Archive for February, 2011

New Way of Business, Part 2

February 13, 2011

Here I am, grading the latest round of tests. This time, it’s geometry. Last time, it was decimal multiplication and division, and I don’t know who wanted to cry more – the kids or me.

Those of you who read of my dream know I told myself that I’d put together a checklist (buzz-speakophiles will call it a “rubric”) highlighting the learning targets, then judge how far students were towards mastering those targets. Perhaps it would be easier for me to grade (read: I can sleep at night), and it would be better for the students.

If you’re curious how it looks

Drum roll please? Now, I’m a numbers person. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE numbers, and the ability to quantify a construct. But using this checklist to grade, rather than assign point values on each question, was about 500 times easier (oops! there I go, quantifying again).


For starters, just about anything you ask someone to do in mathematics requires more than one skill at a time. I have to say it’s already a habit of mine to conduct error analysis on just about everything my kids turn in to me. Did they make a math fact error? Are they missing a key part of the procedure? Did they just not read the stinking directions? I also encourage kids to keep an eye on their work so they can learn that same analysis.

Having this checklist allowed me to treat one problem as though it truly required more than one skill set. Take the first problem: “Identify two parallel lines or line segments.” If a kid missed the first problem, maybe it was because they didn’t properly notate lines. Maybe it was because the lines they wrote down weren’t actually parallel. I had kids miss for either reason. For both, I was able to accurately reflect where their skills were.

I found that it was far easier to decide if a student should be marked “developing” or “got it!” than to decide on a point value for a set of problems. For me, it feels like I’m establishing the difference between being evaluative and being constructive. For me, it feels like I am seeing kids for their strengths and needs. Correction: I’ve always intuitively done that. I guess now it feels like I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

What started to become difficult was to follow one reader’s challenge to also quantify a score. I’m still working on that. My first thought is to connect it to the checklist. I could also go by my standard test-scoring procedure.

What I want most is to have a student look at a graded assignment and feel that it’s an accurate reflection of the time, effort, and heart that they put in.

Tomorrow’s the big reveal. I’ll be bringing these to the kids for their responses. Tune in tomorrow, kids!

A New Way of Doing Business?

February 7, 2011

Maybe it was the barbecue talking.

Maybe I just had a lot on my brain.

But I woke up last night at 12:30 after the most puzzling nightmare.

It was at school. There I was, in the teachers’ lounge, and there were a couple of moms sitting down at the table. Of course I knew them; they are quite active in and around the school. It wasn’t a surprise to see them sitting there, but what they were doing blew me away.

Each woman had stacks of papers. They were already checked by teachers, but these women were grading them AGAIN. Only they weren’t grading the students. They were grading the teachers! There they say with red pens in hand, ready and willing to disagree or discount what teachers had put on the papers already. They then put those incredibly low scores at the tops of the pages in preparation for sharing them. (With the principal? With other parents? School board? Who knows? It was only a dream, you understand.)

I remember feeling so incredibly violated by the whole thing. The injustice of it all struck me most. I was angry about being ranked and rated so low despite my efforts. I remember wondering: To whom might I have gone? The principal? (How did I know that this wasn’t done with her collaboration or blessing?) Our union? (Wait, our district doesn’t have one).

I woke up then, my mind racing. What would I do in that situation were it to actually happen (because, you know, at 12:30 in the morning you can convince yourself that ANYTHING can happen)?

In the process of trying to calm myself down enough to sleep, I tried to figure out what about the dream bothered me so much. The helplessness of not having someone to go to? Sure. But beneath that lay the indignation I felt at seeing my work, slashed through with a red pen. It was the frustration I felt knowing I had only done my best, and to see that I only got a fraction of it “correct” according to their standards. There they were, judging me and the quality of my work. How would they ever know what heart went into it?

(Turn proverbial light on *here*)

Don’t I do that to my kids, though? Hadn’t I just returned a test to some of them, not so long ago, delivering grim news of their progress? It couldn’t have felt much better.

So here’s what I wonder. Here’s what my next experiment is going to be.

What if the next grade isn’t a fraction correct and a percent?

What if, instead, I were to attach a list of the learning targets tested, and note how far they’ve progressed in meeting those targets?

Would it lessen the blow? Would it encourage them to take heart in what they *can* do, rather than what their deficits are? Would it motivate them to take responsibility for their learning? Or would it continue to foster an environment of feel-goodism in a culture of overly padded self-esteem?

I’m going to give it a try. Perhaps it will crash and burn. But perhaps I’m onto something – something that just may change the way I do business.

Your thoughts? I’d love for you to weigh in on the scoring / grading debate.