Category Archives: Motivation

Is Grading a Student-Centered Practice? Part Two

The Art of Grading

“The professor never explained that was how she wanted the assignment done; therefore, we all got low grades.  I wish she’d just tell us what she wants.”

I’ve heard collegues voice this complaint too many times to count.  These are adult, graduate students attending universities from Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount University, California State University, Northridge, amongst others.  The gap between what the professor expects in her mind, and what she receives from graduate-level, or shall we say professional learners, is reflected in the grades.  Does the grade reflect my colleagues’ understandings and capabilities? Of course not.  Should they be afforded the chance to redo the assignment to meet the unexplained criteria of the professor? Should they have to redo the work?

My answer to that question is with my own question: Do you allow your high school students the chance to redo assignments and assessments in your classes?

High school students experience the same frustrations after receiving a low grade for their work, and they are still developing the critical thinking skills required to articulate statements beyond, “The teacher sucks. . .the class is stupid anyway. . .or, next time I just won’t do the assignment.”  Without the support of an involved parent, students often defend themselves by becoming angry at the class or the teacher and eventually completely shut down and stop attempting to do the classwork.  The problem with the typical grading systems have long been discussed by teachers, and I wrote a lengthy blog post about the issue in Part One.

Feedback vs. Grading

As most assignments are practice for what will eventually be on a summative assessment, then it follows that most assignments are at least partially, formative assessments.  The purpose of formative assessments is to guide the teacher in planning which lessons the students still need in order to achieve the learning outcomes on the final assessment.  Obviously, nobody practices perfectly.  Teacher feedback should then be followed by student reflection.  In this moment, the teacher helps students build their critical thinking skills in analyzing the space between what they turned in and what skills they still need to learn to gain mastery of a learning objective.  Equally, this is a moment for the student to voice why s/he completed an assignment in a particular format and also point to places where s/he disagrees with teacher feedback.

Student Input on Grades

While I’ve heard amazing educators speak about how their schools are gradeless, I think many of us work in schools or districts where this would not be possible (at least not in the foreseeable future).  Therefore, I’m attempting to find ways to work within the grading system so that I may better serve students who struggle to achieve learning – without them becoming frustrated by the grading parameters.  What if part of the reflective process incorporated students assigning their own grade on larger projects and essays and then providing justification for the grade? Whenever there is a huge discrepancy in the student’s self-grade and what the teacher believes the grade should be, this would require a personal conversation where the student and teacher get to explain their thought process and ask each other questions.

Confession

I am guilty of every possible grading mistake a teacher can possibly make in their career! During last semester, I particularly focused on how day-to-day assignments are graded and what specific impact that has on the student. In the upcoming school year, I will experiment with incorporating student input into the grades and teaching the critical skills necessary to be self-reflective learners.

I am super curious to hear how other teachers struggle with the grading system and how they are addressing the issues in their classrooms.

 

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5 Questions About Mindfulness in the Classroom with Lisa Harrison

Mindfullness with Lisa Harrison

I’ve worked with Lisa Harrison in the Special Education department for over five years.  As an RSP teacher (Resource Service Provider), she is passionate about helping students with autism overcome social obstacles to be able to communicate feelings and develop the skills necessary for friendship.  This year, Lisa has utilized a mindfulness practice in her 6th period resource class. But let me take a moment to describe the class:  Imagine a room full of wiggly high schoolers, during a 6th period class who are supposed to be completing homework, and then imagine asking them to pause for ten minutes and breathe.

On the last day of school this year, I had the opportunity to interview Lisa and ask her 5 questions about mindfulness in the classroom.

* I recorded the interview on my iPhone, while excited students finished with finals celebrated outside the classroom. You can listen here, or read below!

What inspired you to bring mindfulness into the classroom?

At the start of the interview, Lisa referenced a PD we had before the school year  a couple of years ago where representatives from Goldie Hawn’s Mind-Up program came in and talked to teachers.  She was interested in how the program

“helps  develop student’s potential brain [thinking process] and the ability to calm themselves.”

What were your biggest fears about trying to introduce this practice to students?

