Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cell Phone Addiction in the Classroom

This is what I'm up against. The battle against cell phones in the classroom is real, and I'm losing. Not only do students routinely sneak to look at their cellphones during class, several students in one of my classes have TWO cellphones. I snapped this photo while this student was doing an important, graded in-class assignment.

Cell phone addiction is real. I've ripped up a midterm because a student was looking at his phone, despite a warning not to have phones out at all. It's a rule written on the syllabus, and I begin class every day asking students to put their phones away. I've asked students to leave the classroom if they couldn't stay off their phones.

Some might quibble with the idea of cell phone "addiction." I think it depends on your definition of addiction. Mine is this:

A persistent, compulsive need to have something in spite of negative consequences.

Is a failed midterm worth checking Snapchat? What social media post is so important it can't wait for one hour? What text could possibly have such importance that a delayed response of 15 minutes will be devastating? Is it worth losing points, getting behind, possibly having to re-take a test, or antagonizing the teacher? Never mind the distraction from learning.

I understand the draw of constantly checking a phone. I am not an out-of-touch technophobe with a flip phone in my purse for emergencies. My phone is my constant companion; I run my online business on it, I check in with my master mind group on Google Hangouts, I text regularly with family and friends, it tracks my workouts and diet, and it contains priceless pictures, and a whole library of podcasts that provide the background narrative of my life. I fight the urge to check it during class time even when I'm teaching. I understand the urge. I do.

Here's the difference: I don't check it during meetings, during church, while driving, rarely after 9:00 at night, and in many other circumstances. I can leave it behind on a vacation (well, I'll keep in my purse for emergencies). Sometimes I completely forget about it for hours at a time when I'm engaged in a project. I seriously doubt some of my students can say something similar. I am not saying I have some sort of moral high ground. I'm saying there is a difference between regularly utilizing a phone and an an addiction. I have assigned many essays on technology and social media, and combined with what I've read there and their behaviors in class, I can confidently say that there are some who have a true addiction.

Some admit they sleep with their phone so they don't miss any late-night or early-morning texts. Most admit to texting and driving (but I can multi-task!), and in one memorable class discussion, most said if they had to choose between food or their phone for one day, they would choose their phone. I have witnessed the withdrawal symptoms. I used to be able to judge when it was time for a break by the smokers getting antsy, but now that I work on a smoke-free campus, I can judge break time by the sneaky reaches into the backpacks and the anxiety and agitation.

Labeling something as an addiction, however, does not mean the rules should change or that the behavior is somehow more acceptable. When students show up drunk or high, I show them the door. I don't care if they are addicts, it's not acceptable in the classroom. If you take your phone out during a midterm, you will still fail.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Time Saving Tips for Grading Assignments Part 2

Last week’s blog was about strategies I already use in the classroom to save time grading homework, quizzes, and in-class assignments. See it here. The following are strategies I’m going to implement this quarter. I’ll let you know how they work!

Have students turn in multiple assignments at once:  A friend of mine has students keep all their in-class assignments in a folder and turn them in at mid-term and at the end of the quarter. He claims his grading time is cut by a third, simply by streamlining the process (No collecting/returning papers, keeping track of late work, shuffling papers around at home…). I will be using this method just for the 30-minute response papers we do in-class. My concern with this method is that recognizing a students who are struggling or need to improve their work might be too late in coming, or a student might not have an opportunity to improve after realizing a problem. I will be spot checking some assignments just to be sure. 

Ditch the rubrics:  Look at any article with advice for grading efficiency, and it will invariably say, “Use a rubric!” At the beginning of my teaching career, I worked for a university that required rubrics for every assignment, so I got used to using them, and would have certainly parroted this advice. Although I still believe that a rubric is necessary for grading essays and large group projects, I’ve learned the value diminishes with other types of assignments, so I’m getting rid of most of them. The time saved is in less detailed notes, creating new rubrics, adding up points, less copy making, stapling, etc… Sometimes it OK to just slap a grade at the top of an assignment!

