Monday, March 19, 2012

My Not-So-Active SBG

I have an issue with starting, but not finishing posts. This results in an overly large "Drafts" folder that more often than not gets pushed aside and forgotten. Every once in awhile I go back and see if what I started is still relevant to what I am doing now.

Today, I got lucky and found this:
I am sitting in our brand new gymnasium over in a corner, waiting (probably in vain) for the parents to come visit with me about their child. Ever notice that the parents that come to parent-teacher conferences are NOT the ones you really need to talk to?

So I have opened up my Google Reader for the first time in I don't know how many days. 397 unread posts. My first thought was to just mark all of them as read and figure out what to do in Geology next week, but it's been so long since I have heard what is going on in other people's classrooms that I decided to at least skim through some of them.

Riley has a "new" post on Active SBG.
Active SBG means:
  1. Emphasizing the learning that grades represent, and trying to avoid holding grades as the final product of education.
  2. Allowing students to react to their grades. Grades are the beginning of a conversation, not the end.
  3. Helping students to understand their grades by organizing them into topics (vanilla SBG).
  4. Actively keeping students informed by assessing their skills often and giving them feedback as soon as possible.

It's #1 that really has me stuck. It seems like the more I emphasize the learning process, the more my kids seem to emphasize the grades.

This post was started over a year ago, but I am in exactly the same situation, right down to not being sure what I am going to do in Geology next week.

I mentioned a while back how my SBG adventure is stuck in a rut. So I decided to start the Great Non-Grading Experiment. Actually, I didn't so much decide to start it as I accidentally clicked on the wrong box in our grading program.

Now, kids are still getting grades. I still have all of the same targets entered into the grade book. We use PowerSchool, and when you enter in your assignments, there is a little box that says "Do not include in final grade." Somehow, this box got checked.

So here I am totally oblivious that I am entering grades, but they are not visible to the outside world. Last week, some brave soul finally came up and asked me when I was going to put grades in because she wasn't sure if she was going to be grounded for Spring Break. Our internet was down that day*, so I asked her to get her grade sheets out and tell me what she thought she had.

This trimester, I am infinitely better about having kids keep track of their own scores. They get a grid with each target and I am even having them color code those scores. (If you have kids keep track, I highly recommend the color coding. Green = Good, Yellow = Almost, Red = Bad)

Anyway, we sat down and she immediately started figuring percentages. Her score sheet was all green except for one red box, so I had her look at her scores and tell me what she thought her grade should be. She looked at me like I had just asked her to explain string theory.

"What do you mean, what do I think?"

I nearly laughed at the total confusion on her face. She honest to goodness had no idea what I was trying to ask her. So we spent the next several minutes discussing what all those colors meant. We finally decided that  she should end up with a B+ and that she would come in and relearn what she had missed on that lone red target.

I have never felt so good about giving out a grade. So I decided to give it a try. The next day, I told the entire class that they would need to set up an appointment with me to discuss their grades. A stunned silence followed by that teenager look that says "is she serious"?

I have sat down with over half the class now to mixed reviews. Some kids really jump at the chance to defend that one bad score. Some still try to figure percentages. Some are hoping they can BS their way through until Mrs. Schroeder comes to her senses and just unchecks the box already.

I think I like it. One of the things that has always bothered me about the SBG idea is the percentages I am supposed to assign. They never really worked out like I wanted, and this just skips right over that part. The big issue I have is getting to everyone. The time and energy involved in this is incredible. I am working on a way to incorporate it into class time, but I have a terribly needy first hour and it makes it hard to give one individual my full attention. I got away from our Manic Mondays for awhile, and I am thinking I will revive that and work it in.

So just like everything else, we will see how this goes.

*Good Lord, have you ever tried to work on a day like that???

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Point, and I DO Have One...

I have this bad habit of going to the Internet to search for something specific and ending up on a tangent that in no way answers my original question. Today, I can't even remember what I started out looking for, but I clicked on a link to an article on that gives a list of the Top Ways to Fail a Chemistry Class. Usually, these lists are fairly general in their advice and could easily substitute "Math" or "History" for "Chemistry" in the title. I didn't even get past the first number on the list, so I don't even know how specific this list is. Number one on this list is "Don't Show Up". This seems pretty obvious, but the short explanation really wasn't what I expected:
Possibly one of the easiest ways to ensure failure is to not attend class. It's possible to teach yourself chemistry without ever setting foot in a classroom, but learning a subject isn't the same as passing a class. If you don't put in the time, you probably won't know what is expected of you for exams. You won't know what problem sets are due. You can't do labs if you aren't there. Even if there isn't an attendance policy, it helps to put in face-time.
Did you catch that???? Learning a subject isn't the same as passing a class.

Whoa!!! I think one of the teachers down the hall may have just imploded.

Basically, the person who wrote this seems to believe that main the reason you go to class is so you can decode what the professor seems to think is important enough to put on the test or know when you are supposed to turn in your work. I can't really explain it, but this assumption has been bothering me all day. Oddly enough, I just read a post by Michael that helped me tie some things together. His daughter and mine are about the same age, so I can relate to a lot of what he writes about her. My girl just came home a few weeks ago with the same comment. She is extremely bright and loves learning about new things, but school? Meh, whatever. I have been worrying about this whole problem for awhile now, and not just because of her. I have kids that are bored to death in my class because they aren't challenged. I have kids who couldn't care less because they don't see the point. I have kids who are struggling to keep up and kids who are in the Goldilocks zone. I don't want my kids to pass my class if they do not understand what was taught. If they can Google the information they need, am I teaching it correctly? Is it too easy if can do their homework for them? Is that what learning should be about?

Maybe the planets are all aligned or something, but today at lunch, we were discussing a similar situation. We just finished our second trimester a few weeks ago and one of my colleagues was talking about a student who missed 21 out of 63 days of class. Now, we have an attendance policy that says that if a student misses more than 5 class days, he cannot receive credit for that class. For various, annoying reasons that I will not get into, this policy is rarely enforced. This teacher was complaining because the student missed a LOT of class time, but still earned a C in his class. He thought that the policy should be enforced and this student should not receive any credit, and every one at the table seemed to be in agreement.

I finally came out of my state of shock and asked him how in the world did that kid miss a third of his class and still pass? Obviously, students do not need to attend his class in order to "learn" what he wanted them to. What is it about his class time that is so incredibly pointless?

This is why people outside of education believe that teachers can be replaced with computer programs. This is what must change within my walls. I have 70 minutes a day, how am I going to use it?

Awhile back a group of students in my class were discussing ways in which to cheat on various tests.* Eventually, I asked them how they cheat on mine. Every single one of them shook their heads. One dear child finally said they hadn't figured out a good way to do it. I reminded them that they could use the calculator on their phone, and it would be so simple for most of them to search for an answer or text someone else. "We thought of that, but your tests are pretty much unGoogleable."

While I had never actually thought specifically about it, that is actually my goal. I don't want a bunch of parrots in my room regurgitating what I said. I want kids who can think and work through problems. What is the point of information if you can't use it? How can we create classes that are challenging, yet doable?

This is one of my weaknesses. I so want to create a classroom that is engaging for all kids. I have such a difficult time coming up with questions that can be answered by both gifted Garrett AND slow little Susie. I struggle with giving out enough information to complete the activity, but holding back enough so I don't give it away. I want to walk that line, but can't always see where it is.

I also, more than anything, want kids to feel like they really missed out when they miss my class.

*I love it when they forget I am in the room.

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