Disaster Relief Form: Helping Students Out of Quicksand

disastercatQ: How do you get struggling students to alert you to problems with major assignments so they will be prepared for time-sensitive class experiences?

Scenario: Today is presentation day. You’ve put students into groups to show their projects and receive peer-feedback. You’ve been mindful to choose groups for the most effective, for productivity. You send the students off to work, and five minutes later, three groups are deep into their work. The fourth group is acting out.

You: Guys, stop messing around. You have work to do.

Student: We finished.

You: FOUR of you shared your projects in five minutes?

Student: Three of us didn’t do the project.

You: What? Why didn’t you email me and say you needed help — days ago?

Student: I’m a teenager. I don’t know how to answer that question.

Q: How do you deal with last minute, missing student work?

Scenario: You’re grading a digital-stack of papers on a Sunday night. They’ve been emailed or posted to the school’s Learning Management System. Grades and reports are due tomorrow. You’ve been at your computer for hours. You cannot go to bed until the papers are graded. You open up the file with the final student’s work, and — it’s not there. No paper. Or you check to see if it’s been posted to the LMS. No. No email, no explanation, no information.

Now, you’re emailing this student, asking – did he forget to send it? Did he not do it? Unfortunately, the same student who didn’t turn in the work is also probably not hitting refresh on his school email on a Sunday night. How do you mark it? Late? Missing? Zero?


Here’s the thing about managing students’ multi-day assessments and assignments – and here I speak to you sotto voce: you might not have time to evaluate and give feedback on every step students go through before the semi final draft. Even though the step may be critical and time sensitive, like peer feedback sessions.

Say it takes two minutes to evaluate an interim step in a student’s project, and you have forty students. Are you really going to spend an hour and a half just checking to see if the students did their work, just so they can share it with peers? That’s a waste of time you don’t have.

All you want is for students to, just, let you know if they need help, to be ready for peer review, or to be ready to submit for credit. But the same students who need urgent help are the same ones who won’t email you.

Q: How do you get students to tell you that they need help? How do you get them to tell you, before you’ve assembled your teams, that they’re not ready to present?



My Solution: Disaster Relief Form

The Disaster Relief Form is a Google Form, essentially an online survey, for students to fill in if they have had a problem either understanding or completing work. I’ve designed mine to compile the students’ names, the nature of the problem, the class, and the name of the assignment into a spreadsheet.

To avoid scenario 1 (students falling further and further behind on projects/assessments) peek at it once a day.

To avoid scenario 2 (forming student groups only to find that one or more people haven’t done the work to function productively in a group), ask students to fill it in, right away, at the beginning of class. Then, remove their names from your roster.

Create and teach students how to access a shared calendar for class.

  1. Train students to check posted announcements at the beginning of each class, even before “First Thing Work.”
  2. In the days leading up to a deadline, in announcements, request / remind that any student who has fallen behind immediately fill in the Disaster Relief Form. Link to it, right in the shared calendar.

Help Combat Islamophobia With Thoughtful One-Liners.

ToleranceSome young people, following the Paris attacks, may try to make sense of our world via “One Liners” which they have read or heard – and thus perpetuate dangerous stereotypes and spread Islamophobia.

However, mid-class, when a student makes one of these sweeping statements, it may not be possible, appropriate or effective to open history books, launch into a lecture that covers 1000 years of history, or debate the student back and forth.

Sometimes, you need a thoughtful “one liner” to defuse, to reorient, to restore balance, or to move back to the curriculum without the Islamophobic One-Liner hanging unaddressed in the room. 

Below, I have included a sample of “Islamophobic One-Liners” I have seen circulating on the internet.

Your challenge: to compose a measured, calm, focused, and BRIEF response that a teacher may have at the ready. The teacher then has the option to say, “That said, let’s talk more about this another time,” or could use the phrase as the opening for a longer conversation.

After a critical mass of submissions, I will publish some of the most helpful responses and possibly open a second round of “hypothetical student statements.”

Reminder: the goal is not to compose a long, bombastic response or pick apart the students’ statement point-by-point, but to offer helpful, BRIEF, thoughtful responses. Likewise, the response must be appropriate for a classroom, so must avoid: browbeating, undercutting, and accusing the speaker of being an Islamophobe.

Thoughtful One-Liners only…

paris peaceCLICK HERE to participate. (And please share/re-post – the more voices, the better).

Two Hacks to Make Online Grading WAAAAAAY More Efficient

efficientYou remember the old grade books.

