Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dizzy with wonder I shake my head to clear the view

For the last week and half I have been here and there soaking up lots of useful knowledge.  On June 6th, about 20 of my colleagues went to the PLC conference in St. Louis.  I was able to attend five different sessions and hear three different keynote speeches.  The main point that I took away from the first keynote speech was that it is very important that the definitions and goals of the work we are doing, needs to be clarified.  Basically, we need to make sure that everyone is starting on the same page.  There of course, was much more to that speech, but that was the point that stuck with me.  So with that, we were all sent off to attend our sessions of choice.

The first session that I attended was:  Raising Questions & Finding Answers in Our Grading Practices.  I was very interested in going to this session because I have been struggling with grading practices a lot this past year or so.  About two years ago now, I was on a committee for alignment of standards.  We started the conversation of standard-based grading and what steps we would need to  take to get there.  I know that some members of my committee or a related one traveled to various schools to look at how their report cards are set up.  We looked at several examples, and I remember someone saying that the work to get to the point of having standard-based report cards took about 8 years.  I think that some were flabbergasted about that amount of time, but I think it is very realistic for full implementation.  This past year we were to have our learning goals finished or some levels had to have some for particular classes but not all.  I developed mine over the summer and worked to make them apparent to my students throughout the year.  I will admit that I fell away from this as the year's challenges built up, and I definitely want to rework a lot of them and perhaps, pare some down.

Our next goal is/was to develop formative assessments, common assessments, and other activities that directly correlate with the learning goals.  I started to find and make some formative assessments thsoat I could keep more accurate data, but again, my work fell short on this.  The whole common assessment thing, completely stops me because I am a singleton!  And yes, I aware of the ways that I could accomplish this, but I'm not there yet.

But most of all, I have really been struggling with the actual grading.  We have these learning goals and we say that we want the students to master those items, but we still have a percentage grade book and we still leave kids behind or allow them to do nothing.  I have been following different teachers that have jumped head-first into standard-based grading, and this is my goal.  I don't really want to wait for the whole school to be ready to do this.  I want to know that my students really are walking out with the important skills that I would like them to know or be able to do and feel confident that their grade matches those achievements. 

Well, that was quite a tangent, let's get back to the session I attended.  The speaker emphasized several times that a student's grade should not reflect their absence, effort, or lateness.  Those are areas that should be reported completely separate from the academic grade. He said that homework shouldn't be graded at all, but if it is, it shouldn't be more than 10% of the total grade.  He also said that students should not be able to receive extra credit.  I agree with those points, but it is hard to do this when we still have the grade book that we do.  I get pressure from parents and students to give out extra credit, but I very rarely give it out, and when I do, it is very minimal.

He also talked about that when he had homework in his class he had homework teams.  Generally, these were heterogeneous teams that went over the homework together.  He said the teacher in this role, circulated and helped model to students how to ask probing questions.  Something else that stuck out to me was the intervention time.  He talked about schedules being arranged so that there is an actual time for this to happen.  This coming year, there will be some time for intervention, but this will only be for reading and math because those are the subjects of course that are reported on to the state.  I, as a science teacher, take issue with this because I think that there should be intervention time for all of the subjects that students need help with.  I have brought this up before at school about having an intervention time during exploratory time.  Students who are struggling, let's say at the D or F level or missing many assignments, are taken out of exploratory until they are able to get back on track.  I student taught at a school that did this, and while I don't have actual data to support this, I observed that students tended to be able to get things taken care of so that they could return to exploratory.  A final item that really resonated with me was the value of an incomplete.  If students haven't met/finished the requirements for a grade in your class, give them an incomplete.  I did this a few times when I taught in high school, but I had some unexpected hurdles when I did this at the middle school level.  I guess that will be something that my team will have to have further conversations on.

This is a very long post, so I am going to continue in part two......

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