As I was participating in a #langchat discussion, I realized just how passionate teachers are about classroom procedures and grading. I also came away feeling that we must be respectful as we share ideas. A repeated theme in my classroom this year is: Not only talk to talk, but talk to listen. Teachers, including myself, should also work to put this into practice.
New buzzwords in education include NO HW and Skill Based Assessment and Grading. Looking at these concepts individually allow for teachers to consider their practices and how they best serve student learning. In the NO HW camp we have teachers who say, “Students don’t do it anyway.” or “It’s not fair.” or “It’s just busywork.” There are partial truths in these statements; however, assignments that take place outside of class are not necessarily anti-student. Flipped classrooms, student choice, community applications, further research, practice to promote ease of learning or comfort with a current topic are all worthy out of class assignments. These practices promote life-long learning and opportunities that extend interest and application for those that feel led. An alternative for students who don’t have out of school access to technology or who don’t have school work support at home would be to use study hall time and/or visiting the teacher’s classroom even if another class is in session. Another option is to provide a window of acceptable completion, like a colleague does with her classes. She allows full credit for assignments in a two-week window. She explains to students that after that window, there will be a zero and that it’s better to practice during the learning phase rather than after the fact, but it’s their choice. This policy does not work for me because I have too many preps (5) to keep up with windows for all of them, but it works well for her and her students, so I respect this format. Another colleague accepts work through the end of the grading period with partial credit. I accept work until a certain date provided at midpoint and then again at the end of the grading period. Out of class assignments can also be called Active Study; in lower levels in my classes, this counts as extra credit-with limitations so that it doesn’t skew a grade beyond actual achievement. Another teacher doesn’t assign any out of class work and another uses flipped classrooms with great success. We are all professionals who use different policies and different strategies and we accept this although we all feel strongly about the choices we make as educators.
Which brings us to grading and variations thereof. In the #langchat discussion, some wanted to count many steps in language learning while others said, “Participation is just expected, not graded.” In both situations, one has to consider the class makeup and motivation level. I fall into the credit for participation camp because I believe students need the encouragement to use languages, especially in the lower levels. It’s a challenge for many of them to reach a comfort level of language use rather than what they see as performance perfection. If we’re evaluating their growth, use of language is a key component. I attended a presentation on grades that suggested we need to consider what students can do as a key component and that leads me to include participation. I do agree that there should be no place in grading for behavior such as bringing writing utensils and notebooks. If it’s an expectation and you have consequences, that’s fine but it can’t legally affect their grade in our district. Other teachers feel that the newest grade for a particular skill can simply replace the previous one and that is their method of showing student effort, growth and achievement. Again, there are a wide variety of methods but the question needs to be, “Are the grades a proper reflection of student achievement throughout the grading period?”