Each year I pride myself on some of the in-class projects I do with my students. Some parents love me and some hate me. No one can work on a project at home. It must be done in class in front of me. This year I actually got applause when I told the parents at open house.
Many years ago, I taught at risk children and came to the conclusion that so many had no one at home to help them, it would be better to do most work in school. To my surprise, behavior problems decreased. I came to the conclusion, when I have the art station to hold over their head the work gets done. I took this to another level and said no one could take class work home to finish. If they do this, they lose twenty points.
I still use this plan and stand by my plan because it works. Each Friday the children who are on target with work can work on the unit art project. It is usually made with minimal supplies. The up side is Friday is a day when children who work at a slower pace can catch up. It is the day the kids make up missed work if they are absent too. The best part is the slackers have to sit in the room and do the work while the other children paint, Mummify Barbie dolls, make Greek vases or Roman Mosaics, marionettes. If I have a reward that goes with the contract like a Twilight Zone critical thinking lesson or a video, they have to leave the room, and do the work they did not do in the first place. I actually add back the points to improve their score. Eventually they get the message I may as well do it the first go round because I will have to do it anyway.
Since I developed the system twenty-three years ago, for the first time I am having major glitches. The first is class size. My mandated class of 22 is around 30 children. I do have two smaller gifted classes but since our school does class size by averages my other three are larger. This means I have not one inch of space. I have five more trap tables than previous years, so there is not an art station. Tools like hammers, nails, saws are too dangerous to have in a large class so no more building marionettes. I remember saying when the vote for a smaller class size was on a ballot they would give us smaller classrooms (square footage) and they did. They built our box without one closet or bookshelf for teacher’s stuff. It is a shame because the children lose out and feel slighted when I do the bigger projects with gifted only.
Next glitch, the swine flu, I have baskets of crayons, markers, colored pencils in back and access to scissors, stapler etc. With so many children out sick it is easy to see the problem is compounded with my projects. Our mornings start off with a wipe down of all tables, scissors, markers, stapler and other items shared by children. Today, I had to stop and tell the children it was time to bring in their own crayons, pencils and such. We had the talk about not lending pencils and pens. Next week is Red Ribbon Week and we may as well skip the lesson on Hugs not Drugs. This flu is scary.
Consequently, I see a difference in my students. So many are not completing work and this means they learn less and do poorly on tests. The third glitch, the fast pace of the focus calendar and the additional required worksheets they want us to cover. The poor kids have three times the homework. Every innovative course I have ever taken says worksheets are killers yet it is part of a mandate with frequent administrative visits with a check off list. I love my kids, I love to sit and color with them, I love to watch their wheels turn when they build or draw blueprints for a stage or research an historical figure and make the puppet. Those Freaky Fridays are my mental health days. I have a few ideas of how to “play the game” yet beat the system. Stay tune for next installment of the way we were to get an update.