24 May 2009

There's Always Room for Grading

For those of you who may be thinking that in a month filled with travel, data collection for dissertation, mother with brain tumor, and job upheaval, that I haven't been engaged in much that is related to grading practices. While it might be accurate to say that I haven't had a lot of headspace for this topic, it has been on my mind for a number of reasons.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at an event where a teacher sought me out to introduce himself. He had seen me present at the NSTA conference six months ago and wanted to tell me how much my information had impacted his thinking. It was a good reminder for me of a couple of things. First of all, the things I share really can make a difference. I don't always know anyone sitting in the audience---let alone their backgrounds and reasons for attending---but those opportunities are powerful ones. And secondly, there continue to be people hungry to move forward with putting best practices in grading.

This was also reinforced for me when I had a merry band of teachers invite me to spend a few hours with them thinking about their implementation plans for classroom grading practices for next year. Mind you, this was a Saturday morning...they weren't being paid to work or meet...they're just enthusiastic. The discussion and ideas were refreshing. Energizing. I am looking forward to sitting in with them some more...and even more excited to hear what happens in their classrooms next year.

All that being said, when I cruise the edusphere, I see that there is still a long way to go. A sampling of things I've been looking at over the last few weeks:
  • Some of you may have seen the rants over at Ms. Cornelius's place. I find these disappointing for any number of reasons, especially the "torches and pitchforks" comments made by some visitors. It's embarrassing that so many people see their gradebook as the ultimate weapon---their proud method to mete out punishment as opposed to a tool to support student learning. Even worse is the "my shit don't stink" attitude that comes along with it. Apparently, some of the teachers over there have never needed a second chance in their lives and accomplish all tasks perfectly the very first time. I'm guessing that they never drive faster than the speed limit, jaywalk, violate Fair Use regulations in their classrooms, or bend rules in any other fashion---and therefore they can be judge, jury, and executioner for the rest of us. Demi-gods in the classroom who would rather point fingers than be reflective. It's stunning to think of what life for kids in these classrooms must be like.
  • Joanne Jacobs noted the age-old disparity between "inflated" high school transcripts and underprepared college students. I would really like to do away with the notion of grade inflation. It would be much simpler to just focus on what the grades represent. My hunch is that the "inflation" is caused by teachers who give grades that include the behaviors Ms. Cornelius's commenters rail against. As long as a kid gets points for "participating" and attendance, who cares what the student really knows and is able to do? No wonder these kids struggle in college---they never had to learn the basics associated with knowledge. In high school, they just had to sit still and be quiet to get an A.
  • But my favourite item comes from Bill Ferriter over at The Tempered Radical. Grading is tangential to the point of his post, but it is still intriguing. He uses a fight in Ottawa over grading practices to illustrate the difference between fundamentalists and believers within school systems. He hosted an amazing Voicethread conversation with the author of these ideas. I highly recommend taking the time to peruse the comments and ideas.
As the school year winds down, teachers thoughts often turn to fancies about the next year. With all of the islands of practice I keep running across, I think that grading will be front and center for many classrooms next fall.


Unknown said...

If I could make any shift in grading, it would be from "grades" to assessment with teachers really taking the time to learn about diagnostic measures, formative and evaluative assessments and really using assessment as a part of the learning process. I'd love to see a blend of common, quantitative assessments with qualitative assessments like portfolios.

At my school, no one seems to even consider the question, "Why grade? Why assess? What is the point of all of this?"

teachin' said...

I feel like at my school, we're doing a better and better job of aligning our curriculum to our standards, but I think a lot of the assessment still isn't particularly aligned. Which is sort of ridiculous.

Your perspective on the Ms. Cornelius posts about plagiarism is interesting - I hadn't thought about it from the sit-in-judgement perspective. I take plagiarism very seriously, but I also believe in second chances, so any student who plagiarizes gets a very stern talking to about honesty and an office referral for documentation/in case of repeat offenders, but the student has the opportunity to redo the work honestly and actually demonstrate the learning.

Reading your thoughts, though, made me wonder if I was being too judgemental. And maybe I am, but cheating's a big deal, and our society seems to view lying and cheating as par for the course these days; that's not an okay lesson for kids to learn, in my opinion. So I want them to learn that no, it's not an okay thing to do, but also something about mercy, or the value of fixing mistakes, or the importance of the learning, or whatever else they take away from the situation. Hopefully it's more than just they need to be more careful with the cheating the next time. :/

Anyway, my thoughts.

The Science Goddess said...

Plagiarism and cheating are indeed serious offenses. However, I don't see my role as being to punish students as adults. They're not adults. They deserve age-appropriate consequences, which include discussing why those choices aren't good ones to make. I always had them redo the lesson in addition to detention, etc. If the assignment was important in the first place, then the students need to demonstrate learning.

I would say that as a society, we do tolerate a fair bit of lying and cheating. There is an acceptable amount. This doesn't mean as teachers we should overlook these behaviors or endorse them, but we also shouldn't portray ourselves as being above it all. We're as human as the kids in our classes. We make mistakes. We have ways to learn and improve, too. Seems more ethical to embrace that message than to be the ultimate judge for everyone else.

teachin' said...

Did I come across as being above it all? I certainly didn't mean to. I make mistakes plenty (and my kids are often quick to point them out to me :), absolutely.

My students just did their end of year assessment of my class, and the biggest area in which I need to improve (according to them) is something which no other adult, whether colleague or supervisor, has EVER brought up as a problem. Which is why I appreciate getting my students' perspective, because without it, I wouldn't realize some areas in which I need to improve. I guess I don't think the two are mutually exclusive - we can express a message that no one is perfect and we can all get better while still holding high standards for ethical behavior. Maybe my previous comment didn't come across that way, but that's what I believe.

The Science Goddess said...

You absolutely did not come across as being above it all. My comments were a more generic response to those sitting over at Ms. Cornelius's place---but I should have clarified. My apologies!

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Glad you're in my corner, SG. :)