“The biggest fear was whether or not I could get the students’ buy-in. Once I started it with one of my classes, I went gung-ho and realized that not everyone’s comfortable sitting there with their eyes closed, so I kind of had to adjust.”

What did you do to adapt? 

“I looked at different programs to see what they were doing. Some of the programs require more teaching. Some of them are with all of the senses and that was tough to do in a resource class so I had to adapt and just go to the breathing techniques.”

How has the practice impacted you as a teacher, or how do you think it has impacted the students?

“It’s helped me quite a bit to get grounded and ready for the chaos that can be sixth period. I think it’s helped the kids too, because the kids come in, after doing it all year, some of the kids come in looking forward to it.”

What advice would you give other teachers that might be interested in sharing mindfulness with their students?

“I would say research the different programs and do what you’re comfortable with. Rushing into it, telling people ‘sit down! Be quiet! Don’t move! isn’t conducive to relaxation. There’s so many different ways to come at it, you can do the breathing which is more like a  meditation. You can do the senses and have them listen to something and focus on something. You can do body scans. There are just so many different options.”

As a special education teacher, I can attest to the numerous distractions and extreme issues that students can walk into the classroom with-and this is not always visible to people around the student.  While some students exhibit behaviors that tell the teacher something isn’t right in life, other students can shut down completely, or put on the “I’m fine” face.  I truly appreciate teachers like Lisa who are brave enough to take valuable class time and teach students skills and tools that let them feel in control of how to react and get through challenges in life. 

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All Teachers Who Love Frankenstein: Read Charlotte Gordon’s Amazing Duo Biography

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary ShelleyRomantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two women who never truly met, whose lives intertwine and mirror each other in surprising and alarming experiences, create a masterfully told story of a past that is constantly being rewritten. No matter how much you know about Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, this book reveals the passions and struggles faced by all women in the time periods and every reader will gain historical insights that help bring literature to life.

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Is Grading a Student-Centered Practice? Part 1

The Art of Grading

Last year, a student emailed me during the final week of school:

Dear Mrs. Lee,

I see you’ve given me a D.  I want you to know I really tried in your class.  I think I deserve a better grade than a D.  If you don’t, well then I guess I don’t.

I checked the grades and her point average, a 62%, clearly point to a D.  I’ve done my job, right? She earned a D, she gets a D. But something doesn’t feel right about simply boiling everything down to a number in a grading app to represent a three-dimensional student.  I do further research:

  • Reviewing her essays, she writes tons of interesting details about the text; however, there is not any structure, or any of the component parts of an essay.
  • Her attendance is near perfect
  • In her other classes, she has all Fails, and one D
  • The previous year, she had all Fails and one D.
  • I reflect on how many insightful comments and questions she asked throughout the year.

Is it possible that something is being overlooked? Is there a part of student performance and engagement in the classroom that can’t be captured by grades? As a teacher of students with special needs, I am almost numb to the amount of Ds and Fs my students receive from the collection of their classes.  The lesson my student learned last year, as evidenced in the email, is the lesson I want all students to learn: self-advocacy.  She definitely has a voice and a healthy perspective on her worth as a student.

The Problem

There is a quote arguably  attributed on the internet to Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  This same sentiment has been made into cartoon sketches, videos, and it is often used for Special Education professional development.  Despite this focus in schools on Universal Design, alternative assessments, choices in expression of knowledge, many students in special education programs continue to have multiple Fails because they don’t measure up to the rubric, the standards, the points.

I haven’t figured out how to articulate this thought clearly, but I will attempt to get the gist of it here.  If students can do something, they get an A or B or C.  If they can’t do it, they are graded and punished for what they do not know how to do on demand, in a certain format, under specific time constraints.  While discussing this at a table with colleagues, a teacher voiced her opposition:

The Art of Grading

Obviously this is not my position.  However, for students that consistently earn Ds and Fs, the effort to show-up is immeasurable.  MindShift published an article, “The Emotional Weight of Being Graded, for Better or for Worse,” that discusses the impact of ‘bad’ grades on students’ mental health.  Additionally, one professor of neuroscience and psychology is quoted several times explaining that students assess their own knowledge of a subject based on the grade they receive, and also, students are emotionally attached to the grades, which can dictate if they like or dislike the subject. Therefore, if a student Fails a class, s/he will feel that s/he does not know anything pertaining to the topic, and the student will develop an aversion to the subject because s/he received a negative grade in the class.  Considering I work with teens with special needs who often have difficulties acknowledging, naming, and expressing their emotions, it is difficult to comprehend how damaging receiving 3-4 Ds and Fs on every report card is to their general feelings about education and self-worth.

