Monday, August 27, 2012

Just...Don't Freak Out

On the first day of school, we talk for just a little bit about how students will eventually receive a letter grade for chemistry, not too much because this is what everyone else does and we want to move on to bigger and better things just as soon as we possibly can. Usually, there are some sideways looks and maybe even a few questions, but what I have noticed is that while there is nodding, the reality doesn't actually set in until there are actual marks involved.

Like today.

On Friday, we finished up our Mass and Change Lab, talked about the Conservation of Mass and turned in our lab notebooks. Pretty routing and straightforward. 

Today, the notebooks were handed back. Along with the notebook is a sheet that I have typed out comments about each target that is assessed. They look something like this...*
Lab Notebook Feedback Sample

There is always (even near the end of the year) that minute or so where kids are turning the paper over, looking for their grades. So I let them flounder for a while, mumbling among themselves, until finally someone speaks up and asks what everyone wants to know. "How did I do on this?"

Most of the time, I come back with something along the lines of, "well, how do you think you did?" This is often met with blank stares while they try to absorb what I am trying to say. I didn't give them a grade, and they have no idea how to handle that. Today, I had them talk to their lab partners about their comments. What are some things you did well? What do you need to work on? If you were to give yourself a grade, what do you think it would be?

I try to get them to see that it's not just about a number, but about what you can do to truly learn about something. Some try to make sense of it, some just humor me.

Then, I pointed to the wall where I have posted the targets we are covering at this particular time. Remember these green sheets we keep pointing to? Let's talk a little bit more about those. So today, I reintroduced my new and improved grading system. There were a lot of wary looking kids sitting out there. And then I handed out their grade sheets.

See, we use PowerSchool as our grading program, and I know there must be a way, but, for the life of me, I can't figure out how to get it off of percents. So if I put in 2 points as possible and you get a 1, it shows you have a 50%. Even after promising not to, some of them freaked out, although, thankfully, none of them cried.

While there wasn't much in the way of excitement about the new system, at least there wasn't any outright hostility. I think just getting over the initial shock and getting used to the idea will be smoother than past years.

I know that I like it much better than what I did last year. Getting rid of the 3 and 4 levels makes this so much easier. Where last year, I would have hem-hawed around and made a judgement call, this year, I can simply say, "not perfect" and give it a 1.

And then.....I introduced capstones. Now that is a different story. There was quite a bit to say about those...

*This is a critique for another day, but there are a few things I would change about this. I find myself only picking out the things a student did wrong. My goal this year is to also leave specific comments about what was done correctly as well. For whatever reason, I find this much more difficult. But I love typing it out. Copy/paste is soooooo handy sometimes.


Anonymous said...

I think points-based grading systems have conditioned us to look for what students have done wrong. I am in the same boat, working on leaving feedback that tells students what they have done well along with suggestions for improvement!

Kathryn J said...

Hi Tracie! I just found your blog today from a post on the list serve and I am very excited. I used to blog but didn't feel as a first and second year teacher that I had much other than "I'm overwhelmed" to add.

I wonder if you could use the workaround I use with rubric grading and my percentage-based school grading system. If you are using two points, use 0 points as 50%, 1 point as 75%, and 2 points as 100% (or other number). I use an 8-dimension, 4-point rubric for labs and scale the scores to 0 points as 50% and 4 points on all as 100%. 3-point rubric descriptions are the expectation and earns the student a B. If they exceed it they get an A.

My son had a teacher that did standards based grading and if they achieved mastery, they received an 80%. There were four extra-credit projects based on topics studied for each marking period that were worth 5% each and could be done to bring your grade up from 80%.

I really hope to move to a system like this if I ever get to be in one school for two years. As a new teacher I get laid off and moved around a lot. I need to build street-cred with admin first.

My Menu