Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why my Grades are Weighted 80:20... and Why Yours Should Be Too!

I remember the first time I heard about 80:20 grading.  It was my second year of teaching (first year in my current district) at an institute day.  The presenter we had to go to during a session talked about the benefits of 80:20 grading.  I was baffled at the concept.  Tests/projects worth 80 percent of a student's grade?!  Kids will fail miserably! Kids who used to get A's will now get C's!  What about kids who do poorly on tests but know the material?!  The list of arguments went on.

It wasn't until last year that I realized how much more accurate this grading system could be in assessing a student's grade.  In my old system, as long as you did your homework on time and did ok on tests, you literally could not fail my class.  This made it difficult for me to make recommendations that students repeat a level of French.  "Well if Suzie is getting a C, then obviously she deserves to move on!"

For anyone reading who is still confused as to what 80:20 is, allow me to explain.  Your students' grades have only two categories: summative assessment and formative  assessment.  Anything that fits into the summative assessment category (tests, big quizzes, end of unit projects, etc) are worth 80% of their grade.  The other 20% is formative assessment (day to day work like homework, mid-unit projects, small quizzes, classwork, etc). 

I decided to do a test run of 80:20 during fourth quarter last year and it worked REALLY well.  I also implemented a new test retake policy that really complemented the 80:20 policy well.  Yes students should be learning the material when its taught to them and be prepared for any test.  But, like mentioned above, students can have off days, they may not have gotten the material 100%, the format may have been confusing to them, etc.  I changed my policy to allow retakes, however students needed to prove to me they were truly learning the material.  After all, the whole purpose of 80:20 is to accurately portray what the student knows how to do, right?

My new policy was simple.  They had until the end of the quarter to retake any tests from that quarter, and they had to fill out an intensive retake form (CLICK HERE to check it out and feel free to use it for yourself).  Part of the retake form is doing extra work to practice what they had a hard time with.  I will not allow them to even schedule the retake until this whole form is completed.  With this policy, students really only were able to retake if they could prove to me they learned the material a little bit better.  They often love to kill two birds with one stone and meet with me to go over and correct their errors. 

Once I implemented this system, I've noticed how accurate grades are to what students are able to do.  Students who really didn't get it were getting Ds and Fs. Students who got it were getting As and Bs.  Their grade was a reflection of their knowledge, not of their ability to turn in work on time.  That's what summative assessment does: it measures your knowledge of the topic.  By making a grade worth that much, it truly reflects their knowledge.  The retake option is nice for two reasons.  Firstly, it encourages them to actually take the time to get help or try again if they didn't get it.  Secondly, it keeps parents from freaking out at me that their child is doing poorly in class.  If their grade is in the dumps, I always tell parents that their student has the option to retake tests and improve their grade.  Once again, the ball is in the student's court (which is how I like it).

photo from uhstitans.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Consequences of Rewards for "Good Behavior" in the Classroom

Every teacher has had this student... likely more than once.  The student who, for whatever reason, cannot follow directions, cannot stop being disruptive, cannot do their homework, and/or cannot meet the expectations of the classroom.  I have one of those right now and I will admit my patience level regarding him is pretty much maxed out.  I approached some colleagues for some suggestions in how to handle him, because in the 7 quarters I have had him as a student, nothing has worked.. and I've tried just about everything.  One of the responses I got was to reward him for a day or multiple days of cutting out his negative behaviors.  While I totally see how this can appeal to many teachers, I absolutely refuse to employ tactics like this.

It may sound harsh, but hear me out.

Every year, students get more and more lazy.  More and more entitled.  More and more disruptive.  As teachers, we are faced with the brunt of it and see the repercussions of it in our classrooms which makes for a very difficult learning environment.  It's easy to see the appeal of rewarding students for staying on task, doing their homework, and generally making our lives a little more peaceful.

But why should we reward expected behavior?  When we give them rewards for doing these things, one of two things are happening.  Either we have lowered our expectations so much that we no longer expect students to be respectful and hard working or we are training students (especially the irresponsible ones) to expect a gold star at the end of every day that they meet expectations.  Possibly it's a combination of both at this point.  Can you imagine a student going into the work force after graduation and expecting praise every time they show up to work on time and complete their job tasks?  Just because a student has bad behavior doesn't mean we should reward them on days that they do what is expected of every other student around them.  We are creating a generation of students who expect praise for every little thing and it is going to come back and bite us some day.  It really lowers the bar of excellence and makes someone unwilling to do what is expected of them if they aren't going to be rewarded for it.

Some may argue that just functioning for class is above and beyond expected behavior for some students.  Maybe that is true.  But when we reward specific/troubled students for behavior we expect out of any other students, we start going down a slippery slope and setting a bad example.  It shows students that if they are normally difficult to handle, then they can get rewards every so often for just cooperating.  I've noticed in our current system, the students with habitual negative behaviors get rewarded more often than students who aren't any trouble.  How twisted is that?  It's a classic case of squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? 

If we don't want any more "squeaky wheels", we need to stop rewarding them every time they metaphorically put a little oil on and don't make noise for a few hours.  We are doing students with behavioral issues a MAJOR disservice when we continue to reward them for something they should be doing to begin with.  If a student repeatedly falls short of your expectations, then raise your expectations.  Maybe then they will raise up to a level that is acceptable.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Putting the Break Back in Spring Break

It's the Friday before Spring Break.  The anticipation of 2:55 is practically making you drool.  You imagine all of the things you will be doing next week, including a mini vacation to somewhere warm and relaxing with a drink in your hand.

Then it hits you. The e-mail from your principal:

"The School Board has implemented a new policy that all teachers must spend at least three hours over their break doing prep work.  It will be built into your contract time."

We'd be livid right?  Hell would be raised, the protests would be heard everywhere.

So why do we do this to our students?

Many of us don't.  But I was utterly shocked hearing from students the amount of homework they were assigned on Friday (the day before break) that would be due the day they came back from school.  One talked about a project that would easily take her a few hours.  Another talked about book work and worksheets.  I'm not talking a normal night's worth of homework.. I'm talking a solid 4-5 hours minimum of work they'd have to do homework over break.

Spring Break is a very important week for schools.  It gives students and staff time to recharge and be ready to tackle the last 10 ish weeks of school left.  So instead of looking at it as a "more time for kids to do homework" week, look at it as "time to get well rested mentally and physically to get back to work when they come back" week.

Don't assign homework over break.  Put the break back in Spring Break.  We'd be mad if we were expected to work over break (many of us do anyway to catch up)...why would we expect them to?

Photo from katimorton.com