While the emotional needs of a student cannot be a basis for assigning a grade, it is equally inappropriate to state that students who receive Ds and Fs aren’t trying hard enough in class. My teaching philosophy is that every kid wants to learn.  There are multiple reasons why it can appear to a teacher that a student isn’t ‘trying hard enough.’ When a student struggles to understand a concept or subject, often, the student doesn’t understand how to ‘try.’ Sometimes teachers say, “All I want is for him to try,”-and when he attempts to–the result is the same D or F as he earned before this assignment.

At my table of colleagues, I told the story of a student who joined my English class in the middle of the year.  He’s an 11th grader who has never attended a school for more than 10-20 days in a row.  Many grade levels he did not even experience.  He tells me about helping his grandmother set out products on the street in downtown LA to sell at 4 in the morning.  The first writing assignment he completed in my class consisted of one sentence.  Each assignment afterwards, I had someone helping him, even if it was an assessment–so that he could learn how to write a formal response to a text.  We just completed a comparison essay on The Crucible and “Half-Hanged Mary” and he wrote the entire paper by himself.  He wrote three full paragraphs that showed his position and used evidence from the two texts to support his position.  I was thrilled beyond belief for his accomplishment; however, if I graded him on a rubric, he would receive a D or an F.  He did not have any of the three components of an introduction paragraph, he did not write using transitions, and he did not have an in-depth analysis of each text. Despite this, while reading his paper, I felt like I was on a bicycle for the first time, riding without my hands, with a cool breeze guiding me to the next destination–and I know he had to have a similar feeling about his work and effort.

Possible Solutions

In the planning stages, I thought I could get all of my ideas in to one blog post.  However, after writing everything, I will add a part two to discuss how I plan to approach grading for the next school year.

 

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#LABookFest Take-Aways

Luis J. Rodriguez 22 April 2017
Poetry is Magic

“Books saved my life” is the quote that stands with me after watching Luis J. Rodriguez read from his new poetry book, Borrowed Bones.  My students have always read books from Rodriguez. At first, it was kids from foster homes that gravitated to the Rodriguez biography, Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L. A. But now, you could walk in and find any variety of students reading the first biography, or It Calls You Back.  As for myself, I’ve only read a couple of his poetry books: The Concrete River and My Nature is Hunger: New and Selected Poems 1989-2004.

Rodriguez is personable and he writes with a realism that can make you laugh, or feel the twist of a blade. Though I’ve had so many students read his books, though his book is so often stolen from libraries by kids who might also be able to say: A book saved my life, there were very few people out in the morning to see the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles share his work.  Regardless, he told stories as if he was among friends that he hadn’t seen in a long time.

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My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s Short Review

My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson'sMy Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peter, a charming, comedic man with a cute dog, begins his story at 43. The first chapter, “Diagnosis Blues,” introduces Parkinson’s Disease (PD) as a psychedelic meteor that disrupts all aspects of life, and needs the intervention of a certain ‘angel.’ Will Peter outlive his suicidal thoughts?

After reading the first 4 chapters, turning off the lights for a later -than-normal bedtime of midnight, I was compelled to flip the switch and complete the final chapters. Dunlap-Shohl is insanely talented at layouts, designs, coloring, storytelling, metaphors, and metacognition. I recommend this book to everyone who enjoys intelligent, comedic, real-life narratives.

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Check-out these engaging blogs from Peter-Dunlap-Shohl:

Frozen Grin

Off & On, The Alaskan Parkinson’s Rag

 

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Self Reflection: How am I Creating a Student Centered Classroom?

