Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Post #14 - Help!

Opinion - what level of writing do you expect from 10th graders?

This is my second year in "the biz," and since I jumped from standard to honors this year, I'm still trying to discern what is an acceptable level for my students, what is adequately challenging, and what is just honestly too much to expect.

I graded some papers tonight in which they had to respond in only a paragraph to a long answer question. They had to support their opinion using 2 examples from the text. Really, I was looking for structure: a strong topic sentence stating their stance, 2 examples from the text differentiated by transition words, and a strong final sentence concluding the long paragraph by tying it back into the topic sentence. We had done this with the sample literary analysis handout, and I even let them use it on their tests! I warned that I was mostly looking for structure.

Still, I got many students who gave me one example that they didn't strongly connect to their topic and left off a second example. Most of the time those responses supplied one example and then rambled about it for awhile; some reverted to plot summary. Not all are bad - so that gives me hope - but there were enough to frustrate me, and make me wonder...am I expecting too much? Or just enough? Or a little of both?

I am reminding myself that this is only their second year in high school, and perhaps only their second year being asked "why" and "how" questions. (They should be asked earlier, but in our state's education system, I have doubts.) If that is the case, I think that I am challenging them adequately, and I shouldn't be so frustrated. They won't be perfect the first time they dive in. They need to flail a little, test the waters, make mistakes. I certainly won't let them drown! I just can't expect them to develop a perfectly clean backstroke in 9 months.

But what do you think? Other teachers with more experience, especially who have taught different levels, what wisdom can you impart?


  1. One of the (few) things I have learned is that I never, EVER assume they know something unless I am CERTAIN that *I* have taught it to them.

    As in I get students (and this is sophomores!) who cannot correctly identify an action verb. In the sentence "He runs fast," they will choose 'fast' as the verb.

    Not all.

    Not many.

    Very few, in fact.

    But still - just the fact that there are ANY! GAH! GAAAAAH!

    Okay. Rant over. :D

  2. I'm of the opinion that you can never expect too much. Now, I'm probably wrong, but that's my opinion. =) Because with whatever problems their having (ie: leaving off the second point) you can teach it to them, THEN expect them to do it. It sounds like you already taught it, so they're probably being lazy.
    And eeks! Fast is a verb??? Oh the sad state of education.. (Pun intented)

  3. I have to agree -- I don't think you can ever expect too much. Though I do understand that students are all coming from different backgrounds/teachers. BUT after I teach them and help build the knowledge (that should have already been in place), then I DO expect them to do whatever the writing/reading/grammar based task is the right way.

    I don't think we can get caught up in the "blaming" game, though...meaning "Well they didn't get this last year, etc." but I have found it to be frustrating that some of my seniors still cannot recognize a verb...

    Yet in the end, no matter what level I am teaching...my expectations are clear from the beginning and that's what we work towards. No matter where my students are coming from, I like to think of their learning as a work in progress...we will figure out where we are, where we need to be, and then work on getting to the end point (if this makes sense at all!).

    And perhaps most importantly, I have quickly realized that when my expectations are high, my students do work to meet/exceed them. It may take awhile, BUT I'm seeing a trend...which is a great feeling!