Thursday, October 9, 2014

What's good for kids!

Grades were due this week (on Weds at 8 am).  Since I still feel like I am underwater unable to breathe (translating as so far behind, I'm worried about catching up), I have been pretty stressed about it.  So I was at work on Tuesday night until 9:30 and then again on Wednesday night until 10:30, and that was not to finish grading papers. Nope, it was examining my Calc grades and deciding how to "fix them".  Now that I have a flipped classroom, I don't teach the traditional lesson, give them an hour (or more) of homework each day and follow all that fun up with a quiz on Fridays like I did last year.  It all looks VERY DIFFERENT!  And deciding how I am supposed/want to grade it has been a struggle both mentally and physically!

If you read an earlier post, you know that I contemplated SBG from the beginning of school, but really had NO IDEA how I might do that.  Especially since I am making video lessons and as many "cool" activities as I can fit in to supplement all the traditional practice (which I believe students need).  Thinking that I simply could not add one more "new thing" to my repertoire, and without more knowledge or assistance from someone with experience, it was preposterous to consider it anyway.  My good friend @drcyslvdr had given me some assistance when she explained how she uses student-led grading and I really liked her suggestions, but wasn't exactly sure how I could employ the ideas in my classroom.  So I continued to "muddle through" until Tuesday!

After looking at the deplorable state of the grades, and messing with all the weights for quizzes and tests, I finally came up with an idea I felt comfortable with and thought my students would "buy into".


Enter Wednesday morning and all my STRESSED OUT students who had looked at their grades the night before (they knew they would get posted and I'm sure they were pacing in front of their computers waiting to see what their results were--worse than a 1960's dad in the maternity ward!) So here is the information I gave them:

"I know you all looked at your grade and trust me, while you were crying at home, I was at school crying with you.  I played around with them for awhile and while some grades went up based on what I did, others went down.  I couldn't find a 'win-win' for everyone.  So I decided that  you are going to write about your grade.  I have 24 hours to change them before they get printed and sent home and here is what I want to know from you.  First of all, I watch you and talk with your groups every day.  I know what each and every one of you is doing in class, and who does more explaining and who does more observing in your groups.  You can't fool me because I am in here every day watching and watching and talking with all of you, and asking you to explain to me what you put on your whiteboards.  I want you to tell me what grade you have (on the computer) and what grade you believe is more representative of your 'body of work'.  Remind me of all that YOU do in your groups everyday.  Tell me what YOU do outside of school that I don't see.  How much/how often are you engaging your brain in Calculus? Give me compelling EVIDENCE that I should change your grade and if it needs to be changed now because you're applying to colleges for early admission, then let me know that too.  If you can live with your grade until semester, then let me know. And last, if you think your grade is representative of your work, then tell me you are okay with it."

You could have heard a pin drop!  They were silent for about 15 minutes and writing that entire time.  It was almost a little eerie.  While they were hopeful, I had told them I was neither Santa, the Easter Bunny nor the Tooth Fairy, so they really didn't know what to expect.  So after tutoring students in the library for an hour, having a parent/student conference for 45 minutes, and helping a colleague from another school for 75 minutes, I proceeded to read all 86 papers and comment on every one.  Thankfully I was checking content, not grammar!! (you gotta respect the English teachers for all that they have to read!)  When I was done, I changed 38 grades...and we are not talking just a little.  Some students improved 2 letter grades!!  It was revelatory as I read them.  The students were sincere in their assessment and pretty accurate about their own habits, effort and abilities.  I wrote things like "now show me you deserve to keep this" on many a paper, but I felt good about it.  I want them to know that I REALLY DO BELIEVE IN THEM, and that they CAN achieve it if they continue working.  I felt as though they were doing a really good reflection of themselves and what they have shown me in class.  As I thought about it and all the changes, I thought "why not? this class is a challenge and I don't want to kill their spirit.  They are here by choice (mostly) when they could be taking something way easier.  But they have chosen a class that they knew was going to be a lot of work (my reputation as tough teacher precedes me) and I have reminded them of that on many an occasion.  I want them to be challenged by the fact that I have dangled the prize in front of them but empowered them with the tools to "go get it", and I just have to believe that most (if not all) of them will actually rise to that level.  And I figure if they don't, they will know it was because they didn't get the job done, not me.  I really believe they are learning to take ownership for their learning and that was one of the goals I desired from the flipped model.


Now for the grande finale! Christmas comes early (sometimes).  I started class by talking about some of the evidence students gave me....more a "what not to say" approach.

"After reading ALL your letters, I found a couple themes that I want to address to all of you.  Some people took the "I'm so busy, I'm preparing for college, practicing SAT's, writing college apps, in so many clubs (and officer of some of them), blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!! PAUSE........I have a question: is there anyone in this room who is not busy? (no hands) That's what I thought!  This was not a way to convince me I need to change your grade, this was a way to convince me I shouldn't. This was a student trying to pull the pity card, and I will never buy into that!  So, know that if you have this opportunity in the future, that is the wrong way to go.  Second, fortunately I don't remember anyone using the "I'm just not good at math" angle and if they had, I would have said "run, RUN FAST, straight to your counselor and tell them to drop you from the class because you SUCK at math!" (they laugh) You all know that is ridiculous because you are in CALCULUS, enough said!! But I did read several "I'm just not a good test taker" papers.  I'm going to tell you: give me your drivers license now because you probably did fail (at least once) and perhaps shouldn't have passed at all and I don't want to live in fear anymore from you driving on the road! Tests are a fact of life, you will have to take them in college and your professor won't care if you don't do well on tests (as a matter of fact, that is  mostly all you will get graded on), and some employers are going to give you a test to weed out the incompetent people who don't get asked to interview.  But here is the best advice you will hear about those "challenges". PRACTICE!  Work out EVERYDAY in Calculus!  You wouldn't show up to the Olympic Trials for the 100 m dash and say "yeah, I ran a few times last week, but I feel ready". Instead, you would train hard everyday, so that when you got to "the challenge" you would feel prepared.  Calculus (math) is the same way.  And saying it doesn't make it so!  If that were the case, my fat dog and I would be on the cover of a fitness magazine looking like fine specimens." (all laughed) I know they got the point.

Best part: stress was gone, and students were enthusiastically back to work on the whiteboards, NOT worried about their grades!!  Yay, we got THAT out of the way! Now we can get back to the important stuff....LEARNING!

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