Is it because I’m an SDC teacher that I have sweat-inducing, heart-stopping, nightmare-inspiring thoughts whenever I consider releasing control to the students in the classroom?  Or is this a common, yet-named teacher illness that should have its own label as defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?  Regardless of the answers to the above questions, it has always been my experience that when I release control (and dive into the abyss of unknown outcomes), the results are always better than anything I could have planned.  As I rewatched a Ted Talk from a few years ago (I’ll post it at the end of the blog), I wondered how I consistently try to create a student-centered classroom.

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CrossFit Teacher Planning and Grading

3 o’clock Teacher

Have you ever watched enviously while some teachers march to the parking lot shortly after the bell rings, but you have a metaphorical stack of internet paperwork to complete? Do you promise yourself every summer you’re not going to spend your weekends planning awesome lessons–that magically it will happen during the week? Do you promise yourself at the beginning of every school year that you are going to have a consistent fitness plan and healthy social life during the work week? Do you promise yourself every year you are going to read for pleasure EVERY night?

It doesn’t matter how many promises I make, I break them all and eventually I end up frustrated.  A couple of weeks ago I came up with a plan to help me maintain some of my committments.

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A Teacher’s Philosophy on Professional Writing: The Abstract for my Master’s Project

Using primary sources at the Folger’s Institute Research Library to develop lesson plans.

Teacher Blogs: The Next Generation of Collaboration

Establishing and maintaining a professional teacher blog enables teachers to publish, reflect, share, collaborate, and enrich their professional presence. While publishing has long been the standard for university professors, secondary teachers do not have the same expectations placed upon them. Primarily, this is due to time constraints, but the result is that secondary teachers do not always remain current in their field. To this point, a weekly writing practice can enable teachers to stay engaged and relevant in their particular field of study in regards to pedagogy and current research. Arguably, blogging may be a less time-consuming way to publish content and begin a professional conversation that extends beyond the walls of one school. At the same time, blogging enables teachers to understand writing for a purpose and for an audience, which increases credibility when insisting on the same from students. Since reflection is one of the most important aspects of improving one’s teaching practice, the blog seems like an essential tool for every teacher. Finally, in an environment of questionable evaluation procedures for teachers, a teacher blog enables the teacher to highlight successes in the classroom and demonstrate his/her teaching pedagogy instead of being limited to one or two observations a year. I plan to utilize my teacher blog in a number of ways:

Create a dialogue for secondary Special Day Teachers about issues that aren’t addressed anywhere else. For example, when I searched for a community of special education teacher blogs as resources, I found multiple detailed blogs for the primary grades, and moderate to severe classroom teachers. Lacking in representation is the voice of the SDC teachers at the high school level who teach common core standards to students with learning disabilities, or other eligibilities that impede progress in the general education classroom.

Share and reflect on teaching practices. While there are many issues that surround SDC teachers at the secondary level, in the end, what happens in the classroom – the experience and growth of the students – is of primary concern, just like any other teacher.

Read and write about current research in special education. Probably more than any other area of secondary education, the practices and pedagogy are researched and constantly changing. Due to the on-going paperwork involved with being a case-carrier (though I know the importance of being knowledgeable of current practices and research), this is probably the area of most potential growth in my on going development as a special educator. Therefore, my goal is to utilize the blog to create a mini annotated bibliography that is updated once a month with specific peer reviewed articles. While I should be reading more, this is a plan to begin the process.

Maintain a focus on potential interventions for both reading and writing at the secondary level. One of the struggles for English SDC teachers is trying to teach content and skills that lead to a high school diploma to students who read and write significantly below grade-level. For those who are not special education teachers, “significantly below grade level” is realistically defined as students who do not read above the primary grades. While all teachers have students who struggle with reading and writing, there is a spotlight on SDC teachers who have to teach content, but also miraculously and simultaneously increase the Lexile levels of all students.

Increase my professional online presence. The majority of my shifts in teaching practices have occurred through participating in online mediums and engaging with other teachers. This ability and opportunity has benefitted my students and me and allowed the English teacher part of me to flourish. Eventually, I would love for the special education side of me to likewise be inspired and cultivated through a sense of community and support.

While there may not be current research on the importance of blogging for secondary teachers, I will use this blog to argue that writing professionally in your field is essential to maintain relevancy in current teaching methodologies.

 

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