December 22, 2011

No Interruptions, Please!

I promised my students no homework over the winter break. This included not having any pending projects due after the break, too. However, in exchange, they had to work their little patooties off in December, and on the last day before break they submitted research-based persuasive essays.

Of course, this a wrecker on my holiday break, as I have all those papers to grade, but putting it off until we return will not make my life any easier. I had high hopes of getting those essays graded right away, but as we are nearing the end of the first week of my break, after 12 hours of grading and I'm only halfway through, I'm near my wit's end. Big shocker. Like I haven't been there a million times before...

This time, I'm finding things are a little bit different because my students have shared their papers in GoogleDocs with me. This is the first big assignment my students have completed in GoogleDocs, so there are a few bumps, but I'm so excited to use it! One of my colleagues, Mrs. E used it on a previous essay and said she ended up spending more time grading because she made so many more comments. I am finding this to be true, too, but I can type a lot faster than I can write, so it's actually easier for me to leave comments. Oh, and can we talk about how neatly the comments are arranged? It is so much better than my scrawl scrunched in the margins!

There is frustrating dark side to using GoogleDocs. I feel like such a horrible teacher even mentioning this, but as I am rushing to finish my self-imposed vacation homework, I am in no mood to have to respond to communications from my students about my comments and their grades. Quite a few students have messaged me, either though the document or in gmail, about their essays within an 30 minutes of my finishing grading.

Of course, these are the panicked students who could not follow directions or read the rubric and are shocked at their low grades. Some of them have fixed their errors (like not including bibliographies) and have asked me to look at their essays again, while others write begging, desperate messages inquiring what they could do to improve their scores. Don't get me wrong here. Last week, as I was giving feedback to students, they would come online and respond to my comments, and I thought it was a major advantage--especially for those students who never say a word to me in class but are comfortable speaking through the computer. However, this time it feels different. For one thing, this is supposed to be final draft I'm evaluating, and for another thing, technically, I'm on vacation and I do not want to go back to recheck the work that should have been completed correctly. It will suck up all my time!

Oh, I feel terrible having such feelings. I really do... In using Edmodo and GoogleDocs this year, I feel like my student have even more access to me outside school time, and there are many times that this is an advantage, but other times, I feel like I need more boundaries between my students and my personal life. It's ironic that at this point in my career I am all about leaving my classroom drama at school while I'm using digital tools that complicate that mission.

I can't help but wonder if my new love/hate relationship with GoogleDocs is also about teaching an old dog new tricks. I'm used being alone in my hours upon hours of grading. Just me and a stack of essays. In those quiet hours, I go through a range of emotions from pride to anger, making a list in my head on some next steps after I pass back essays. This is a process I am used to. Before I even started grading these essays, I knew that it probably would not be the final draft for many students, as my years of experience tell me that the first time we incorporate research into writing, it's a tough battle in writing well and without plagiarism. Perhaps those hapless students looking over my shoulder while I grade need to sweat in fear little bit, but I really don't want to ruin their Christmas vacations either. If they had turned in paper copies of their essays, their scores would been completely forgotten until I bring up the topic after the break.

My simplistic, blanket message back to students who have begged and inquired says, "After the break, everyone will have an opportunity to revise essays. You are welcome to work on the paper over the break, but I think it is better for you as a young person to enjoy this break while you can."

This old teacher, using her new tricks, still needs time to think about the plan of action. So, dear students, sshhhhh. Go back to your playing and let your teacher get some work finished so she can play soon, too.