Thursday, June 28, 2007

Grading my way

In the post on "my perfect public high school," Denever and I had a back and forth about my statement that any student who works diligently in a class should be able to earn at least a B. Denever asked if I incorporate effort into my grading system, and I do, but I want to explain that, and the explanation isn't short. I decided the best way to do this is to lay out my entire grading system for my regular American History classes, so here it is.

A: 96%
A-: 92%
B+: 89%
B: 85%
B-: 82%
C+: 78%
C: 74%
C-: 70%
D: 67%

1. Reading Assignments--30%: I preach to my kids that the key to doing well in my class is doing the reading assignments, so they count a lot. I put so much emphasis on this because if the students don't read the assignments, they don't know what I'm talking about when they come to class, so they won't get very much out of it.

I wrote my own text, so the average assignment is a little less than three pages. I did that because when I used a regular text, the students ended up reading a lot of material that I wasn't going to spend any time on in class and they would not be tested on. If something is in my text, students know they will be expected to know it.

My quizzes consist of five or six short answer questions, and I try to find things in the readings that students will be most likely to remember. The purpose of the quizzes is solely to reward the students for doing a reasonably good job of reading the assignments; it is not to see how well they can analyze anything. The one problem with this is that there are some students whose reading comprehension isn't very good. I have no desire to see some student reading the assignments day after day, and receiving zero after zero on their quizzes. To deal with that, I give my students an optional note-taking system that they can use when they do the readings. They turn their notes in before they take the quiz, and for individual quizzes I guarantee them a majority of the points for individual quizzes. Students who take the notes for all the assignments for a unit are guaranteed 70% of the reading points even if they bomb the quizzes. Not surprisingly, most of the kids who take notes on readings do quite well on the quizzes, but there are always some who don't, and the notes save them. The most rewarding situations for me have come when some students have bombed quiz after quiz early in the year, but stayed alive by taking notes, but then started to do reasonably well on the quizzes as the year has gone on. Obviously, kids with good reading comprehension skills have a big advantage in this category, but if kids are conscientious, they will do okay.

2. Current Events--10%: There are two parts to this, and they are both simple. The first part consists of keeping a current events journal. Two or three times a week, I will run off articles from Star/, pass them out to the class, and discuss them. In their journals, the students are to briefly write down what the articles are about and date them. They need a minimum of two sentences. Periodically, I will check them and give the kids points according to how many of the articles they've recorded, and if they've done it correctly.

Then, every three or four weeks, they'll be required to write a brief opinion on any of the current events we've talked about. I give them plenty of notice on the due date, and I don't accept any late opinions. The minimum requirement is three sentences, but a lot of kids get into this and end up writing a lot more than that. Being conscientious is the key to doing well in this category. A lot of kids get burned by putting off writing the articles in their journals and their opinions, or they forget to bring their journals to class. In fact, the first time I check their journals, it's usually a disaster.

3. Class Preparation and Participation--15%: This consists of a few things. The first one is something I call class responsibility points. I give everyone 100 points at the start of the quarter, and it's their job to hold on to them. They lose points by having unexcused absences, being late for class, forgetting to bring pencils or other materials, losing things that I've handed out, and for not having all their lecture/discussion notes when I check for them before tests.

I use cooperative learning about once or twice a week, and the scores for those assignments go into this category, and when we have videos, I have the kids write comments on them, and that also goes into this category. Once again, in this category, if the kids are conscientious, their percentages should be high.

4. Evaluation Points--45%: These are tests, quizzes (not the reading quizzes), and something I call final assessments. I have sixteen units, and my unit tests are objective--multiple choice and matching. At the beginning of each unit I pass out optional test review assignments to students who want them. It basically tells the kids exactly what they are going to have to know for the test. If students do a good job on these, they should do well on the tests. Some students don't take them--some because they don't need them, and others because they're too lazy to bother with them. And of course, some students who take them, don't do them. I don't give points for the test review assignments; they are strictly there to help the students on the tests.

I don't give final tests. Instead a give I series of four final assessments throughout each of the two semesters. These are essay type tests, and they involve putting together material learned from more than one unit. For example, the last final assessment of the year is on liberal and conservative periods in our history and it involves four different units going all the way back to January. They are each worth 100 points on their quarter grades, and of course, they each count as one-fourth of their final examination grades. I hand out guides for these about two weeks before the assessments are given, and although these are the hardest things we do, if kids put in the time, they can usually do pretty well.

Anyone with a reasonable work ethic would probably be amazed that students could fail a class set up like this, but it happens. Some kids simply won't do the work, and I won't give them any breaks. But when that happens, and when any of their parents want to question those Fs, I know I'll be able to back them up. When I show a confrontational parent zero after zero on reading assignments, despite their short length and the note-taking system, and zero after zero on the current events assignments, and lost class responsibility points, it takes the wind right out of their sails.

