Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Conversation Calendars

While planning with the district literacy coach this summer, I was introduced to a method of recording participation points and building rapport with students proposed by Cris Tovani in her book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading (106-110).  I can honestly say, without risking hyperbole, that it has completely changed the relationship I have with my students.

At the beginning of each week, students receive a weekly calendar with a space for them to write comments and give themselves a score, and a space for me to write comments and record a score.  Sometimes students are asked to write something specific in the space, like "ask one good question or make one good comment about the short story we read today."  More frequently though, they write whatever they want.  Sometimes it's comments about the class or what they did that period, other times it's about the volleyball game they have after school, or about the book they're reading and how's it going.  Sometimes it's pictures or doodles or random graffiti.  Sometimes they don't write anything.  After class, I respond in the space below.  Sometimes a response isn't necessary.  Sometimes a few quick words are enough.  Sometimes the student and I get to carry on a one-on-one conversation throughout the week that we wouldn't have had otherwise.

For one, this increases my contact time with students, something I'm all about.  Students can ask questions they may not have time for or feel comfortable asking in front of the class.  Secondly, I see a different, sometimes truer, side of my students other teachers may not get the chance to see.  I have two particular students who like to start power struggles and make loud outbursts.  One had all sorts of disciplinary interventions last year.  I wasn't sure I could handle it.  Then I introduced the calendars.  Total posers.  They do it to look all bad, but they were honest and almost apologetic in their self assessment the first week and since then they've been slowly working more and more in class - while maintaining their bad image as much as possible.

Another student was having a rough day (I wouldn't let her talk in class even though it was her birthday) and called me an a**hole.  I told her my birthday present to her was not giving her a referral. After class, I flipped through the calendars and saw that she had written "I'm sorry I called you an a**hole."  I thought that was pretty cool, because you don't always get apologies for that sort of thing.

At first, grading 75 calendars a day took about 75 minutes.  Once it became routine, however, my speed increased and I can now get through all three period in 30 minutes.  And those extra 30 minutes a day are definitely worth it for me.

To be fair though, I am only half-time, so maybe for the full-time teacher this exercise could become too time consuming.  Tovani suggests rotating calendars through classes daily or weekly in the team teaching model.  One could also have students do a end of the week self assessment and respond over the weekend.

For those interested, here's a blank calendar. You'll want to download it, Google Drive can't handle all the table-ness involved in the document.

Works Cited

Tovani, Cris.  Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?  Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.