Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning what's appropriate

    On my 8th grade class Moodle, I added a new feature this year – the Coffee House.  It’s a place for off-topic discussions.  A place to play.

    I get an email whenever anyone posts there, so I can keep an eye on what’s going on. And students have asked me specifically if I'm checking what they post there, so I know they think about this.  There has been silliness, brief conversations about singers they like (or don’t), starting of stories for people to continue, recording of athletic feats. 

    There has also been some inappropriate content in the form of disrupting somebody else’s discussion.  Some students posted a thread about unicorns, and how much these students like them.  This resulted in some disruptive posts by other students. I held back because I wanted to see how the original posters would handle it – which they did well.  In no uncertain terms they told the disruptive posters to knock it off.  And if they don’t like unicorns, start their own threads on a topic they do like.   

    Since the disruptive posters continued to post, I also posted, telling them to stop, and to start their own thread on a topic that interested them.  One post was an outright put-down, so I replaced its content with the words “Inappropriate content deleted;” Moodle shows that I was the one who did this.

    Disruptive posts just about stopped, but still continued once in awhile, so I took one of the posters aside to remind the poster that it needed to stop.  It has.   

    This is middle school, and not everybody has great social skills.  What am I saying?!  Nobody  in middle school has great social skills.  But some are even less adept than their peers and need a little guidance. 

    No harm has been done beyond ruffled feathers.  And everybody is getting a lesson in handling themselves online.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

7th grade vs 8th grade

    This is the first year 7th graders have participated in using Moodle.  While the content offered to both 7th and 8th grade is similar (vocabulary forums, for example), how they handle the work is poles apart.

    8th graders explore.  They poke around to see what’s there.  They have been enthusiastic users of the Coffee House forum, for off-topic conversations.  They get involved and post their opinions, seemingly unafraid of what others will think.  8th graders have confidence.

    7th graders follow the rules.  They really enjoy using the Moodle, and go into the vocabulary forums with gusto, enjoying sharing just the right images.  But they don’t use the Coffee House at all, even the student who asked me to include it. 

    7th grade is probably the hardest year in middle school.  Kids’ bodies are growing and changing constantly.  This is the most mercurial and moody year.  Kids are inward-focused, and convinced the entire world is watching them under both a spotlight and a microscope. 

    8th graders have started to get a grip on their changing bodies and emotions.  They are outward-focused.  At least some of the time they are confident, even cocky. 

    Because I'm been feeling my way with the 7th grade, we haven’t done much online discussion yet.  I suspect I’ll see differences there, too.  Can’t wait!

(Note: spelling error image from dozens of website, origin unclear.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dealing with parent plagiarism

    This past week, I had two instances of parent plagiarism.

     In one, a student copied and pasted an essay from the internet.  I told him to write it over in his own words, but then his mother stepped in and rewrote his words into clearly adult words.   As frustrated as I was with the situation, the student was ten times more frustrated, because HE knew this was wrong and his mom had messed up what he knew he was supposed to do.  So I wrote on his paper that I really needed the work to be just done by him.  Fortunately, he still had the draft he had written before his mother got into the act, and I was able to grade that.

    He did well, and I complimented him in writing on the paper and in person, including the words, “I’m so pleased you did this yourself.”  He grew about 3 inches in front of my eyes, and was tickled to take his paper home to his mom.   He was proud of doing the work, and proud of doing the right thing.

    Another child brought in an essay that was clearly written by…  his mom.  This is no longer an aberration – I get more of these every year.   Arggh!!

    In the past I’ve taken on the mom who inevitably gets defensive and swears that her child wrote the paper (even though the child can’t explain what the words and concepts in the essay mean).  Or they’ll claim first that they had no hand in it, but then will say, “Well, I edited it” which unfortunately includes substantial rewrites from typical 7th grade choppy sentences to the sophisticated, fluent prose  that is a dead giveaway.

    This year I am trying to work through the child.  Kids know who is supposed to do their homework, and while sometimes they are happy to have work taken off their hands, THE KIDS know it is lying.  The cheating makes them uncomfortable, and they really don’t want to be a party to it, but when it’s their mom, what are they going to do? 

    I’ve been trying to become the ally of the kid, gently asking the mom through my notes on the paper and through my words to the child, to please let the child do the writing.  And remind the parent that the child will learn to be a better writer by doing the writing him/herself.  This has worked better than confrontations.  In the past, I was sometimes reduced to requiring students to write in front of me.  Now, the students know I want to trust them, and they want to show that they are trustworthy. 

    As in the first instance, the child was happy to write his own work instead of having to lie and say the work was his own when we both knew it was his mom’s.  And, no surprise, his own actual writing is starting to get better, which tickles both of us.