Repair Kit Fix 15: Student Involvement

Fix 15: Don’t leave students out of the grading process.  Involve students; they can and should play key roles in assessment and grading that promote achievement.

This is a fix that I have quite honestly been looking forward to reading since the study guide.  I’m really curious as to how to include students in grading.

“Students can learn how to monitor their own progress, and how to communicate that progress to others.” (page 126)

OK but how?

“We must also be sure that students understand the targets…one of the most powerful is to involve them in developing the rubrics we use to provide feedback and/or scores.” (page 127)

OK this I can do, starting by providing examples of scoring guides then brainstorm with the class.  Maybe use a general rubric on rubistar as an example and then creating a more specific one together and leaving one section open to tailor to specific goals for each student (like in Clearing the Way, I really need to pull this book out and blog it).  Then students can use scoring guides to peer and self-assess.

It is also suggested that students use assessment plans like the one shown fix 13 to help them track scores and communicate with others about those scores.

Teacher Vignette: I love the idea of “Praise, Polish, Ponder” that this teacher uses with her students – a great peer assessment.  This reminds me of the 2 likes and 1 suggestion peer assessment that I have been using.


Repair Kit Fix 5: attendance counted in final grade

Fix 5: Don’t consider attendance in grade determination, report absences separately

There is no need to convince me on this one.  The only time I’ve ever even come across this policy is in college classes.

“Standards based learning is not about seat time.  It is about what students know, understand, and can do.” (page 47)

I agree with this statement except to say that there are students who need the seat time to learn.

“It is common for schools/districts to go to great lengths to distinguish between excused and unexcused absences, with the difference having a significant impact on grades and the ability of students to ‘make-up’ for absences.”(page 47)

I don’t think I have ever not allowed a student to make-up work based on excused or unexcused absences.  As a classroom teacher I didn’t even always know which kind of absence it was and I didn’t really care.  I gave the student the work to make-up and told them when I would be available to assist them if they had questions, for me this included students having my school e-mail address so that they could contact me from home.

I have however not allowed students to make-up work due to Out of School Suspension (OSS) policies by the school/district.  Depending on the school if a student receives ISS they may be able to make up all work, some work, work only for the first assigned OSS, or no work at all.  I discovered my first year that some students love OSS, they get to stay home and play all day because of the attitudes of their families – often either apathy or that old “the teacher/administrator doesn’t like you.”  Let me say this I have never had a student I hated, disliked yes it happens, but never hated!  I have always been able to find at least one thing I like about a student and I make a concerted effort to keep my feelings to myself, to change my attitude and to not allow my feelings to color my judgement.  In the rare occasion where I struggle with this, I take what I’m grading to another teacher for a fresh opinion to double check myself.  I’m human I make mistakes, I have feelings!

I had a student that first year I taught “M” who was frequently in OSS by his own admission it meant he could sleep in and play his XBOX all day.  The result of his many OSS assignments was failing grades as policy  allowed work to be made up for the first OSS.

“M” was not known for doing his work even when he was at school but when he did, at least in my class, I could see that he knew what he was doing.  I could see his intelligence.  At the end of the year he was suggested for retention.  I argued unsuccessfully that he was capable of the work he would be required to do the following year.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he eventually dropped out of school.

The district has since implemented these fixes and I believe if the policy has not yet changed that it will soon.  I have heard of school districts that have an alternative center and students who are on OSS can go that building for their time and if they do their work is counted.  This is a step in the right direction.  It’s unfortunate that not all districts have the facilities or budget to make this a requirement.

“The author says “In some of the school in which I taught it was a common practice (especially in physical education) to include a fixed number of points for attendance and to deduct one or two points per absence.’” (page 48)

I know that this happens I don’t recall that I have ever been in a school that had this occur.  I know when I was in high school PE we lost points for not dressing out but they had scheduled make-ups after school, you ran the track.  After asking some former classmates and other friends that I went to school with they told me that yes they did get lower grades for absences or not dressing out.  As a matter of fact one friend had to retake gym in summer school because of the high number of times not dressing out.

