Contest winner – Dismaying class assignments

It’s time to announce the ‘winner’ of the Dismaying Class Assignments Contest. With due recognition to Heather Voran’s music notation note cards, Rick Tanski’s (and David Keane’s) tissues for class credit, Louise Maine’s biome coloring, Amy Vejraska’s number scroll (complete with sand bucket prize!), and all of the other worthy entrants, I’m going to award a CASTLE mug to Sylvia Martinez for her entry regarding high school students’ coat hanger mobiles. Molly, you were an extremely close second with your entry about alphabetizing Revolutionary War battles

Thanks to everyone who participated. Stay tuned for my next contest!

14 Responses to “Contest winner – Dismaying class assignments”

  1. I noticed that none of the projects mentioned involved technological products. I am at a school that received 3 laptop labs last year and it has been amazing to me how quickly the “crayola curriculum” can be transferred to another format using technology “crayons”. Just because the assignment uses a Web 2.0 app does not mean that higher order thinking is taking place. Take a look at this example . Is this a whole lot different than the old solar system model that we did as kids?

  2. Congratulations, I think?
    I am sad to say that I am not shocked by both the number and the type of entries which were listed.

  3. Excellent, excellent point, Becky. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  4. Ever the contrarian.. I have to disagree with tissues as an extra credit assignment as dismaying. All winter long my students have colds, all spring they have allergies. I can’t afford to buy all their tissues for them. If they don’t bring them in.. they each have to have their own at all times.

    Thinking that everything has to have “instructional value” at all times is absurd. Sometimes an assignment has a practical value that allows instruction to happen and (as far as I’m concerned) expecting parents to pony up a box or two of tissues for a class community is not too much to expect. Expecting kids to go home and ask for those tissues when there is no benefit to them is utopian. good luck with that.

  5. Of course everything does not have to have instructional value but then it should not be tied to a grade.

    Ah… we could have a long discussion about intrinsic benefits of good works, contributing to the classroom, etc.

    In all the schools I have ever been associated with, elementary through high school, too many states to count, many income levels included, the children have always been asked to bring two boxes of kleenex at the beginning of the year and it has never been an issue. It’s not too much to expect, but it certainly should not be for credit! What kind of message are you sending if kleenex becomes credit?

  6. Maybe we should go the other direction and make preconditions for learning (like “participation” and “brought in supplies”) MORE of the grade rather than less…after all, input is easier to assess than genuine output, and I have rarely met the teacher who truly differentiated in their grading system between those students who did everything but had weak output and those who did little but had great output because they either already knew the material or had high aptitude. Is it somehow more “fair” to give the first student a C and the second an A?

    I guess what I’m saying is that it would be easier to criticize the Kleenex assignment if we actually tied grades to something meaningful otherwise.

  7. Sorry, still think Kleenex for credit is appalling – though I know it can be common. That is like saying we’ll give you a bonus for using the restroom instead of urinating in your cubicle. Some things do just make sense, and as a building principal, I put Kleenex (actually the knockoff kind) in the same category as Charmin (or the cheaper, rougher sandpaper type we use) as an expense of doing business. Maybe this is in the same vein as a business that allows customers to use the restroom facilities – no profit margin there, but just makes sense. Bodily functions occur – you can allow for them or deal with the alternative results.

    And, yes, Becky, I agree technology does not prevent ignorance of purpose or delusions of effectiveness.

  8. I work with middle school children and I reward them with an easily managed token economy for various behaviors (including bringing in tissues or some other item for community use). I do this in lieu of a specific class participation grade. I give points throughout the semester in increments of 5 points at a time. Kids can get points for doing things well, for participating, for contributing to the class (tissues, books for our library), for random kindnesses, for being prepared and having all their supplies handy at the start of class. They can accumulate them and spend them in various ways. (10 points = a homework pass; a homework pass = 3 points on a quiz.)

