Tag Archives: #engage109

Repairing Grading One Fix at a Time – part 1

I am grateful to have the opportunity to talk about Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (O’Connor, 2011) with my colleagues over the next few months. We are transitioning to standards based grading next year which will be a powerful change to ensure the focus of our school is on learning. My charge is to share the story of how various fixes manifested in my classroom over the years. Before I begin the series of posts, readers should know that this book prompted monumental transformation in my practice. If you have not read it, I would highly recommend it.

Fix 1 – Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only achievement.

This fix was a game changer in my career as it was the first shift I made toward healthier grading practices. After reading this chapter, removing behavioral grading made complete sense; it would improve accuracy in reporting academic achievement to students and parents. Fix number one forced me to honestly reflect on my methods. Behaviors such as class participation were embedded in my grading system. I was a Spanish teacher after all, and they needed to participate! At that time, awarding points for a quick student response seemed like a good motivator. This was false, although I didn’t realize it until I incorporated the fix. I was willing to try something new, but met the challenge with skepticism. Once implemented, this uncommon approach made a positive impact in my classroom. Participation happened organically and student stress levels decreased.

I hadn’t recognized that academic achievement was not assessed by using a participation grade. I recorded classroom behavior and included it in a letter grade at the end of the marking period. Encouraging students to participate in classroom discussions and instruction is important, but here are a few considerations. Do we instill fear or anxiety in students when their willingness to volunteer becomes part of their grade? Are quieter students who are quite capable of showing proficiency being punished? Do our grades communicate proficiency with regard to standards when behaviors are included?

And effort? How do we assess effort, or is it even possible? There are students who seem to display the copious amounts of this day in and day out. But are they just the outspoken ones? Have they been playing the game of school so well that they are conditioned to show ‘good effort’ in an endeavor to gather points? What about the kids who are overly bored by assignments that are too easy, or the ones that are utterly frustrated by something that is too difficult? Should these kids be punitively graded for not displaying the appropriate amount of effort? No. Respectful, meaningful tasks will elicit great effort from students.

Determining which behaviors are included for reporting (separately of course!) at the end of the term is an essential process of collegial conversations among staff members. Making decisions about which are truly valued should guide a common language throughout the school or district that will unify students, parents, and staff alike.

The crux of the issue is this: as educators we want students to develop into good citizens and productive adults. This can be accomplished in a proactive, supportive manner even when students know behaviors aren’t graded. Forming relationships with students and modeling appropriate comportment are significantly more productive to evoke positive student behaviors. We can communicate strengths and weaknesses in a meaningful way when they are separated. Clarity in reporting is critical for student growth. Don’t cloud accuracy in grading with behavior, break it down for students and parents so plans for ongoing improvement can be put into place.

Onward and upward…but never forgotten

Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.                                        -Dr. Seuss

This quote helped me close this past school year. I had incredible students who motivated me to learn, challenged me to bring my best each day, and surprised me with their perseverance and positive attitude in regard to learning. I missed them as soon as they walked out the door, and tried to remind myself how fortunate I was to have spent the year with them. I knew I would have another wonderful group enter my classroom in the fall and shifted my thinking to reflection and revisions to be made over the summer. But then this happened…

Little did I know that this quote would mean so much more as the summer progressed. June started as it usually does for me. I coordinate our summer bridge program for the 8th graders becoming freshmen. I had 300 new students grace my presence for three weeks and enjoyed getting to know them. But during the middle of the program, I was made aware of a possible job opportunity. To be honest, this was the first year in the past five when I hadn’t considered looking for a new position. I had decided during the spring that I would focus on other things and find contentment with my current role.

After learning more about the job, I felt that this was a chance I couldn’t pass up. The position was for an instructional coach, something I have wanted to explore for several years. So, I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job! All of the sudden my ‘normal’ summer was turned upside down. I was going to leave my school of fourteen years and embark on a new adventure.

But this change is bittersweet. I have to leave behind my district, school, and colleagues. I have to move out of the place where I honed my skills as an educator. The relationships I have formed over the years will begin a new phase. Most importantly, I will give up having ‘my kids’ each year. With this happening over the summer, I feel like there are unsaid goodbyes, and ends that are still unfinished. I will miss Lockport Township High School and will forever be indebted to the organization.

All this said, there is of course a very bright side to the change. I will make an impact on a much larger number of kids by working with a phenomenal group of teachers at Caruso Middle School in Deerfield, IL. I am walking out of my classroom to walk into so many more. Learning a new culture, meeting new colleagues, and forming new relationships are of utmost importance to me as I begin. I am ready to listen, learn, and dive into the challenges this position brings. I am thrilled to work with a staff committed to growing their instructional practices to ensure they are FOR learning.

So as I transition, I can’t say that there won’t be a few tears. It is the end of an era and I must honor it. But when I walk through the doors of my new school in August, there will be joy. I will smile bringing my experiences forward. So here is another quote that I will keep in mind…

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.                                                                                                                                    -Art Williams