Once every nine week grading period we have to assign a writing prompt related to our academic content area. We collect it, grade it for content, then pass it along to the language arts teachers who grade it for all that language artsy stuff like grammar, spelling, and so forth. These then go into the students portfolios which follow them from grade to grade to grade.
(Can you just see some high school senior going through his or her portfolio and coming across some of the absolute garbage they churned out in middle school and asking themselves, "What was I thinking?")
This is a district-wide requirement. So, it was a tad disheartening to see that we had, maybe, about a 50% turn in rate on our first writing prompt this year. These are not difficult at all. We have a rubric, we have fairly easy prompts, we include a graphic organizer so students can organize what few thoughts they have, and we give them time in class to work on these. Apparently, churning out a decent paragraph for some of these kids is like pulling teeth. And what was infuriating was that we knew that they could do better. A hell of a lot better.
Mrs. Eagle and I were not happy with this at all. Some of these kids, if we let them, would have nothing but empty portfolios at the end of the year. This wasn't going to cut it.
So, based on Mrs. Eagle's brilliant idea, we asked The Principal if we could hold an after school detention for the kids who didn't turn in their assignment. She loved the idea and said, "Go with it." So we did.
When we assigned the prompt we told them this was a district requirement, they were going to turn an assignment in, and if not, they'd have to stay after school to complete it. One way or another, they'd get something in that portfolio. It may be crap, but it would be completed crap.
A few of the kids took us seriously and by the due date (Tuesday before Thanksgiving break) I had about 75% of the papers turned in. This was a big improvement over the last prompt, but I still needed 24 more papers to get my full 100% turn in.
On Monday the students who still owed the writing prompt had a letter stapled into their agendas informing the parents that their child still owed us an assignment that not only was a district requirement, but that was Actually Worked On In Class, and that if we didn't have a completed assignment in our hot little hands by the this morning, they'd be staying after school this afternoon. Parents were asked to sign the letter confirming that they'd pick their little darlings up at 4:00 pm should they fail to complete the assignment before detention. I also emailed a copy of the letter to the parents in question.
You should have seen the papers come flying into my in box the next day. I've never seen kids so eager to turn in an assignment and to make sure their name was crossed off the detention list. It was apparent, from the urgency of these kids, that not only did they not want to stay after school and write for over an hour, but Mom and Dad were Not In The Mood to have to take time out of their day to come pick them up from detention because they didn't do an assignment.
As of this afternoon I am only missing four assignments. One is from a girl who has been out sick and I haven't seen since before break. Another is from a girl who was also out sick and just came back today - her language arts teacher is going to work with her to get it done. Another is from a boy who's already staying after for tutoring and who was working on it this afternoon. The last was from a boy who was supposed to stay after, forgot, and who royally ticked off mom when he got off the bus this afternoon. She called me and asked if she could bring him back. I suggested she save the time and gas (they live on the edge of our zone) and I'd just email her the prompt. She loved the idea and he was going to spend the afternoon writing at the kitchen table.
Amazing. I may just make a 100% turn in on this. And what's even more astounding. Most of these writing prompts were, from a science standpoint, pretty darn good.