06 May 2007

The Power of I

I was intrigued by a comment left on a post over at Laura's place. It referred to "The Power of I." One does have to read carefully. It's not "I" as in the Roman numeral for "one," although "The Power of One" is a good book to read. It's also not a mathematical reference to i...that magical mystery number. (Is it just me, or is there something kinky about a guy saying he wants to use his imaginary unit?) No, no, gentle readers, it refers to a component of Making Middle Grades Work that deals with grading. In this case, I = Incomplete.

The idea is that if a student does not complete an assignment, s/he doesn't have a grade of zero assigned. Instead, the student receives an "I" along with a consequence (e.g. assignment to a lunchtime or after school study hall) and then makes up the work. Behind all of this is the belief that kids know how to play the system---both at school and at home. If you can slack off and not have to worry about learning, then why bother? You don't have to learn to do the hard thing. Meanwhile, these same students fall farther and farther behind in their learning because they don't have any practice with the content. By having a school-wide system to hold kids accountable for learning, they raise expectations for students and support their achievement. (If you want more information, there's a giant PowerPoint on this page---scroll over to the right to link to the "Power of I" ppt.) As much fussing as we public educators make about the lack of parent and student accountability in NCLB, maybe it's time that do what we can to change that within our schools.

As far as I can tell, there's a good research base for the Power of I. (Trust me, I'm doing a ton of reading these days about standards-based grading for my EdD. If you don't want to take my word now, I'll send along a copy of my dissertation later. :) ) Are there barriers to implementation? Sure. Not only does a school need buy-in from all staff members, it needs a way to manage the program. Where and when will supervised opportunities for students to make up work happen? What if a kid still refuses to do the work---how does this translate to the grading policy? How many "I's" are allowable? Schools which navigate these waters are finding success with the program---and fewer students needing remediation and/or assignment to a time/place to make up missing work.

We can't get all kids to standard by doing what we've always done in the past. We're going to have to stretch, try something a bit different, and make kids understand that we care about them. Maybe the Power of I is one step on the path to get there.

Update: Welcome Kitchen Table Math and RightWing Nation readers! Somehow, those bloggers missed the beginning of this post referring to middle grades. The "Power of I" was never intended for a university context, but hey, it's a good example of why we need to hold students accountable for standards like reading comprehension...rather then giving them 0's when they don't do their homework.


Anonymous said...

It was the willy-nilly replacement of zeroes with I's that worried me. Consequences--and now also limited allowed I's--make me less nervous. And since you promise a dissertation on the topic, my mind is still more at ease!

The Science Goddess said...

I hope that your school's leadership has a good plan in place for your colleagues and you. You all deserve their full support and planning so you can just focus on what you need to do in the classroom.

danw said...

I first heard about such concepts from How to Grade for Learning by Ken O'Connor. Secondary folks are most famous for some very punitive grading policies. That zero on assignments and test can negate a ton of quality work and provide an unfair assessment of what has actually been learned. Besides, it leads to a lack of motivation and enthusiasm on the part of our students. I think the incomplete is good practice. Best of luck on the dissertation. If you ever want an outside reader, let me know, especially if you near completion in the summer :)


The Science Goddess said...

"Incomplete" is good practice, but I think that in order to convince many secondary teachers of that, you have to give them some alternative for the "punitive" part, support for implementation, and ideas for how to handle make-up work (when it comes in).

Thanks for the offer of a reader...but it will likely be next summer before it's in shape to read. I'll keep you in mind. :)

Ms. Q said...

This is something I read on Laura's blog and have been wondering about the entire time I have been teaching. I understand the reasoning behind it--it is harder to come back from zeros. BUT, what do you do with the students who do the work, but fail the assignment, with less than the 50-59% you have decided to plug in for all zeros? I see the I issue working IF there is adequate support, however, at my campus, it would probably end up being something enforced by teachers (meaning scheduling around the students schedules due to very little support when it comes to actual out of class required time committments) or not enforced at all. Interested in hearing and may do my own post on this topic!