Reflection: Rules and Consequences Digging Deeper into Narrative Nonfiction - Section 2: Introduction


I once had a teacher who used to give "sleep quizzes" during class movies solely to punish students that were sleeping in class.  The number of "sleep quizzes" per 90-minute block would vary depending on who was sleeping during the film, but the rules were always the same:

  1. When he silently raised his hand from his desk, you silently raised your hand. 
  2. If your hand did not go up at this time, you earned a 0 on the 20-point quiz.
  3. If you made noise or woke someone up around you while you were raising your hand, you would earn 0 as well.
  4. There was no recourse for "failed" quizzes, even if they were back-to-back with three or four of them in a row.  

This "management" plan was our incentive to stay awake during what were, at times, painfully boring films.  While I always stayed awake (for fear of failing the arbitrarily-assigned quizzes and disappointing my parents!), I never respected that methodology.  And obviously, I never wanted to be a teacher who was so punitive.

While I have not (and will not) ever stoop to the "sleep quiz" low, I do have some of the same issues in my room that I feel that he was trying to (ineffectively) battle in his room, which are disengagement, low effort, and apathy.  These issues are so pervasive and can seem impossible to overcome.  I can honestly say that I don't always understand students who just don't care about learning, despite altering the content and making accommodations to better meet the needs of the child.  After all, if I knew that all I needed to do was remain cognizant during a quiz to get a 100%, I would do it!  BUT, there were always students in my class that put their head down and took a 90-minute snooze, even if it meant a half-dozen zeros in the gradebook.  Likewise, there are still students in my classroom that refuse to read a story with thought or complete reading assignments at all unless some threat is looming.  I work really hard to cultivate a classroom that emphasizes responsibility and student ownership for their own learning through authentic assignments for students, and I pride myself on seeking out and implementing new, more effective and engaging ways of delivering content.  BUT, every now and then, something happens and students just lose the intrinsic motivation to do their best and need some external stimuli to get them back on track doing the mental "heavy lifting" of reading assignments.  Unfortunately, the quickest stimuli I know is a reading quiz, which has an immediate (albeit small) impact on grades, gets entered into Skyward for parents to react to a low quiz grade, and for the most part, restricts students that might cheat on their homework (though I design my work to be very difficult and really pointless to cheat on, there are probably a handful that do it successfully) from simply getting answers from a more prepared student in their class.  Plus, doing reading quizzes for a few days to start off the hour "jumpstarts" student homework completion, so reading quizzes aren't something that I have to use every day in my classroom.

I decided to switch my lesson plans to include a reading quiz today because I discovered during last night's homework progress checks (one of the perks of having a 1:1 district with shared Google Folders for each student!) that many students did not have their logs finished.  I emailed students a reminder of their homework, but a quick glance today revealed that many students still had not finished the reading assignment.  This is a fairly common occurrence for me, as it takes only a few minutes to go through student work to see if it's in progress, and these minutes devoted to checking in advance pay off with more kids being prepared for class.  While the amount of work I have access to with Chromebooks is at times overwhelming, I definitely can't complain about the kind of open access I have with students and parents to check progress and communicate needs!  This process also leaves a powerful record of student contact (or parent contact) if such a record ever needs to be produced.

As every teacher knows, when students blow off homework assignments, it puts the whole class behind, which is why I think this issue is serious enough to warrant a corrective and preventative action like reading quizzes to encourage students to thoughtfully complete their homework.  Reading quizzes are specially designed to be completely different than my typical assessments.  For reading quizzes, I ask mainly recall questions with low-level thinking responses to ensure that students have read the work, rather than higher-order thinking questions which, if missed, could indicate a lack of understanding about the story rather than simply a lack of reading.  For example, a great reading quiz question about Of Mice and Men might be about the ending of the book and asking who shot Lennie or why Aunt Clara came back in the final chapter.  Even multiple choice quizzes can work for reading quizzes, especially since they can provide even more certain information that students have simply NOT DONE their reading homework.  For example, if I ask which characters were NOT present in the last chapter of Of Mice and Men, I would probably toss in a giant bunny rabbit and Curley's wife as choices.  Students that have not cracked the book will probably think the "giant bunny rabbit" option is a throw-away choice (and probably giggle), while those students who read the material will immediately know that Curley's wife was already dead in the chapter before.  This is not the type of question I would put on a summative assessment, but it certainly speaks to who has read or not read the material in a pretty conclusive way, making it ideal for a reading quiz.

My insistence on students completing homework, even reading homework, is not just my own vanity or desire to have an efficient classroom environment.  To my absolute delight, the Common Core Standards has a Speaking & Listening standard specifically geared around the idea that students need to arrive to class prepared to intelligently discuss the material assigned for homework.  Obviously, arriving to class or to a job prepared is something we want to get our students ready for, and the Common Core's mention of this standard speaks volumes to me about how teachers should be treating homework and setting expectations for homework completion as a school.  I repeat this standard and expectation often to my students, but it is definitely one that would do best if it were at the top of all teachers' priority list.  Until students have this sense of responsibility, ownership, and obligation to their classmates, however, I will continue to use incentives like reading quizzes to help reinforce the importance of this idea.  (In the past, I've tied A or B scores on reading quizzes with ticket entries for Kindles that I purchased each year, which was also an effective way to boost participation!  It might seem expensive to buy a $90 item to give away, but I can attest that it was probably the best $90 I spent the first several years I worked in my school district since kids complained less about reading quizzes and did more preparing for class!)

  CCSS Connection to Classroom Preparedness & Reading Quizzes
  Rules and Consequences: CCSS Connection to Classroom Preparedness & Reading Quizzes
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Digging Deeper into Narrative Nonfiction

Unit 5: Life is Hard. That's Realism & Naturalism!
Lesson 2 of 6

Objective: SWBAT evaluate impact and effectiveness of author's word and sequence choices in mixed media and informational texts such as spirituals, letters, and autobiographies.

Big Idea: What makes informational text an easier sell to 11th graders? The lure of video clips and songs as supplemental, CCSS-approved materials!

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sojourner truth
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