Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Stop Punishing Kids with Grades

The view from here.

Like Pernille Rip, three ideas around grades, homework and rewards are the foundation of my teaching practice. 

  1. Grades measure what a students knows and is able to do. Behaviors, while learned, are not grade-worthy.
  2. Limit homework: time spent noodling around or playing with family and friends is important.
  3. Don't ruin kids with rewards or use grades or writing as punishment. 

I've been thinking a lot about grades as I shift my practice to value learning more than compliance. When it comes to learning, real learning, what matters is effort and skill development.  What does not matter is neatness or format (unless you're teaching citation methods). 

When it comes to actually learning, writing in pen or pencil does not matter. When it comes to learning content, what order I staple my papers in should not count for half of the grade. When you do you the work does not matter. Turning in assignments on time or at the same time as everyone else in class does not matter.

Well, I take that back. 

Timeliness matters a little bit to me. I know it shouldn't matter much.  Adults don't even do the same thing at the same time, even when they are required to by law. 

 A late assignment should never be an average killer. A late assignment should create an untrue picture of what students know and can do. 

Penalizing kids with zeroes is malpractice. 

Take this scenario: the same student two different perspectives.

Late work--even late make up work--does not merit a zero.  Rick Wormeli taught me that lesson long ago. I wrote about it here

I forget things. This weekend I forgot to go to the grocery store. I forgot to schedule time to finish grading students' narratives. I forgot that I had made plans to see a play and plans to meet friends for dinner on the same day. I forgot I had a doctor's appoint on Monday afternoon that clashed with my son's Symphonic Band practice. I forgot to mail a package to a friend that I have been carry around town in the car since school started. I forgot to water the orchid that sits next to the bathtub. 

Sometimes the things we forget are important and sometimes they are not. Sometimes the busy-busy of day to day derails even the best intentions.

from Guskey, Thomas R. "Grading Policies that Work
against Standards...and How to Fix Them
High schoolers are busy people too. Their schedules are loaded with commitments: homework, sports, band, club meetings, family celebrations, chores, youth groups, dance competitions, test preparation, hobbies, YouTube, and books. 

High school kids have families too. Sometimes students have families in two homes and they split time between them. Sometimes the families have one parent or no parents, one child or many children. Sometimes another family member's schedule takes priority. 

As a parent, I do not want my son punished for merely forgetting a task. I don't want him punished for trying to make something up late or past someone's arbitrary deadline. If he forgot to make up a quiz, let him apologize and take the quiz. Tell him you are disappointed. Talk to me (the parent) about his forgetfulness. I will teach him to keep track of what needs doing and to prioritize. I will teach him to be more responsible. I will apply consequences for the behavior. I want you to grade your content and his skill.

Punishing him with a zero for his behavior will not teach him your content.

I keep that in mind when I'm teaching the kids in my classroom. I will leave the teaching of responsibility and behavior  to parents. I'm here to teach kids how to be better readers and writers. 

Learning has no expiration date in my classroom. 

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Rebekah O'Dell's post  on Moving Writers titled "I Quit Grading" inspired me to write about one aspect of grading today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Choice, Doors and Reading Journals

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Yesterday a student stopped by to use my printer. She's an upperclassman now. I asked her how her year is going. She said her class has completed two books, Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby in and that they write analysis every day. She pulled up the file she needed to print from her USB drive, leaned in and said,  "You know what really helped me, Mrs. Spillane? All the writing we did in our reading journals. Are you still doing those with your classes?"

Indeed I am.  

My practice around independent reading and shifts subtly year by year, but this year students still choose the books they read and I still ask them to write about their independent reading once a week. 
I've written about our reading journals here, and here and elsewhere; lasts year's quarter one journals are described here

Homework in my English class is to read thirty minutes a day, five days a week. I follow Penny Kittle's lead and ask students to set page goals; this year, we are going to adjust our goals for each book students read. We'll see if we can keep up with that.

Kids then practice writing analysis in their reading journal each week. The left side of the page is for a passage from the book (or my feedback). And kids write about one of the prompts each week on the right-hand side of the page. 

This student glued it a large passage from Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe.
After reading and marking the text, she practices analyzing the setting on the right.
My feedback is aimed at showing her the difference between summary of plot and analysis of the setting.
 I keep the reading journal right along with them--that way I can better troubleshoot and problem solve. Today, for instance, I know we need to talk about how to embed evidence and how to stay focused on analysis (and not plot summary) based on my own practice.  We will use one paragraph from my own analysis of Walls' The Silver Star and to examine evidence (summary, paraphrase or direct quotations).

Modeling moves my practice formward and when I'm conferring having a model to show  and to speak from makes a difference. 

At the beginning of the year, I need to confer with each reader-writer. I have to spend that time to make sure each child understands the process and the weekly writing. I use that time to give students feedback. During the first two weeks we wrote entries together in class. This week and last,  kids started their entries with me in class on Monday and then finished them for homework if they didn't finish them in class. On Tuesday, while students are reading and engaged in another task, I work the room, meeting for two to five minutes with each child.

If I spend five minutes with each child, I am spending 125 minutes conferring (or three days, three class periods). That is not feasible in my high school classroom. Nor is it realistic in terms of students' needs. Every conference is not five minutes. We won't confer about every written entry nor about every book they read. Just as nature varies, so too the typical high school classroom. Kids have different needs.