My class is set up so that a student who works hard and is conscientious should be able to do pretty well, but the class is quite difficult for kids with poor reading comprehension skills and a poor grasp of history. The best they can do, even when they work diligently, is a C, and although I wouldn't force them out of my regular class, I believe they would learn more in my basic class.

Denever asked if I grade for effort, and I do, but the effort is tied to performance. I'm trying to make it as easy and as attractive as possible for my students to learn. One of my major concerns is that I want my kids to learn how to be good students. Obviously, I also want them to learn American history, and I think the chances of that happening are best if they see a real opportunity to be successful.

So there it is--grading my way! It's been developed over a lot of years, and I like it. But as I told Denever, go ahead and hit me with your best shot!


Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Very interesting post. A couple of questions, however...

1. When you say you wrote the book, does this mean that you've basically distilled what the "approved" text says into a easier-to-understand handout?

2. What's this note-taking system? Anything like Cornell notes?

Thanks so much!

6/30/2007 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, this wasn't a dud post at all, and we're not ignoring you - it's summer and even your most dedicated readers are also taking time off now and then. ;)

Now that you've explained your grading system, I completely understand why you said any student who works diligently should be able to manage a B.

But frankly, I'm shocked that this is a "regular" history class. When you get back, could you explain more about the difference between the basic and the regular class? And what grades are we talking about? (From the description of the workload, I'm assuming you teach freshman and sophomores, not juniors and seniors.)

If students have trouble reading, why aren't they automatically put in the basic class? Why are they having this much trouble reading in high school? Are we talking about kids with learning disabilities?

7/03/2007 10:03 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I'm finally back, so I hope Mrs. Bluebird and Denever check back on this.

Mrs. Bluebird, I used to use a regular American History textbook, and at first, I tried to teach everything in it. When I did that, I felt like we were flying through everything, but nothing had any depth to it. There was some stuff that I was teaching, where I'd think to myself, "Is it really important that my sophomores know this?" I eventually I began to throw stuff out, so I could do more with material that I thought was the most important. I also have tried to keep reading history books throughout my career, and I'd find what I thought was very interesting stuff about the material I wanted to spend more time on. In any case, all of that is what ended up going into my text. I also tried to let my sense of humor come through in the readings, and a lot of the kids seem to like that.

My note taking system is very easy. I just ask the kids to write one sentence about each paragraph in the reading. They are supposed to tell what that paragraph is about in that sentence.

Denever, you are right; I do teach sophomores. There are some pretty big variations between the different classes I've had (the class of 2005 was great; the class of 2009--this year's sophomore class--was mediocre) but overall I'd say that Warroad kids are probably about average.

My Basic American History class is review, review, review. I also wrote a text for that class, but it is much shorter--no more than a page a day. All the reading--and all the work--is done in class. I'll have the kids read a paragraph; then I will orally ask them questions about the paragraph. We do than until we finish the reading. Then, I'll hand out a worksheet on the reading. They will do the worksheet, and I have a teacher's aid who helps me help the students with it. When they've all finished the worksheet, we'll orally review it. Then I'll give them a quiz on the worksheet. At the end of the chapter I'll give them a worksheet on the chapter. Then we'll go over that orally, and then I'll give them the test. At the end of three chapters, I'll give them a worksheet on the entire unit. We'll orally review that, and then they'll take the test. We use mastery learning, so they must get 80% on every test, or they have to take them over. If they don't get 80% the first time, they've got to make arrangements to re-take the test. I also assign "opinion" questions at the end of every chapter, and they have to earn 80% on them. They can have any opinion they want, as long as they make sense. That, is my basic class in a nutshell.

7/08/2007 4:35 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Denever, I never addressed your question about why poor readers weren't automatically put into Basic American History. I put together the basic class about ten years ago at the request of a special education teacher. She wanted to get as many of the special ed. kids in one class as possible, so she could come in and work with them. We also allowed in kids who had a history of doing poorly in social studies classes despite making a reasonable effort. We screened out kids who were disruptive, and kids who did poorly because of lack of effort or poor attendance. As I'm sure you can imagine, there are always some kids who don't want to be in a basic class, and it was never our intention to force anyone to be in it. So I always have some kids who read poorly, but choose to remain in my regular class.

By the way, Denever, I would like to know a little bit more about you, so I have a better idea of who I'm talking to. You said you were shocked about my regular American History class, and that made me wonder where you're coming from. What do you do for a living? Are you a parent? What kind of school did you go to? How long ago were you in school?

