Friday, March 27, 2009

Changing the Grade

Yesterday, my dear friend, Grammatically Delicious Designs in North Dakota wrote the post, "I Hate Grades." I had so much to say about this, that I decided to respond via post. So GDD this one's for you!

Grades (of the A, B, C variety) have long been these arbitrary letters assigned to a student based on their ability to match a certain set criteria, some of which the students have never actually been presented with. The deficiency lies in the fact that these grades do not assess students on the most important factors: effort, progress, and comprehension.

There are several things to consider when discussing how grade implementation should change. I'm going to talk from the point of view where we will not be able to eliminate them any time soon and instead, focus on creating meaning for grades.

One of the biggest problems is that the students (and parents) don't understand the grades, their purpose, and how they effect them. Grades have never been explained in a way that they can really put any value to. In my classroom, however, we use grades as a way of measuring progress in the subjects in which it is easy to do that. Math, for example, is fairly cut and dry (and even still, my students are given points for demonstrating comprehension of the process even when the answer is incorrect). When students receive grades, they chart them on a simple bar graph. We talk (several times over the course of the year) about what it means to show progress. This becomes very important in determining a final grade for them.

I also have the luxury of working with the WIDA standards which are the guidelines for assessing bilingual students in the state of Illinois. Those standards specifically state that I am allowed to measure students based on what can be expected of their own personal ability. That means I am not measuring a student against their classmates or against the state's version of the perfect 4th grader. Instead, I am monitoring progress and effort and making decisions as I see fit. I can refer back to the standards at any point if someone were to contend my grades and I would be willing to bet that other teachers in other states could use their own standards to back up their grading system as well.

Finally, I use goal setting as a major tool in instruction/assessment. Not only does it give students something to aim for, but it makes it clear to them whether or not they are progressing. This takes a bit of work and time to conference with each individual student. However, the results are the my students understand what is expected of them and what they need to achieve for themselves (not compared to everyone else).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Keep Trying

"Sometimes the beauty is in the attempt."

We have all tried something and failed. When I say "tried" in this instance, I mean put everything we had, our entire hearts and souls, into something that we cared about. This happens in the classroom and probably even more often in life, but the message holds true for both: Sometimes the beauty is in the attempt.

When I went away to college, I went to a small private school in a big city. It was probably the most emotionally heart wrenching year of my life. Thinking about the way that I survived that year actually makes me feel grateful for the trials of late, because I'd never wish to be back in that place again. Regardless, when I really think about it, I learned more about myself and my strengths that year than I ever had before. I even made positive experiences for myself that I look back on and smile. I challenged myself in ways that I never had before, and when it came to the end of the year I had the courage to know that it was time to walk away.

As far as being able to stick it out and stay at that school, I failed. But I learned about myself, had some memories that I will always cherish, and ended up in a better place because of it.

Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves when we fail ourselves or our students. But failing always yields something. Take comfort in the fact that, when you've truly given your all and it doesn't work out, it's not your fault. If you choose to accept failure and learn from it, the attempt can be more powerful than it's outcome.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tiempo Libre

As a teacher, there is no end of work to be done. You could take work home every evening and weekend for the rest of your career and still find things that to be planned and graded, better ways of presenting what you already have, and new information that needs to be incorporated. So, in the small amount of free time that you have, there are only two reasons to pick your extra curricular activities based on:

1) Am I passionate about it?
2) Will it encourage personal growth?

Being a teacher can be very draining. At the end of the day, there is very little time to replenish your energy. Unfortunately, you still have to live life. What I would encourage, is picking activities in your life that will be a boon. Most of the time, those activities do require energy, but they are also rejuvenating.

A while back I chose to join a Spanish Language Meetup. It is a group of people of varying ages, ethnic backgrounds, and social status who get together once a month to speak in Spanish over dinner. Last night, on a Friday night after a full week of school, I was exhausted. What I know, however, is that this meetup incorporates many of the things that I am passionate about including, communicating, meeting new people, the Spanish language, and experiencing culture. I went despite my yearning for a quiet night of television, and it was such a blessing. My conversational Spanish is getting so much better. I talked to several native speakers during the evening and even joined a couple of them at a bar for pool afterwards. Talking and laughing in Spanish was the most natural thing in the world to me. In remembering how hard I worked to get to this skill level (for the sake of my students and their parents) it is something that I am very proud of.

If you're feeling argumentative today, you may say "No teach, sometimes you have to do things that you don't want to do and it is just a waste of time and energy." I will argue back and say that I don't really believe that. For example, if you don't want to go to your mother-in-law's house for Sunday brunch but you do anyway, it is because you are passionate about family. If you don't want to go to the grocery store but do anyway, it is because you value life. If you don't want to go to the gym, but do anyway, it is because health is important to you.

If you find yourself doing something and really wondering what the point is, cut it out, it's not making you a better person. If you find yourself missing something that made your life better, or that could, get it back. There are two reasons to use that precious little extra time we have in the day: because you are doing something you are passionate about, or because it is encouraging personal growth (and very often, it is doing both).