Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Much Time Is Too Much Time?

Question: How much time is too much time? 

If I’m baking a cake and leave it in the oven too long, I render the pastry inedible. I was thinking about this as I recalled a time when I was 10 and left a cake baking in the oven while I went for a bike ride. Boy was I in trouble! 

Another time I burned custard. It actually looked like a black charcoal bricket when I removed it from the oven; I was a junior in high shcool when that happened. My father seethed and the house reeked from the fumes. 

Nowadays, I rarely overcook anything, but when I was a budding bride, I had a couple of disasters. One of the skills that keeps me from destroying every meal is a well-developed sense of timing.

This year, however, my timing feels off. I think two factors contribute to my planning clock's loss of synchronization: trimesters and the absence of deadlines for student work. 

The past two years my district has moved toward a "no zero" policy for student work. Last year I participated in a book study on A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades with other teachers in my building and will participate in another one on the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) theory of grading. 

I like the idea that all busy work needs to exit the grade book, but I worry about how I and students will manage removing the artificial construct called deadlines. Theoretically, the idea appeals to me in ways similar to the leisurely pace of baseball. Some kids need the flexibility and assurance they can complete a task, which omitting deadlines creates. Others manipulate the system by putting off until the end of the trimester much work from earlier dates in the semester. 

As an English teacher, I need time to carefully consider and respond to student writing; that doesn't happen when I'm buried by a stack of papers that come in the day of finals. I'm particularly worried about students completing oral presentations before the end of the trimester. And past experience has taught me that given extra time offers no guarantee that a student will finish the work, even when given an extension into the next term. 

Western culture tethers us to the clock, as the return to normal time from daylight savings time this past weekend illustrates and as the buzzer in most competitive sports confirms. Should we ignore the clock and the calendar when it comes to student work? 

Sometimes, too much time is too much time. 

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