2.10 They're all on the same page...and I'm grading page 1 of 700
I had figured out the secret! Planning lessons for three history classes was exhausting, but I had finally found a way to streamline the work. Each group was required to complete research projects at some point during the semester. I would make sure that they all did so at exactly the same time!
I congratulated myself on this approach after completing the first lesson plan for our research unit. It involved creating only one instructional handout, then varying it slightly for use with my other two classes. Brilliant! Two weeks were devoted to helping students conduct the research, create notecards, write essays, footnote sources, craft bibliographies and peer-edit their materials. During those weeks I worked extremely hard during class time, helping students who were new to the process, and even harder after school assisting anyone who needed extra help. But my nights, usually consumed by lesson planning, offered much more free time than usual. By aligning my classes’ schedules, I had reduced my lesson planning efforts by more than a third.
Ah, those two weeks were beautiful. One lesson plan each night, and students working and writing all day. By the following Friday, they had made real progress on lengthy first drafts, each with substantial bibliographies. One student even remarked on how much he had learned.
Well, guess what I learned?
I learned that when every class does every step of the research process on the same schedule, everyone turns in their rough draft at exactly the same time. How had I failed to anticipate that?
I also learned that carrying more than 700 pages of student writing home to evaluate requires making more than one trip from my classroom to my car. Granted, I was only using one hand to hold the materials. The other was busy dialing numbers on my cell phone, ordering a pizza for dinner since there would be no time for cooking and canceling plans since my schedule suddenly consisted solely of wading through ninth-grade research.
I didn’t finish the grading. I eventually made a dent over a holiday weekend we had a few weeks later. But by the time I handed the rough drafts back to my last class of students, many of them had returned their sourcebooks to the library. Others had lost parts of their notes. A few complained that by the time their rough draft had been evaluated, they had forgotten what they wanted the final draft to look like. At the mention of final drafts — more papers I would be evaluating — I internally groaned.
Were the benefits of aligning my classes’ schedules worth it? Honestly, I don’t know. I believe my students profited from the fact that I was completely focused on the research process when they needed guidance, and I enjoyed a brief respite from an overwhelming lesson planning load. However, we both suffered from my inability to provide timely evaluations of their essays. They needed feedback, and by the time they had it, I needed a break!
Plan for yourself, not only your students
I share this story not to advise you, but to give you the opportunity to make a choice about scheduling instruction with your eyes fully open. If your objectives allow for schedule alignment between your classes, and you can do that while still meeting the needs of individual groups and students, then by all means consider adjusting the schedules. For two weeks, doing so provided me with much needed rest. But be aware of the price tag when you decide to purchase that respite. Does that adjustment necessitate concurrent evaluations? How long will the projects take to grade? Can you complete the assessment in a timeframe that will respect your students’ efforts? If not, aligning the schedules may be a mistake.
Regardless of how you choose to structure your classes, remember that there are always two considerations: the effect on your students’ learning and the effect on your mental health. Find a system that enhances both, allowing you to serve your students while acknowledging the method with which you are personally most comfortable. If lesson planning drains you more than marathon grading sessions — and you can complete those sessions in a more timely manner than I did — occasionally aligning your classes’ schedules may be the answer. If not, take an alternate approach. Either way, begin noting what processes and pacing strategies work for you so that you can take care of both yourself and your students. Acknowledge both sets of needs when making classroom decisions. That way, everyone benefits from your considered approach.
- Next: New beginnings