“One aspect of attendance and grades that presents a real dilemma is when there are requirements that students attend certain out-of-school activities or performances, such as concerts in a music course or performances in a drama course.” (page 48)

A choir teacher I worked with had a back up plan for kids who missed concerts, they wrote a paper on a musical topic.  This to me was a great idea because there are things that happen and you sometimes can’t help but miss a performance. I don’t want a puking student at a conference so if we have a strict must attend all concerts/performances or get an Incomplete, an I that may never be changed because there are no replacement concerts you will have sick kids there or angry parents in your office.  There needs to be some other option.  Incomplete will not look good when applying to colleges yet the student with appendicitis, mono, the student who lost a family member and is attending a funeral or other honest to goodness excusable absence has no way to explain that I to college application review boards or defend it.  I think students being given the option to do a solo performance for the teacher or write a paper on a composer from the concert would be great alternatives.

Teacher Vignette:

I like that the teacher went out of his way to help and work with the student in his class even going against school policy but I have an honest concern: what would happen if someone else found out and complained?  What would the school do?  Would they support the teacher for helping the student achieve or would disciplinary action be taken because the teacher broke policy?



This teacher’s code

I do try to live by a set of principles especially when it comes to my classroom.  These are not in any order of importance but simply in order of how they popped into my mind.

1) Let my students know that I care.  You never know the whole situation of a child when they walk through your door.  Kids can be good at hiding things.  I want my students to know that I care about them and that I’m always there if they need someone to listen.

2) Celebrate successes.  I posted on March 9th about What you focus on, to more I celebrate successes in both behavior and academics the more students notice them as well, the more my classroom becomes a positive place.

3) Know the material and if you don’t learn it. So this fits me especially well as I posted on March 27th in Pretending my way through the day I’m not an expert at what I teach so I do the research I do the lessons I have the kids do to be sure I’m prepared.  Even when I think I know the material I often do the assignments I give the kids so that I know I’m prepared and because things change.  I taught middle school communication arts for nine years and in the first year I discovered that the rules for possessive nouns had changed.  I had not read the lesson before I began teaching and had to stop in the middle to look at it closer and tell the kids I’d made a mistake which leads me to –

4) Own up to your mistakes.  I’m human I make mistakes and I make sure I tell the kids I do, they need to know everyone makes mistakes.  I’ve had teachers through the years that act as if they are perfect and cover up any mistakes they made, it makes me crazy.  I’ve made mistakes grading before when students come to me and ask about it (though I require they do it respectfully as in “Mrs. D you marked this answer wrong and when we went over it in class it’s not.” instead of yelling out in class “Hey you screwed up” and yes I’ve had that happen and the issue at hand for me there is the respect and the fact that the student just disrupted the whole class.  When I do mark something incorrectly I fix it on the paper immediately and as soon as I can in the grade book.  If by chance I miss marking something wrong and the student lets me know I either let them keep the points or correct for full points rather than half points depending on what the question was worth  (this may change after reading Repair Kit for Grading.)  I also apologize to the kids when I make mistakes.  To me it’s important for them to hear that, to have a good model for apologizing.  (not I also apologize to my son when I’ve made a mistake or snapped at him for no reason)

5) Help every student in my class to achieve to the best of their ability, to fulfill their potential.  I really don’t think anyone should be teaching if this isn’t part of their persona teaching code.

6) Don’t ever purposefully embarrass a student and if you do it accidentally apologize (see #4).  I know that there are teachers that embarrass kids to get them to behave or do work and I want to ask does that actually work for you?  Do the kids change their behavior?  Some may but I’d lay odds that most don’t.  Not to mention you’re setting up an antagonistic relationship with that student and that is not the way to help them learn.

Well that’s it for now.  I may think of more and add them later, it could take days for this to be a complete post actually and it may never be because a teacher’s code should really be a “living document” changing as you get more and varied experience.

Written for DP Daily Prompt: I Walk the Line

Repair Kit For Grading Chapter 1, part 1

It’s finally time to get into the book starting at the beginning with Chapter 1: Setting the Stage.  I had a lot of notes on this one so it will probably be at least two posts.  I will try to turn my notes into something more fluent and easy to read but it may not always happen so it something doesn’t make sense please ask.  Also I read this first chapter before I found the study guide online so I may repeat some things I said there, just so you know.