Some kids need me to affirm that they are on the right track. They have set up their journals correctly , they are focused on analysis (and not summary or response) and they are doing well citing evidence in a variety of ways from the text. Other kids need more feedback or more support from me.

If kids are unsure or have questions, I need to take the time to listen to and answer clearly. They may be writing response or long summaries instead of finding ways to focus their analysis. They need individual coaching. Some, need  a quick re-teach to show them how to refocus their writing on analysis or to show them how to paragraph even.

Like Linda Rief, I give journal entries a quality grade and a quantity or process grade . For most of this quarter, I will focus more on quantity. As students become better at analysis, I will shift to giving them a grade for the quality of their analysis. As I start to give more students more independence and time, I will confer with just half the class each week.  I am grading writing standards five (the writing process standards) and  eventually will grade writing standard two ( informative or analytical writing). As students learn to analyze, their writing about their reading improves, so I drop lower grades from their earlier attempts.

This is what Tuesday's conferring class period looked liked.
Students and I worked side by side at different tasks. 
I love the individual time I get to take with each child, but it can't happen if the rest of the room is not engaged. I know that I have to have systems in place that keep the class engaged while I am working and talking with individuals. Kids have to trust that I will indeed get to them and give them the same kind of attention they hear me giving to him, and her and her and him.

The tasks I give the class while I confer vary. Sometimes that task will be a discussion, or a strategy practice or work time on a project or independent reading.  It all depends on how much time I need-- and how well my community has come together.

Other times that task will be reading and marking a text that to prepare for discussion.   That is what students did this week--they marked up a short story, "The Wife's Story" by Usula Le Guin that we are going to discuss during Thursday's Socratic circle. I had students working in ten to twelve minute segments. They would read and mark (while I conferred) and then they would come together in their small, table groups and talk. Sometimes, to my delight, it happened spontaneously as they read the story.

Managing reading journals--the writing practice,  the reading practice, and the feedback loop or response time that goes into such an assignment--is time consuming.

It is, I admit it. But you know what?

It varies. It's heavier now than it will be in a month. In a month it will feel routine. In a month, students will be celebrating their successes (I will too!). No matter, the time. It's worth it.

Reading and writing opens doors. Kids who are skilled readers and writers have more doors they can choose to walk through: doors to college choices, doors to writing contests or scholarships, doors that lead to rich service or work experiences. Choice, in books to read and in future opportunities, is a good thing.

I want my kids to have every advantage. I want their futures to be filled with choices. Imagine all the doors as wide open.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It Takes Time

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

It is day 11 of the school year. I am still in teaching the routines mode. Routines take time to get established.

Today was our day to begin writing about our independent reading in our reading journals. We do such writing once a week. I believe, as does Linda Rief, that it is good practice for readers and writers. Week one we previewed many books in the class. Daily, I talk titles and share books. Last week I reminded students to have their chosen independent reading book with them. I encouraged them to read if they finished activities quickly and had down time in classes.

Today was the day we took out our independent reading books and began in our reading journals. Guess how many students, on average, in each class period had not yet chosen a book to read? 

You might be right. 

The number is always bigger than I want it to be. It is always bigger than I remember it being the year before. 

But it is not January (yet). 

Getting reading workshop going and going smoothly takes time. I haven't  added students as editors to our shared Reading Record on Google Drive. I haven't blocked off a chunk of guaranteed time each class period to read.  The beginning of the year eats time: schedules, the code of conduct, getting the roster right, assessing summer assignments--there is a lot to do at the beginning of the year.

Setting up routines take time. It takes time to gather email addresses and input students into the Classroom Organizer app. It takes time to assess students' interests and target them during daily book talks. 

Today was day eleven. 

We are still establishing routines. You can see it in my lesson plans online.

Somewhere around fourth or sixth period, I pulled out my reflection journal while students were gluing directions in their reading journals (handouts below). I quickly wrote about taking my time and remembering how long it takes to get a workshop established and running smoothly. I dumped it on the page, took a deep breath and set that thinking aside.

Every class is different. Every student is an individual thinker and reader. The good news is that more
I change this "form" each year and add pictures of current
Florida Teen Reads and award winners like the
Amelia Walden Award  to the margins.
than half of the students in every class had a book with them to read. The other good news is that the rest of the kids quickly consulted their Book Pass preview pages and checked a book out from our classroom library. 

I wonder if anyone has thought gamefully about these first weeks of school?

Would Classroom DoJo help my students remember the minutiae or is it just a way to punish kids with rewards?

On my way home today one of my heroes, Jane McGonigal,  was on National Public Radio's Marketplace talking about Super Better and gameful thinking. Gameful thinking is goal oriented and flexible; it views challenges as overcome-able.  I do too.

That's why I stayed at school doing what needs to be done to input initial assessments and set up systems until long past the duty day. Marketplace comes on our National Public Radio station at six after all.

I over came a few challenges and made progress toward many goals. It helps that my son is now a freshman and has band practice on Tuesdays. I can use the afternoon and not rush.

It takes time. 

I know the book lovers (and yet to be book lovers) in my classroom will find titles that will ignite their passions and capture their hearts. I know that come January, kids will have ten or more books to talk and write about. Now is the time to put the routines in place that will enable that to happen. 

Patience young grasshopper.