Three Changes “For Good:” Desk-less, Bathroom Pass Procedure, and Assessing with Extension Structures

As in any school year, I have tried many new ideas, techniques, and changes in my classroom environment.  In fact, I am currently attending the wonderful Central States Conference to continue to learn more. In this post, I want to highlight 3 changes that I have done For Good!  I am not saying that I am not still working through the kinks for some, but over all, I have seen positive results!

#1) I have finally gone “desk-less.”

So this year, I have tried the desk-less experience and I am very pleased with the results. There is so much to consider when making this change: acquiring the chairs, maintaining classroom management and dynamic, figuring out how to still have some flat surfaces in the room, and so much more. One aspect that I have been grappling with is does going desk-less benefit all students?  My conclusions so far are the following: Firstly, I love the desk-less classroom and feel that it has been a positive change for student engagement and focus. I have much more control on student use of cell-phones during class and I think there is more engagement since students do not have the ability to put their heads down on a flat surface. Plus I think the communicative value of easily being able to chat with the neighbor helps break many barriers.

Another issue I’ve been dealing with is how to place the chairs.  Since August, I have tried many different seating arrangements with the chairs. In fact I had to start the year off with uncomfortable school folding chairs before my newly ordered chairs arrived.  My chairs are replacing rather large desks that are still around the perimeter in the room (which has been good and bad). I still want my students to have the “desks” or more ideally tables for longer essay writing class assignments.  Since I have not yet been able to get tables, I still need the desks. And since they are there, many students want to sit in them. In the beginning I allowed some to try it and right away I saw a lack of engagement and some students falling asleep (which never happened with the chairs). So those students are no longer sitting in desks, but others are.  I have found that many of the students with attention issues are faring better while sitting in desks that are on the sides in the room. These students have requested to sit in the desks and thinking about their overall success and some of their documented services requiring preferential seating, I have made a modified seating arrangement having 5 desks in play in addition to the chairs.  If I see these students not finding success in the desks or taking advantage of the flat surface, I will talk with the students and then remove this option, but for now, I do believe the modification is helping a few students. Yet, I think the chairs are helping the majority of my students in class.

#2. My new bathroom pass procedure.

I have grappled with this one for the past five years in my current school setting.  The “can I go to the bathroom phenomenon” is just a normal daily occurrence for us as teachers.  Or course we are all left to wonder does this student really need to use the bathroom or do they just want to use the cellphone.  When I am in the halls of my school, too often students are engrossed in walking around and texting. So in order to respect the need for my students to use the restroom, I have a trade your phone policy for the hall-pass.  If a student wants to use the restroom, they put their cellphone in basket in the front of the room and take the hall-pass. I have been very pleased with the procedure and it has been implemented with very little pushback from students and I believe there are fewer students leaving my class because of it.

#3. Offering Extension Structures on Weekly Structure and Cumulative On-Going Structure Quizzes

I have a lot of internal debate about Structure Quizzes because students can easily just memorize a Quizlet set before class without really acquiring the structures. In order to meet the needs of my students with such a vast spectrum of Spanish and learning abilities in the same classroom, I have developed this system. Many of my students have reacted very well to the Structure Quizzes as I have set them up this year in my Spanish II, III, and IV classes (please know this is not my only way of assessing my students).  Unfortunately, it is a bit complicated to explain the scoring, so I will try my best to explain it.

Working within the confines of our school schedule, I see students for 50 minutes 3 days a week and for one 90 minute block (so I see them 4 times).  What I have determined is that most of my students can successfully learn, and for many acquire, 4 target structures a week with this type of schedule. But for many of my students, focusing on on only 4 target structures is too easy and not challenging them.  So this year I began offering Extension Structures (one being my weekly Password Expression). These are structures that offer linguistic variables and/or additional pieces of language to help them communicatively. During first semester, I only included my weekly Password Expression and 3 other structures but for the second semester, I have doubled the extension structures to the Password plus 7 others.

My goal for all students is that they know the 4 target structures.  If a student knows the “Weekly 4 target structures” then they have met my expectations and earned a 13/15 on their structure quiz, on which they must write the English meaning.  I then have 4 extension structures on the quiz and they can earn 1 point her English meaning of the extension structures. So a student can exceed the class expectations and earn a “14,15,16,17” /15 on this quiz.  But if a student misses 1 of the “4 target structures” then their extension structures are only worth “.5 credit” and since I will not work with halves in the grade book, they must get two extension structures correct for a full extra credit point.  I have devised the system using the approach that the lowest score a student can earn is a 53% or a 8/15 [for missing all 4 target structures nor any of the extension structures]. Mathematically the point values help to have few failures and more students are pushing themselves to learn the 8 to 12 structures instead of simply the 4 target structures.  Even when 12 structures could be assessed, I still only test 8 structures so it mirrors the 15 point quiz format with the math explained above. This same system applies to the weekly “On-going Cumulative Quizzes” (8 questions using a variety of 4 former target structures and 4 former extension structures).

What have I found?

I have found that providing the structures has helped focus many of my students and that most love and value the ability for extra credit and want to exceed the 13/15 – B score.  When I surveyed students at the end of semester 1, they almost all reported that the chance for extra credit was a motivational way of extending themselves to learn more. Again we have to think about what helps the students with which we are currently working.   

With regard to the “4 target structures,” I work very hard to help students acquire these structures during class. Now it is not same for the Extension Structures although my weekly Password Expression does get a lot of exposure.  I do not focus on targeting my Extension Structures although they are often pulled from the 3rd or 4th version of an embedded reading, a linguistic connection/pattern that many students can learn, or something from our textbook that frankly not all students need to know.  In some classes, I do use Quizlet Live as an activity with all structures because I keep an accessible On-Going Cumulative list per quarter for them on my Quizlet class page.   

I feel the On-going Cumulative Quizzes are essential to help some long-term retention. As I have mentioned, I do not think all students are acquiring all structures, but I believe most are working to their full-potential and the extension structures are pushing the honors and gifted students in a way that I have not been doing as intentionally.  I am still working through the correct amount of Extension Structures and how it helps or hinders overall long-term retention and motivation.

Here is an example of new Quiz Format for Target and Extension Structures and an explanation of the scoring guidelines.

As I started the post, these are 3 changes I have made this year For Good (the WICKED musical reference was fully intentional).  Thanks for reading.

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