This week, weather permitting, the students will be receiving their second quarter interim grades, a chance for them to assess how well they’ve progressed. It’s also an opportunity for me to see if I am actually teaching them anything. Every now and then, I ask the kids one-on-one if they’re learning and they assure me they are.Then I grade their work.This weekend I was finally grading the 11th graders’ major project which straddled the quarters. It required them to take a scene from The Crucible and rewrite it in another era. I provided them with a ton of graphic organizers and materials on how to research eras, how to adapt the story, how to write a script and even provided them with a model script.Just under a third of the students delivered a script and those who did, largely missed the point. I could barely recognize what scene was being adapted but worse, I was horrified at the lack of genuine research went into their efforts. One had Nazis try to convince Hitler his goals were wrong but it was clear the student didn’t look into what arguments Germany’s Chancellor used to convince his people the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, etc. had to go. There was the one who thought Pennsylvania was a target during 9/11 and that bombs were used. I was so frustrated that when I got to the script where two college students were busted for smoking $500 worth of pot, I did an exercise. I went online and in five minutes found out the going rate of low grade pot in Maryland and an approximate weight per joint, did some math and figured out the college students had smoked 40 joints apiece. Let’s not even go into the lack of understanding about illegal search or how the court system works. It was sad.We’re onto the next major project, living in the library until the Christmas break, and they have things chunked for them day by day, so there should be little excuse not to get this done, and done right.In addition to all the work I’ve been doing to gain control of the classroom, I’ve also been working with my mentor teacher and our in-house professional development guru on my actual lesson planning, which I hope will lead to the above not happening again. Last week we spent 45 minutes ripping apart one lesson for the 9th graders and building it into a packed class then my mentor taught it first period, I taught it second period and then we spent third period comparing notes.She was smooth, sharp, wouldn’t accept their backtalk and got stuff out of them that left me stunned. When it was my turn, my transitions were sloppy and I kept forgetting parts (okay, some of it had to be nerves) but it went pretty well. I learned a lot and one lesson was to do tighter scripting, never giving them a chance to chatter.I remain a work in progress and would like to think all of this work plus the workshops and additional reading will translate into smoother classes and more confidence on my part. By this time next quarter, I hope not to be wondering if they’re learning. It’ll be obvious.