Starting right away on page 2 this quote caught my attention “How confident am I that the grades students get in my classroom/school/district are accurate, meaningful, and consistent, and that they support learning?”

Have I ever thought about this before?  Did the grades I gave at SMS really reflect the students’ learning?  I’m definitely one of those who argues that standardized testing, specifically the MAP test (Missouri Assessment Program) don’t always reflect a child’s knowledge due to any number of reasons.  My son is in third grade and taking the MAP for the first time this year, after seeing the responses he’s given on MAP like assessment for class I wonder what his score will be.  I know he understands the topics taught because he can easily discuss and explain them however sometimes he reads the questions differently than they are meant.  I’ve seen this happen with students as well, however since I have had that experience I know that his scores may not be indicative of his actual level.

I remember looking at the noun assessment provided in the teacher’s edition of the writing and grammar series I used and noticing that it wasn’t written the way the practice work had been.  At that point I rewrote the exam, I’m ashamed to say this was the third or fourth year I’d used the test and hadn’t noticed this before.  I had mistakenly assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume right?) that because the test was written by the same people that wrote the practices they would be similar in style.  Yep wrong!  Never again will I make that assumption, I will be checking the assessments and changing them as need be.

My partner teacher and I made it a practice to review our tests, specifically which questions were missed most often.  As we graded exams we often sat together and would discuss things we noticed such as questions that seemed to be missed frequently, we would then look at the answers to see if we had possibly given more than one correct answer by accident or if the question was in any way confusing.  We eliminated those questions from the exam for the next time it was given.  We also did not count that question in the final score on the exam, if students had answered it correctly that counted as bonus points for them, hmmm wonder if that would be bonus points that are a no no or bonus points that are considered showing extra knowledge?

It seems to me that this question just might be the reason so many teachers/districts have gone to backwards design, starting their lesson/unit planning by asking “what do I want my students to learn?  What is the learning target/objective?  How will I assess that learning?” and once they have determined that asking “Now how will I teach so they learn what I’m assessing?”  I know that I saw an increase in test scores when I began planning this way.

On pages 2 and 3 there is a blog post from the Washington Post that tells the tale of two students in the same school.  A student who had not achieved a high enough GPA was asked to leave, another student from the same school wrote in to say he had a similar schedule but with different teachers and some of his teachers offered a great deal of extra credit points.  He said he believes had he had the same teachers as student A he would have also been asked to leave because his grades would not have been as high.  

This shows to me the importance of having a school wide policy on extra credit.  If two teachers offer equally challenging curriculum but one of them also offers a substantial amount of extra credit the grades for the students in that class will be higher.  The office will be inundated for requests to be in that teacher’s class.  This is not effective, this doesn’t really show us that our students are learning what we want them to learn.

Ok on to page 5 where this made me stop to think: grades need to support learning – When teachers assign point values to simply turning in work (uh oh guilty, I have done this, there have been times where I was just so behind, so busy that I checked off each student had turned in the assignment and gave them 10 points for it.  I tried not to do this often but it did happen.) or put a mark on everything students do and use every number when calculating the grade the message sent to students is clear: success lies in the quantity of points earned.

I agree with the first part, if I simply assign points for turning in an assignment then yes students get the wrong message though I don’t know that it’s a matter of success lying in the quantity of points earned rather I think they learn that turning it in is all that is necessary, making an effort is not.  I have a problem with the idea that we shouldn’t put marks on everything students do, maybe my problem lies in the thought that for this book marks seems to mean scores or grades, points earned.  To me marks can simply be a plus or minus, a star that shows it was done not the same thing as points.    And if we don’t count points on everything how do we calculate grades?  Scores must be given on at least some items, how do we choose which ones?  It can not only be tests, I just can’t get behind that thought.  At what age do we start with point scores?  How do we explain why they aren’t getting points on some work?