    Often the kids don’t actually use their points for anything. But they like having them to spend over the semester. We make it a game in some ways. I keep track of their points, but if they forget and want to ask for their points… 5 points to find out. It’s a little mix of operant conditioning and token economy. It doesn’t really bring up a grade, but it does get them some options in the classroom.

    Some may feel that this system is inauthentic. But, I dont think so. What is inauthentic about rewarding behaviors you like? I think it’s pretty basic to human interaction and it gives them some control.

  9. Becky,
    Went to the site you listed
    Looks like students create posters and then get responses on them. There is value in the ability to create a poster that is artistic and informational and also to have it posted and responded to. The poster on planets would not be my choice of an A but the site should not be ruled out. I also have seen great crayola based projects that involved a lot of skill and thought.
    Audrey: Yes students need kleenex but not for credit. Maybe give the parents the credit and call it good.

  10. @Audrey

    I understand recognition, but “thanks” would be much more appropriate in my thinking than using points. Those are typically reserved for assessing learning of the curriculum and demonstration of that learning. “Thanks” would be the equivalent of giving “points” in life.

  11. I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree. From one point of view, rewarding behaviors you want to see with treats or credits or any token economy is straight up operant conditioning. You reward the behavior, and it becomes more valued in the child’s mental framework. Later, the rewards may decrease for a particular behavior, but the appreciation for the behavior remains.

    Secondly, the rewards to the community when things are working well are worthy goals in themselves. When Channel 13 rewards participation by giving away cloth bags and CDs, doing the right thing is reinforced, and in my view, not in the least diminished because someone got something for what they gave.

    For some people, this basic reality leaves a bad taste. They feel that people should do the right thing just because it’s the right thing and that good people never expect reward. That’s all very nice, but it’s not human nature. It’s just an abstract value that is not borne out by reality. I think the whole process can be reframed as the natural symbiosis between self interest and group interest… one is not a bad thing and the other the ultimate good. self and group interest are equally important and valuable. One hand washes the other … you teach the real lesson of life: It’s less poetic and idealized than giving with no thought of return, but is there really something wrong about learning that sometimes you give to get? It keeps people giving… ask the development officers for any charity you can think of.

  12. Audrey
    Agreed. We don’t agree on credit for Kleenex, and we can be OK with that.

    I do agree, however, with basically everything else you say above. We can teach people to do the better things by rewarding them, letting them feel good about their efforts, and then pull the extrinsic rewards away later. The concept is that the good feeling that they experience replaces the reward. My school has implemented a volunteerism requirement for scholarships and I even initiated a recognition cord at graduation for those students that had met a specified level. This is exactly what you are talking about. The only place we disagree is in using a grade to be that catalyst, and given the overwhelming amount of agreement we have, I can live with agreeing to disagree on this one point. Thanks for helping me clarify my own take on this specific topic.

  13. I am very sorry that I have not commented earlier, but appalled at allowing students or their parents to buy points towards a grade. In my book this is the ultimate in discrimination. This may be all well and good for you to try and justify, but I can see absolutely no justification for it. Do you give extra points to students who submit their papers in an expensive linnen paper and a plastic binder you can keep and use?
    For many students there is no way they can access a box of kleenex as they are not even privy to this type of luxury at home but rather are required to use toilet paper or worse, their sleeves.
    You may think that I am exagerating, but I am not. Many elementary school children are not supported by their parents and by further disciminating against these already disadvantaged youth, you have just added to their already disheartening look at life.
    Grades are to be a measure of their academic performance and no matter how many other teachers are doing and how many other things people are putting into a student’s grade, you can not convince me that it is ok.
    Practices like this are unethical and in my opinion, educational malpractice.
    If you think the parents out to “pony up” then ask the parents and don’t use their child’s grade to get this from them.
    This type of descriminatory teacher behavior is what eventually turns underpriveledged children into dropouts. It has to be truly disheartening to a child who ends up with a lesser grade than one of their classmates despite better academic performance due to their socioeconomic status.

  14. This type of discussion is exactly why I think we should stop grading students. An A can mean high academic performance or just an ability to demonstrate teacher pleasing behavior.

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