change you being you.  And with that, I’ll leave you with the wise words of Walt Disney…