In the subheading of this blog I refer to this school year as my “second year of teaching high school math” but that is not entirely true. I taught for three years at a private New Hampshire boarding school before going back for my teaching certification. This is really my fifth year of teaching, but only my second year as a certified public school teacher. I separate the experiences because of how much I changed as a result of my teacher training program. I was particularly influenced by two authors, Grant Wiggins and Rick Wormeli. My planning, practices, instruction and assessments will never be the same.
And my grading policy – my grading policy will never be the same. Having read, met and tweeted with these authors, I realize that grades are meant to represent the extent to which the student has mastered the material for the course. Grades are not meant to represent whether the student comes to class on time, stays in their seat, raises their hand, or organizes their notebook. Those are behavioral expectations which should be met with behavioral consequences. If I deduct points from their grade when they come to class late, then the grade begins to reflect something other than their mastery of the course material.
The purpose of a grade is to show how much of the course-material has been mastered. The purpose of homework/classwork is to practice new skills, skills which have not yet been mastered. Following this logic, it wouldn’t make sense to assign a grade to homework/classwork. In my classes, the grades are comprised of assignments completed after students have had instruction, practice, time to ask questions, more practice and feedback, lots of feedback. Last year, I didn’t say much about this until we had established a solid routine of doing homework, checking it, going over it, etc. This year, on the second day of school, someone asked how I would factor classwork and homework into the grade.
“So we don’t have to do the practice?!!?!!”
“I will be assigning practice for every topic.”
“But you JUST said that you’re not going to check it.”
“I said that I’m not going to grade it; I’m still going to check to see if you did it. We’re going to go over it. Sometimes you will submit it and I’ll correct it and write notes on it. There just won’t be a grade on it.”
“You’re not grading it, so we don’t have to do it.”
“You are expected to do the practice.”
“But we don’t HAVE to do it.”
You get the idea. This went on for about 40 minutes… for two days in a row. Of course it included lots of conversation about the purpose of practice, the benefits (and drawbacks) of completing the practice, the idea of taking responsibility for your learning and everything in between. The conversation was valuable – worth taking the time for – but frustrating. In the end, most of my students are doing their practice. But still there are some who are not.
I would love for this post to turn into a discussion. Other teachers, parents, former students, current students… all input is valuable and welcome here. Does this policy/practice make sense? What can I do to help students begin to take more responsibility? I know that Wormeli would say “make sure the assignment is valuable – no busy work – only work that they need to do in order to master the material”. OK. Absolutely. That I can do. But what if I’m the only one who sees the value right now?