Sunday, April 23, 2017

Taking Grading Home

Sometimes I overhear teachers talking about the papers they take home to grade. The workload is crushing, I know, and many times teaches will work outside of school hours. It is a big problem for teachers and one of the reasons why so many teachers leave the profession after only a few years. Teachers are being worked to death.

One of the things I've tried to do in the last several years is cut down on the graded assignments. I may give one or two assignments per week that are graded. The rest of the work we do is strictly for learning. Kids often say, "If you don't give us the assignment, then you won't have to grade it." Well, that's logical. We can also work together through the assignment, learn it, and then use a different form of assessment to make sure that we are all on board. We work together discussing, debating, demonstrating, and there is no need for a graded assignment. I know where each kiddo is in terms of what they have learned.

Many times, what we do in class for several days will lead up to a performance event. None of the practice work is graded, only the performance event is. How well the student performs on the event is the only thing that is assessed. Last year, in my school's 80/20 grading system, this was expected. All of the practice work before the performance event comprised 20% of the grade and the performance event was 80% of the grade. One teacher in my building described it as like sports. You practice all week but game day is Sunday. The only assessment that you receive for the practice is how well you perform on game day. That is the only thing assessed.

This year our grading system is a more standard points system but the number of assignments on which kids are graded is low. Still, I aim to make sure everything I want to assess is done at school. I made a promise to myself that the only school work I would do at home is research new resources to use in class and plan the lessons for the week. No grading. I use my planning minutes at school and a little bit of time before and after school to take care of any grading/assessing that I have to do.

I remember when I first started teaching. I would bring home bags of papers to be graded on the weekend. It was no fun walking out of school on Friday afternoon because I knew I had stacks of papers that would occupy almost every moment of my weekend. That was nothing to look forward to. Now, I am a firm believer in balance and quality of life. Teachers can change how we do things in class to cut down drastically on grading so that it is more meaningful for them and the kids. Cutting down on grading also helps restore some balance in our lives during the school year.

There are many teaches who aspire for a gradeless classroom. Wouldn't that be amazing!? I am not there yet but every year I get a little closer. The kids have trouble with it because they are so trained to work for grades. It would take a fundamental shift to do away with grades altogether. In my room, we have tried to reduced the importance of grades while at the same time help kids understand that learning is the most important thing they do at school. It takes a while to get student buy-in. Slowly, it does happen.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our Civic Duty

When I first arrived at East Naples Middle School, I learned that the school required kids to take Civics classes. I had never been in a school before that required Civics as a class. As the year has gone on, I have seen these kiddos learn about the US government, the Constitution, Federalism and a host of other ideas unique to our country. Our kids were learning how our government works. It seems like such a fundamental idea but so many schools don't even offer a Civics class. Some kids get a basic understanding of the Constitution in social studies or history classes but our Civics classes span the entire year and are required of all students.

I cannot help but to think that these classes will pay off in the long run. Our kids will learn the system and how to access it. While we read in the newspapers each day about problems with our government, so many Americans don't even know how the government works and therefore cannot even understand the problems that we have. We see over and over when a late night comedy star does "man on the street" interviews. The people who are asked basic questions about our government have no idea how the system even works. If they don't know how it works, how do they expect to participate in it? If people don't understand government, they are less likely to vote. That is the ultimate shame.

Our kids are not rich white students. Our kiddos are middle and working class minority kids. It is even more important for them to learn the system, learn their rights, vote, and participate in government. In ten years, when our kids our out of college and maybe thinking about running for local or statewide office, the foundation they learned in our Civics classes will benefit them immensely. Our students are the people who are underrepresented in government. They will need to be more active when they get older. They need to understand the importance of voting. They need to see that change will only come when they are working for change.

The foundation of the kids' political aptitude is being taught right down the hall from me in our Civics classes. For many of our kids, these classes will be the most important classes they take in their school careers. People stay ignorant of how our government works at their own peril. Ignorance leads to inaction. Inaction leads to others making decisions for us. Our kids' voices are important ones that will be heard because our kiddos will be armed with the knowledge to intelligently participate in their own futures.