Friday, March 26, 2010

What Are Grades?

Think Thank Thunk has a great question for you today.

Our most recent dis­cus­sion had a lot to do with what grades mean. More specif­i­cally, the ques­tion of whether soft skills like punc­tu­al­ity or being nice should be included as a part of a student’s grade. In our group there are basi­cally two camps:
  1. Grades should reflect a student’s progress with course mate­r­ial. Where an A+ indi­cates mastery.
  2. Grades should be an amal­gam of a student’s knowl­edge, behav­ior, and any­thing else the teacher wants to control.

My new obsession with Standards Based Grading has forced me to take a long, hard look at what I teach and assess in my classroom. When a student walks away from this trimester with an A in my Astronomy class, what does that mean?

Does it mean she has hurriedly copied yesterday's homework in the bathroom before school?

Does it mean he has finally stopped saying f*ck in my class?

Or does it mean she can identify the elements fusing in the core of a star by interpreting its absorption spectra?

There are a lot of things I have to do to get ready for class every day. Once I determine what to teach, I have to plan out my lesson. I have to determine the best way to deliver that lesson. How can I supplement that lesson? Should I do a lab? Do I have a lab? If not, then I need to find one. Or write my own. Then I need to have enough copies for each kid. Have I looked far enough ahead to see any problems we might run into? Better have all the supplies ready.

Do I get credit for each one of these steps?


What matters is whether or not I have it ready to go at 10:44 Tuesday morning. It's the end product that counts. Sometimes you have to do quite a bit that doesn't count individually, but is a part of a greater whole. Sometimes, you do the homework so you understand the material. If you already get it, is it a waste of time, energy and good pencil lead to do #1-31 odd?

We have such a big hang up with preparing kids for jobs. Does your job require you to turn in homework everyday? I have to have lesson plans for each day, but ultimately, those are to make my end product better* and not for use by anyone else.

And does grading on these skills truly prepare kids for the real world? Kids are smart. They know how to play the game. They know which class they can wear a hat. They know which teacher will allow them to bring a snack into class. They know when they can get away with texting. They also know what their boss is willing to put up with.

And they act accordingly. They know how to play the game.

I expect my kids to come in (without a hat) and be respectful to me and everyone else in the room. They do not get a grade for manners, but my expectations are clear.

For me, I fall resolutely into the first group.

*I realize some teachers are required to submit lesson plans to their administrator. In my last school, we did, but I had a sneaking suspicion they were stuffed into a drawer somewhere and never seen again.

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