Oh boy not even off of page 5 and they have me filled with even more questions: With some limited exceptions, only evidence from summative assessments should be used when determining grades.

If you’ve read my previous blog posts I bet you can guess what my big concern is here…TEST ANXIETY.  I’m trying not to harp on this topic as I’m hoping maybe it will be addressed later on but here are my original thoughts from reading this: What about those kids with testing anxiety or the child who went without breakfast that morning, who came to school sick, was beaten or berated that morning, experienced the loss of a pet or family member?  Do we allow a second or more chances on summative? (breaking into my old thoughts to say it appears this is exactly what is expected) Teachers know their students.  What do they do when the summative does not show the knowledge the student has demonstrated in homework or in class work?

I think that’s more than enough for today as this post is getting rather long.  What are you opinions?  What do you think?  Am I way off base in my thoughts?  Are you on the side of the author?  Maybe you’ve read the whole book already or your district is implementing these fixes and you can help me understand and feel better.  More on chapter 1 next time.


Repair Kit study guide: purpose of grades, group grades, and limiting number of A’s given

The next six statement are all on a scale of agree to disagree.  Some I disagree with rather vehemently, just a warning.

14: The ONLY purpose for grades/marks should be to communicate student learning at a point in time.

I somewhat disagree with this statement.  I believe grades/marks should be used to demonstrate progress or lack thereof.  They can be indicators of struggles with a concept or with something else in life.  Years ago we had a gifted student in the middle school where I worked whose grades were suddenly dropping.  We knew she was capable of the work but it wasn’t getting done.  When we sat down with mom to express our concerns we learned the problem was not school or her abilities, rather it was life.  Mom and Dad were getting divorced and Dad had already moved in with someone else whom he was planning to marry as soon as the divorce was final.  This was a major shake-up in the students’ world.  Things like this happen all the time and believe it or not grades/marks can be a good indicator.  It is well publicized that a drop in grades is one indicator of drug use as well.  Grades are so much more than just a picture of student learning at a single point in time.


15: One should NEVER include group scores in grades for individual students.

Agreed, I think everyone remembers being part of a group project where one of the members did not pull their weight, then the whole group lost points due to that.  Now in the interest of disclosure I have not always agreed with this statement.  I have in the past given group grades that were included in the final grade.  To try to make it more fair in my first few years of teaching I include a peer assessment section to the group grade. Each student was given 100 points to distribute to their groupmates how they felt was appropriate according.  I added these up and they were part, a small part but part of the final project score for that students.  Looking back I’m appalled that I did this with so little direction to the students on how to actually assess their groupmates work.  Even then it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable so I tried just grading the parts each student did but that seemed to defeat the purpose of giving a group project: cooperative learning. Maybe this is where grading by standards comes in would come in handy, awarding not scores but marking on a checklist of standards covered?  Definitely something to think about.


16: There should be a limit to the number of students who receive marks/grades of A.


In case you can’t tell from the above I vehemently, emphatically disagree with this statement.  We as educators do a disservice to students when we allow only a certain number of As.  Grade distribution according to the Bell Curve needs to disappear, NOW.  I would jump for joy, shout from the mountaintops, dance in the streets (OK you get the idea) if all of my students earned As.  One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students achieve to the best of their ability, if I limit the number of As my students  can earn I fail.  It’s simply not fair, and yes I know that life’s not fair.  I’ve used that phrase in my classroom many times but if a student earns an A that is the grade they should receive.  To say to a student well you did good your final score was in the percentage range for an A but since there were 5 people who scored higher than you and I only give out five As then you get a B, usually followed with “next time try harder” is infuriating and ridiculous.  There are students for whom a C is a major accomplishment, those who study day and night and just barely get the A, so if they end up with a B what’s to stop them from saying why bother spending that extra time studying if (pick 5 names of the smartest students in the class) are going to get the As anyway.  See, yeah, NO!  This is a bad, bad idea!

Ok now you clearly know how I feel, what do you think?


Repair Kit Study Guide: bonus points and cheating

Ok on to the next two questions about awarding bonus/extra credit points and zeroes for cheating.

