I kicked off the review for the semester final with my bio kids today. I do plan to post all of my tools sometime this weekend, but for now, let me say that things look very positive at this point. Kids understand that they have some choices that they can make between now and the end of the semester (just 10 days away)...that their grade is not "over"...destiny is in their hands, not mine. I am very happy about this.
I chatted with a friend yesterday who is a recent convert to standards-based practices in grading. He is frustrated with the conversations he's hearing other teachers have with kids. Basically, the teachers are abdicating any responsibility that they have in the grading process. "Gee, kid, it's too late to get a passing grade. There's nothing I can do." My problem with this is that although students do indeed have a responsibility to do their work and engage in learning, teachers also have a choice about how they use their gradebooks. A child's irresponsibility is not a reason for an adult to follow in that direction.
I can understand the ambivalence a bit. Isn't it "fair" that a kid who has struggled to complete work on time and has been so obviously unprepared for tests fail the class? Maybe---if the grades in the gradebook reflect progress toward learning and nothing more. If there are other things mixed in (penalties for late work, zeros, extra credit), then the answer is "No." As a teacher, maybe it makes you uncomfortable that a kid didn't bother to try to reach the learning targets until the last minute, but so what? Is it not more important that the student has learned what you asked than when the student did it? Good working behaviors are important, but they don't belong in a grade: They are behaviors...not learning. We need to treat them as such.
We'll see how my young charges do with their review and final attempts. I am down to my last 10 days with three of my classes, and then they'll be off to new teachers. Some are already making plans to move to my morning classes and stick with me until the bitter end of the school year. For now, we'll see what we can do with how we've kicked off our last attempts to reach the summit.