18 September 2007

Not Anymore

I recently heard a snippet of a conversation that I'll never have to have again...and it made me feel good. A student was in a panic over her grade. A low score on a test had decimated her average and the teacher was valiantly trying to reassure her that when there were some more grades in the gradebook, the score wouldn't make such a difference. The student wasn't pacified by this. It was as if she thought by rewording the question or asking something again would yield a different answer---one she wanted to hear.

I have had countless conversations exactly like this during my career. Now I think back and wonder how many kids I crushed with them. Mind you, I was always positive...gave the kids a pep talk...tried to help them understand that there would be other grades. I didn't do such a great job with listening to what kids really wanted: they wanted to make something happen for the grade that day.

I handed back my first summative assessment late last week. Some students didn't perform as well as either they or I hoped; but with my new policy in place, our conversations were very different. My students are no longer powerless to do something about a particular assignment that they struggled on. They can work with me and then do it again. They can ask to show what they know another way. And they realized that by using the median to determine things at the end, an unsatisfactory mark can disappear.

We as teachers like to think that students determine their own destinies in the classroom. And they do---to the extent that they choose whether or not to engage in learning. Until now, however, I don't think my students ever felt that they really were in charge of their destiny when it came to the final grades. I set up the rules, after all. I have this time, too, but believe I have done so in a way that makes things fair for students (and not just "equal"). They have said as much about this and so far, we're all doing just fine. It's a relief not to have those harried conversations about averages anymore.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Great observation on why grading for learning (aka standards-based grading) is a win for teachers as well as students.

SG, You may hear this story repeated back to you in December at the grading conference, if you will give me permission to quote you anonymously. I'd like to use it up north next week too.

May I? :-)

The Science Goddess said...

Absolutely! Take it away!

Anonymous said...

I would love to do this, but I simply can't get through the grading as it is with 90 kids and my firstborn due in less than 2 months. It's all very noble, but what about those who do not have the time outside of school for the extra grading or the time in class for re-teaching? At the moment, if things are abysmal across the board, I give all a chance to recover points and learn from their mistakes, but I simply cannot afford to do this for every quiz, project, and test; I have too hard of a time as it is.

The Science Goddess said...

I have 150 kids and change classrooms five times a day---often hauling all needed science lab equipment with me. I worried about the additional load with reteaching and grading. The fact is, it just hasn't happened.

I only allow reattempts on summative assessments. There are not that many of those. Kids know the other work counts inasmuch as we're using it to document progress. This pares down the number of things I need to look at, and also the number of kids who might need another shot, because we've had so much practice along the way.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Laura, I understand your concerns.

In the model that SG and I follow, it's up to the student to demonstrate that they've earned another crack at an unsatisfactory (to them) summative assessment by providing evidence of spending time and effort on further learning, and that learning is up to them to acquire, since we did our best during the lesson presentation to teach and re-teach, if necessary, then and only then.

The reality of that situation is that few students will take advantage of the opportunity and it's not such a burden.

Often you can accomplish your supplementary summative assessment with an oral interview right after school. What says it has to be written? Use different classroom assessment methods at will -- pencil & paper, performance, oral interview -- to determine whether or not the student has acquired the missing learning. No need to repeat an entire test.

Side note: I always insisted that students come to my classroom in pairs after or before classes, and I always left the classroom door wide open. Teachers of either gender should apply that caution.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm hearing you wrong but you seem to be saying

a) this is a good thing for the students;

b) and it will not take much teacher time,


c) almost none of the students will take adavatage of it.

The Science Goddess said...

I wouldn't say almost none...but also not 100%. Mind you, it's still early in the semester. Grade panic, in any form, will be awhile in coming.

Anonymous said...

It's true that when I offered my Spanish I kids a chance to re-take an unfavorable first quiz (they're semi-summative, much to many students' dismay), only one took me up on it. However, as I also teach Spanish I, I'm dealing with a lot of college bound and honors level kids.

I've had more than one parent call or e-mail me, "shocked" that I gave their students a failing grade at all, even when I said they could fix the errors pointed out. I just KNOW I'd be setting myself up for heartache with Spanish II kids if they could make any test up. I feel I WOULD have to make a new test because otherwise word would get around that the test was only oral, no written sentences, if they came after school, and then I'd have to sit there and re-assess each kid who wanted to get away with something...at least until I go on maternity leave.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Roger, the point of that statement is that it puts the ball in the student's court, but also allows the teacher the option to counsel the student to take advantage of the opportunity to do what they are there to do in the first place -- learn -- and find that, lo and behold, their grade reflects the additional effort.

Isn't that our goal, to maximize student learning and report it accurately?

Did you miss the part where I said you could use alternative assessments that truly are less time consuming? My bad if I didn't explain that clearly enough.

Anonymous said...

Reading the posts and comments set off two trains of thought, both of which bothered me.

First, ed school/professional development people are constantly telling us to do new things, most of which over-promise and undeliver--and take a lot of time. So, three strikes and they're out.

This post promises to solve a problem that has occurred "countless" times. It promises to make students feel that they are in control of their grades. But it looks like it will take a lot of time.

Not to worry, say the comments. Almost no students will actually take advantage of it. It won't really take much extra time at all.

But then will it really make much difference with this problem that has occurred "countless" times.

Well, maybe it will, says the second train of thought. This new policy is telling students to put up or shut up. Very few of them will actually put up so now they all have to shut up.

Perhaps that is right. Perhaps it is win-win all around. But it seems that the promise then has to be, "A few students will learn a little more. You'll do a little extra work. You'll have a ready-made come-back whenever students complain about a bad grade."