Representative grading:  I’ve read about teachers implementing forms of representative grading, but I dismissed it, thinking it wasn’t necessarily a fair way of grading. Over the years, though, I’ve noticed that students are fairly consistent in the quality of their work. I won’t do this at the beginning of the quarter, and I will only do it with selected assignments (not writing assignments), but it works like this: The teacher time stamps homework to show it was completed on time, but the student keeps the work. Students collect all their work for a given time period (say every two weeks) and staple it together. Then the teacher asks students to circle or highlight designated questions that are a representative sample. This is different than the selective grading that I’ve been doing because it involves grading far less on each assignment, and even skipping whole assignments.

Assigning work that multi-tasks: Last quarter, I assigned a 30-minute response paper in class and asked the students to hang on to it rather than turn it in. The next class period, we were working on a writing introductions, and instead of the assignment I had planned, I asked the students to get out the response paper and work on a new introduction based on what we had learned in class that day. Over the next few class periods, we did the same thing with other concepts, using the same response paper. When it was time for grading, instead of multiple assignments and papers from each student, everything was in once place. As a bonus, I could see their editing process. I plan to do these types of assignments more frequently and thoughtfully this quarter.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Time Saving Tips for Grading Assignments Part 1

At the beginning of every quarter, I make the same goal: cut down on grading time. Since I teach composition classes, this inherently involves hours of writing comments on rough drafts. That’s just part of the gig. I do utilize an error log and key (which you can read about here), which does save some time, and I do have other processes in place, but that is not what I’m talking about here; it’s the homework, quizzes, and in-class assignments where I can certainly save more time.

Following are a few strategies I’ve used through the years that work well. Next week’s blog will be about new ideas I’m implementing. Check it out here.

On-the-spot grading: For in-class assignments that can earn credit for simply being completed, have students bring it up to you as soon as they are finished. Check quickly for completion and major errors and immediately enter the points in your gradebook.  When everyone is finished, go over the answers with the class so they can check their own work. This works particularly well in my class for grammar exercises. The small amount extra time this takes in class is well worth not bringing home a stack of papers to grade. 

Selective grading: If students have done homework containing say, 10 questions, pick 3 or 4 and grade those. Don’t let the students know which questions you will be grading, but do tell them that you will be picking only a few to grade. A bonus to this method is that I find the overall quality of the work improves because students consider the quality of each answer.

Peer grading:  After simple quizzes, I used to have students switch papers with a classmate and then I would read the answers out loud and the classmate would mark the inccorect responses. I stopped when I found out there was cheating going on (duh!), so I started correcting them all myself.  Halfway through a huge stack, I realized what a waste of time this was, so I came up with a cheat-proof method that has worked ever since: Students must take the quiz using a black or blue pen. When the quizzes are completed, I collect them, shuffle, and redistribute instead of letting them pick their grading partner. All writing implements are put away and I distribute green pens, which students use for grading. With a big class, this saves me at least half an hour for each quiz.

Don’t grade everything: Not every assignment needs to be graded. This has been my biggest mental hurdle. If they put in the effort, shouldn’t they be rewarded with points? On the other hand, if they blew off an assignment, or did it poorly, shouldn’t there be a score that reflects the lack of effort?  I have put aside my urge to assign points for everything, and once in a while, I tell students not to turn in something at the end of class (never before they start). Not surprisingly, there are audible “Awwww” sounds from those who put in the effort and some high-fives among those who were slacking. This makes me feel guilty, but I make myself feel better knowing I will have an extra free hour that evening.

Verbal feedback: If I notice a mistake being repeated that requires me writing out a lengthy comment to explain, or is difficult to explain without an example, sometimes I just put an asterisk at the top of the paper. Then in class, I say “If there is an asterisk at the top of your paper, pay close attention, because this feedback is for you….”  Students know I am not calling them out individually because they know it’s something I saw on several papers.

Wishing you all the best for the new year! May your grading time be efficient and productive!