I'm assuming your not a teacher, but we all know what happens when someone ass-u-me s. In any case, I will say that when I first got out of college and started teaching, I was shocked at how poorly some kids performed, and it had only been a few years since I had been in high school. I think part of the reason was that high school kids tend to lack awareness of how a lot of the kids around them are functioning. Speaking for myself, I knew about the kids in my little social circle and the kids who performed at my level, but not much about anybody else. I was certainly aware that there were kids who did better than me (the smart kids), and others who did worse (the dumb kids), but that's about it. I had no idea what effort they were putting into it.

7/09/2007 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, as soon as someone starts asking me for personal information, I worry I'm being set up for a repeat of the discussion we had following your post of February 27 ("Discussing education with non-teachers"). I hope that's not the case.

A comment I made during that discussion answers one of your questions. I think my reply to your May 14 post made it clear that I attended private schools. I am not a supporter of public schools, except insofar as I am forced to be as a taxpayer.

Most of what I learned about public schools when I was growing up came from neighborhood friends who attended them. I saw their textbooks and their homework assignments and was not impressed. I met more of them in college - really bright, studious kids who had never even heard of major historical events or key players and who had never written a research paper or taken an essay test.

Currently I have friends who work in public schools, and I have worked with much younger people who attended public schools. It doesn't appear to me that things have changed much for the better.

If your students are still taking objective quizzes in tenth grade, when will they learn how to write more than a few sentences? When will they learn critical thinking?
I don't think these skills are ever irrelevant, even for people who don't plan on going into an occupation that requires a lot of reading and writing. But the later you start - and starting as high school juniors is pretty late, IMO - the less time you'll have to practice these skills before you enter college or the job market.

7/09/2007 7:49 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Denever, I know exactly what you mean about being "set up" by a question. There have been a couple of times when I have been asked questions on my posts, answered them as honestly as I could, and then felt like I had been set up to be slammed. It was not a good feeling, and please believe me when I say that that was not my intention for you. Your information does help me to know a little bit more about who I'm talking to, though, and I appreciate that.

I understand your concern about developing critical thinking skills, and that is important to me. I try to bring that in on the final assessments that I talked about in the post, the current event comments (the assignment only calls for three sentences, but many of the students go way beyond that), and most of the cooperative learning exercises we do once or twice a week.

In those cooperative learning exercises, the groups are assigned opinion questions. They need to come up with positions and defend them. They can come up with any opinions they want as long as the logic is solid. Every group can also write "minority opinions" if there is disagreement within the groups. After the groups have turned in their products, I conduct a class discussion in which the kids argue their points. I would say that most of my students enjoy these activities more than anything else that we do.

As an example of the types of questions, when we go through the Vietnam War, the kids have to tell whether or not they agree with our decision to back the French in the First Vietnam War, Kennedy's decision to send in 16,000 "advisors" in 1961, Johnson's decision to expand the war in 1965, Nixon's Vietnamization program, the cease-fire agreement in 1973, and our decision not to aid the South when they were overrun in 1975. (These six opinion questions are dealt with on two different days.)

I also assign extra credit projects that go along with the final assessments. Obviously, they aren't required, but a student can't earn a straight A on the final assessments without doing them, so the A students do them.

Denever, I work with a very wide range of students in my regular classes, and I'm trying to make my class meaningful for all of them. I want kids with average ability to be able to be successful if they work hard, but I also want to challenge the kids with greater ability. It's not easy, but I feel pretty good about the job I've been doing.

7/10/2007 4:04 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Denever, I went back and looked at the two posts you referred to. I definitely understood that you thought private schools were better than public, but I thought you might be speaking as a parent who was sending your kids to private schools and not necessarily as someone who had attended a private school yourself.

Regarding my post on discussing education with non-teachers, I want to emphasize this excerpt from my second-to-last paragraph:

"I am not saying here that people who are not teachers should never criticize education, schools, or teachers. I have learned a lot from KDerosa, Rory, Crypticlife, Steven, and and Elizabeth, and they've also forced me to clarify my own thoughts. And despite my "special understanding" as a teacher, there been some arguments I've had with them where I've felt like I've been throttled. Let's face it, the fact that they aren't teachers gives them a perspective that teachers need to hear. I am not asking them to shut up (Like they'd listen to me if I did!), and I'm not asking them to concede any arguments to teachers just because they're teachers."

When it comes to public schools, you and I agree about as often as Ann Coulter and Rosie O'Donnell, but believe me, I think you have every right to express your very intelligent opinions. You have a different perspective than most of the people who read this blog, and it's an important one. I'm glad that I now have a better understanding of it.

7/10/2007 4:56 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home