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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Grading Systems

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I hold teaching licenses in two states. I have taught at a large public high school. I have taught at a science museum. I have taught at a small private school. The subject matter has been the same, but for different levels of understanding. Officially, I have skills in the realms of (are you ready for some great jargon?) formative and summative assessments, written and verbal communication, collaborative teaching and learning, multicultural learning, individualized instruction, classroom management, literacy promotion methods, adaptive coursework, curriculum mapping, and differentiated instruction. Oh yeah, and my subject matter.

There’s one thing that I thought was lacking: no one taught me how to grade. I took courses on how to teach, but how do you determine whether an answer is right, wrong, sorta there, or close enough?

This blog post from TEACHING|chemistry expresses a lot of my frustrations about the common point-grading systems. It drives me nuts to see a kid who can cruise by, doing no homework and acing tests, and getting D’s because the points don’t work to his favor, despite clearly knowing the material. It also drove me nuts to see a few kids working their tails off for a few more points, while peers who didn’t give a flying fig got higher grades. Some of them just gave up and quit or stopped working altogether. I understand the frustration: I mean, on a transcript, an F is an F: doesn’t matter if it’s 0% or 59.9% of the points allotted.

Maybe that sounds like I want to grade based on effort, which is not entirely true. Teachers don’t give grades; students earn grades. I want students to earn grades based on either mastery of material as well as effort put forth to earn that mastery and realize that they achieved the letter that represents their work and skills. High school grades are often used as proof of a person’s potential for effort in employment; as such, I believe that while ability is very nice, diligence can be just as, or even more, important. I wasn’t at the very top of my class, but I stuck with my subject matter for longer than most, so I’ve gotten a lot further than people who had better grades than me. While teaching at the public school (a Title I school, filled with amazing kids from over 100 countries, lots of non-native-English speakers, and a 70-odd% poverty rate), I found that the kids who put in effort, even if they didn’t quite get my subject, were quite successful in other realms, and a very high number continued on to college.

What does this have to do with WWNDTD?

Dr. Tyson likes education. Just ask him. He’ll tell you just how important curiosity is, and that it’s missing in today’s education system. He’ll tell you that teachers should be igniting a fire within us. Even though I don’t know him, I think that Dr. Tyson would say that finding something you love, something you’re willing to work for, is so important.

Therefore, I need a new grading scheme and have recently found Standards-Based Grading (SBG). Basically, students are in control of their own grades, based on effort. If they happen to be the kind of kid who aces things the first time, they’re done (or can choose to do other/advanced topics). If they work their butts off to perfect materials, they can get there. I don’t expect a change in grading to suddenly excite them in my classroom, but I hope it could stop inhibiting them.

First time wonderment

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I’m trying to remember when I first encountered Neil deGrasse Tyson.  I think it was for a quote about water molecules:

MIND. BLOWN.  With water.

I think it’s Dr. Tyson’s ability to make even the smallest things mind-blowingly fascinating, as well as in positive light for something and opening the way for so many more questions, not to mention a need to check his work and see if it checks out.  Not that I doubt his math (it does work, by the way), but it’s just so improbable that it induces a kind of wonder.

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious: it is the source of all true art and all science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause in wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

When was the last time you paused to think about the size and proximity of water molecules?  Probably never.  Are you thinking about water now?