Last weekend, I was angry. I sat down to grade my students’ notebook pages (a skill my colleagues use with their students to great success), and was disappointed by the utter crap I was looking at.
Okay, I know that was a dramatic few sentences. But it’s exhausting to teach, reteach, give work time, manage behaviors, and only get about 5 examples of quality work from over 100 students.
It wasn’t that the handwriting was messy (although some of it was)…
It wasn’t that the pages were unorganized (although that started to give me a headache after about 15 assignments)…
It was that images and color took precedence over conclusions and evidence.
All of these things together made these notebook pages SO DIFFICULT to grade! One class into the grading process, I had to take a step back and reassess my goals: What was it that I was prioritizing in this grading cycle? Even more importantly, did I make that criteria clear to my students when I presented the assignment? I thought I did, but clearly the evidence said otherwise.
So, I gave up.
I came up with a creative solution, of course! (That’s what we teachers are best at, you know.)
I whipped up a checklist of all of the standards we’d covered in our unit so far (It’s a rubric, really, but 6th graders are allergic to that word, so “checklist” we use). The next day, I presented the problem and solution to my students. I gave them each a copy of the checklist, student and teacher samples for each skill I requested to see in action, and gave them work time, sticky notes, markers, and books.
I was met with refrains of, “This is a lot of work!”, “WHAT?”” and “When is this due?!”, to which I responded truthfully:
“Luckily, if you’ve been keeping up with us, you’ve already done a lot of this work. Today I simply want you to go on a scavenger hunt through your notebook to see what you already have. Add your sticky notes to identify standards #1-5. Then, you can spend the rest of the week adding examples to your ideas, or catching up on anything you haven’t done yet. Your completed checklist is due Friday.”
That brings us to today.
Today is Wednesday, and I know not everyone is in a good place with this checklist. There are still behaviors getting in the way of students reaching their full potential. In classes of up to 28 students, I often spend time answering questions or reteaching to the students who want to learn but aren’t getting it – versus reminding/threatening students to get back to work. I try to do both, but it’s hard to be useful to anyone when stretched so thin.
I do feel like our educational system is flawed. If true learning was the goal of school, we would not ask 11-year-olds to switch classes every 42 minutes and demand full active listening, organization, and analytical thinking in varying disciplines for 6 hours straight. We would have more social/emotional supports for them. We would have smaller class sizes. We would have more authentic learning tasks. We would not give them iPads to treat like personal playthings, but have classroom sets of technology to access as we adults deem necessary.
In short, I know that as a system, we aren’t creating the environments we need in order to have all students reach their full potential. But I do find hope in offering second chances, especially when those chances don’t cheapen the effort of those students who have been on task throughout the unit. I hope this checklist, which leans toward standards-based grading, is the solution for at least some of the kids who would have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
I suppose I’ll have to report back Friday!