06 December 2007

Preaching to the Choir

Some highlights and other points of interest from the first day of the Sound Grading Practices Conference in Portland...

  • Breakfast with The Repairman. Yes, he's just as convivial in person as he is on his blog. I didn't watch him present today (too many good things to choose from on the program...and I knew he'd be preaching to the choir if I were in the audience), but I'm sure that he has even more fans now. There was a lovely contingent of people from his district that let me crash at their table for the keynote. It definitely seems like a district with its collective head on straight.
  • The keynote this morning was delivered by Ken O'Connor, who I've seen/met before. This presentation was on his latest book (Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades). He is the loudest voice in the standards-based wilderness. I certainly agree with the philosophy he promotes---however, two thoughts were provoked in me this morning. One is simply that I wish he would reword his 15 ideas. They are all negatively phrased, e.g. "Don't include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only achievement." Okay, so the end is a little more upbeat; but, I think people generally respond better to things that aren't worded as a "Thou shalt not..." It makes things seem doable because there is a positive course of action. If we're talking about repairs here, then let's talk about how we fix things. I know it's a matter of semantics---like the difference between telling my kids "Be on time." vs. "Don't be late." It just makes things simpler to directly tell people what you want. My second thought is that teachers would likely benefit from clearer information on what to do, rather than examples of what not to do. I realize that a step-by-step guide wouldn't be appropriate because there is no "one size fits all" in education; however, time is our most precious commodity...and we're asking teachers/schools/districts to take this information and individually translate it. There has to be a better scaffold.
  • After making a comment in one of the sessions, teachers from Texas asked where I was in the room at the end of the presentation so they could find out more about how I track marks and handle report card grades. We had a very fun chat.
  • Listening to a group of teachers from Canada talk about their first reactions to standards-based grading---something which was brand new to them as of this morning. They were...typical...in their comments, but it was good to remember how change has to happen. I was asked by them why my district didn't send more people. (For the record, they didn't send me---I'm paying for all of this out of pocket and using personal leave.) I mentioned that Boss Lady 2.0 is the only one here. I didn't mention that she is likely the least useful representative. Before I even got here I had heard some general murmuring that she was not the desired choice of someone to send. I didn't have a good answer for the question at the table. "Money," I said. "Poor choice in priorities" is what the real answer is.
  • Some of my district's materials are being used at the conference. At one session, people at the table noticed that I was from the same place as the source of the handouts and asked me why we only have standards-based grading and reporting for elementary. "Because The Union leadership doesn't feel like supporting it." When I mentioned that the prez and the Little Dictator don't even work in the classroom---and haven't for years (but don't tell the Little Dictator that she's not a teacher or she'll cry...again)---the consensus at the table is that The Union must be totally out of it. Several people there were very happy that they don't have to deal with union weirdness in their districts/states. No kidding. It is also worth noting that BL2.0 won't even support conversations about grading for secondary. (Good thing she was here, eh?) I noticed that both the presenter (who was in our district at one point) and her hubby (who was in charge of Curriculum before my original Boss Lady) mention which district in Washington they worked for. They seem to be much happier away from the culture and union games there.
This evening, I am enjoying a quiet time of things. Portland is a beautiful city and having time to walk and explore has been wonderful. It should be another great day at the conference tomorrow.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

Convivial, eh? That's the nicest thing anyone has said about me in a long time! ;)

Re the grading conference in PDX:

Very much enjoyed the opportunity to meet the blogger who had the most influence on my nascent efforts in this arena, and whom I regard as a terrific sounding board for my thoughts, fully-formed or half-baked, especially about classroom assessment and grading.

I told my Ass't Supe in charge of C&I that we needed to have the Penticton, B.C. team come and talk to our staff for the same reasons I went to visit them. (Tom for admin, Myron for the teachers.)

I totally enjoyed their insights and was entertained by their humor.

Judy's session on quantifying rubrics was necessary, but I'll still follow her initial recommendations...never convert a rubric to a number or letter. I'm okay with my professional judgment about how a rubric fits into an overall grade.

Hope the trip home was smooth and the water at home has receded.

Hugh aka Repairman

Clix said...

Hey SG! In following various links I stumbled across Teen Literacy Tips, Nick Senger's blog, and it turns out he's in your area - he's got you on his WA blogroll. Check it out - he's a lit teacher, but he's got some great ideas. (I think, ennyhoo!)

The Science Goddess said...

Made it home safe and sound---after a wonderful conference!

Clix---thanks for the tip. :)