Alternating rows of green and white. Spiral bound. Tiny boxes. Numbers. Here and there, a red check.

On the one hand, it was efficient and elegant. You could grab it from the shelf, flip to a page, scan for a name and quickly enter a grade.

On the other hand, it lacked the functionality of today’s online grade books. You could not enter in-depth notes. After a correction or two, the little box was illegible (remember white-out?). It certainly did not average scores, link directly to assignments, or communicate with students.

I’d say, we’ve made some serious progress.

That said, as I grade papers online, I find that a lot of time is spent not evaluating papers, but in clicking back and forth between the grade books for various classes. Each click requires a few seconds of internet-patience and a visual reorientation, since nothing online stays where you left it.

This clicking, scanning and scrolling ads up. It’s inefficient and fatiguing. What’s the fix?

Tiny little bookmark. BIG TIME HELPFUL.

Tiny little bookmark. BIG TIME HELPFUL.

Solution 1: in your shortcuts bar, make a tiny folder, labelled with a % sign. In that folder, save the webpage of all of your classes.

Before grading anything more than a single assignment, open all three as tabs. Now, you can click back and forth between your gradebook “pages” (like in the good old days) with no need to load a new page.

Solution 2: invest in a secondary monitor. This way, you can drag your grade book to one page, and your student projects (or a second grade book page) open on the other. I’m AMAZED that I’m the only person in my office with a second monitor. Best $100 investment you can make.

tank ii

Me, grading papers with multiple screens.

Solution 3: Purchase DUET on your iPad and have a THIRD monitor! YES! Now, you have one screen for your papers, one for your grade book, and a third for a grade calculator, your students’ portfolio, whatever.


But, like, all pedagogical.

Free Students’ Minds with Free Association

poopedSelf. Text. Theme. Free Your Mind.

My 10th Grade Literature/Sociology students are studying classic texts to understand how the ancient questions are still relevant to their lives, and to “mine and undermine” the original for imagery they can deploy in expressing their own experiences.

Their art, therefore, must contain more than recognizable imagery from the text. It must contain artifacts of their lives.

Last year, however, many students balked at this idea, omitting references to their lives altogether or protesting/resisting/asing “is this ok?” over and over.

Q: How do you get students to include imagery in their art about their most significant relationships: friends, parents, frenemies, enemies, and longed-for love-objects? And to include this imagery in a way which is, on the one hand, authentic, and on the other hand, safe (not requiring them to over-expose their private lives)?

A: Free association

  1. triangleI explained WHY we were about to embark on a journey of free association: “Imagery from your own life might be hard to come up with, or it might feel like oversharing – unless your project uses “symbolic code” to depict the people in your lives.
  2. I told students that at any time, if they wanted to lag behind, skip, backtrack or work ahead, they were free to. And that they could interpret or “intentionally misinterpret” the instructions however they wished – the goal was to produce captivating imagery to symbolize important relationships in their lives.
  3. We turned off the lights. Each student had a piece of paper and a marker. I played the music of Tony Scott: zen flute, zither and clarinet.
  4. Students folded the paper in half, creating a 4-page “booklet” or card.
  5. Students write a name of someone on each page. Prompts included:
    1. Someone you have a good connection with.
    2. Someone you’re in conflict with.
    3. Someone who you WISH you had more of a connection with.
    4. Someone you USED TO have a connection with, but no longer.
  6. Students drew a circle around the first name, with three rays extending from the name.
  7. From each ray, students would write a word or draw “an ugly little symbol” (worded this way to reduce art-inferiority complexes) of:
    1. The first word/object to come to mind when you think of that person.
    2. Something that person wears, owns, hangs on the wall, or keeps on a shelf.
    3. Something that person loves or hates.
  8. Students then “mashed-up” two images or words from each page, creating a new word or new image, no matter how absurd.
  9. Students then imagined that new hybrid-concept “visiting” the classic text. Where would it go? What would it do? Who/what would it interact with — no matter how absurd.


Art is very much about images which stand in for complex subjects, often contradictory in their message and use. While experienced artists are practices in developing meaningful, rich symbology, many people find the practice confusing or overwhelming.

By releasing students from any immediate expectation, they could free their minds to create the imagery that would eventually populate their projects.

At the conclusion, I told students that they could rip up their work or take it home to mine for their projects. At the end of class, indeed, a few scraps of paper sat in the recycling bin. But many more went home with the students.

Tonight, while they sleep, I hope their subconscious creativity will inspire them further.