3) I give bonus points for extra credit.

For frequency of this one I chose sometimes because yes I have done this but never enough for it to make a difference in the grade, well at least not anymore.  In my first few years of teaching I gave out reward coupons that included one free answer on a test (no more than 5 points), extra point on a test (1 per coupon, no more than 5 per test), free homework pass, extra points on homework, and I think there might have been more.  I got over that idea pretty quickly for the precise reason that I wanted my students scores to reflect their learning not their behavior which was usually how they earned the coupons.

One of the only extra credit opportunities I have offered in the past several years was five points for attending and leading conferences with their parents.  Student-led conferences were not the norm in my building but I found it to be a valuable experience for all sides.  However 5 points for was virtually nothing when students had the possibility of several hundred to one thousand points total for a quarter (yep sorry guys if any of you are reading this) but as they didn’t know that at the time it was a great incentive to get them to conferences.  This then raises a question of morality in some I’m sure, feeling that I lied to students, however I never stated that those 5 points would help their grades.  At progress report time I handed out a report to each student with all assignments listed, all points earned including those 5, and total points possible.  I might continue this when I get another classroom if I am in a building that does not use student-led conferences or I might offer another non-grade related reward.

4) I reduce marks/grades for cheating.

Always, that was a simple one to answer.  I have always reduced grades or given zeroes for cheating.  I have never had to make a decision to do otherwise.  Academic Dishonesty and it’s consequences have always been clearly spelled out in school handbooks.  To my surprise the first year I taught I read what I had never realized was part of that standard policy, talking during a quiz or test was considered cheating as the teacher can not hear what is being said.  It bothered me to assume students were guilty rather than give them the benefit of the doubt but as it was district/school policy I instituted it.  I made it a practice though to read that section of the handbook immediately before handing out the first test of the year and repeating that information each test day.  I do believe there need to be consequences for cheating/plagiarism however I also feel it is important to know why the student cheated.  Whenever this happened I tried to find out the reason.  I wanted to know if the student didn’t have time to study, didn’t understand the material, or if there was some other reason.  This made a difference to me in my approach to the principal and parents. If a student didn’t have time to study I offered for them to come in before or after school.  I issued the same offer for students who didn’t understand the material.  Teachers and administrators need to be sure they look beyond the behavior to the student and their thoughts rather than blindly assigning consequences.  I think most do, unfortunately there are those out there that don’t

So opinions on these two questions?

One of those YES! moments

So today I had one of those YES! *fist pump* moments.  There is a student that I work with who is a big perfectionist, if it’s not done right the first time frustration sets in BIG time, face gets red, fist hits hand, or hand hits head, chairs can get knocked over, muttering begins.  I have struggled to find a way to help this student.  I want Student to be successful in school and life, having this super low frustration level can be a huge detriment.

We began a project today and Student made a mistake, I saw the red face and the fist begin to curl.  I’m not sure what it was but I remembered my Conscious Discipline training, at least some of it.  I asked the student to look at me and tried to get him to take some deep breaths.  I talked to him about where his brain function was and that breathing, getting oxygen in to move back into the frontal cortex.  None of it was really working, but I kept trying, bugging Student to breathe slowly, finally I said “I’m not going to stop bugging you until you do this,” and got a laugh.  Breakthrough, not sure what actually worked but Student got back to work and had a successful class.  Now to keep that up.

For those that don’t know Conscious Discipline is a brain based approach to discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.  In the building where I was trained CD sort of followed, Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Dr. Foster Cline, it was the school equivalent though I know L&L has school programs themselves.  If you like the brain-based approach but CD and L&L seem a bit young for the classes you work with check out Behavior Intervention Support Team, also known as BIST. Now personally I don’t use all of CD, I stick with parts especially the calming deep breaths, safe spot.  Other than that my personal classroom management favorite is 1-2-3 Magic For Teachers, I’ll write more about it another time as I seem to have gotten off track here. Not a big shock huh?

I hesitated to post this but I wanted to celebrate and share what worked for me.  Trust me there are plenty of UGH moments in my teaching as well, I may even share some of them.