Laura Post #1 – Participation and Grading

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6 thoughts on “Laura Post #1 – Participation and Grading”

  1. Thanks for saying what needs to be said on this issue, Ben. It really is a system flaw: even (or especially) in affluent schools, holding those 4%ers who despise us accountable for their lack of goodwill, in a way that won’t get a veiled threat on daddy’s lawfirm letterhead sent to your principal (this happened to me). No administrator will back us without “evidence,” so we need to be able to play the game too, plug the gaping holes in the system that these students are crawling through, as their parents did before them. Even if they aren’t 100% “authentic,” clear standards for conduct will help improve our and our students’ daily experience in the classroom.

  2. Ben, I so appreciate that you’re an opinionated teacher/writer.
    Jason Fritze explained his participation grading system last year (in San Rafael) and it really helped me simplify my participation grading. I could see right away that it would help up the accountability in my classroom, and it did. Some kids felt “controlled” (their word) but I was okay with that. I took away their tendency to slide through class with impunity, and they didn’t like it.
    Here is how I adapted Jason’s system: First, I went over my rubric with them in English, what a 4 would be (active, alive, eye-contact, etc) or 3 (relatvely silent) , 2 (disruptive), or 1 (sleeping). Not every day, but unannounced, I would mark during class only those kids earning a 3,2,1 in my grade book. (Students would see me making marks and wake up). Sometimes on off days I’d pretend to make marks, just to keep ’em honest. At then end of class I’d announce “Everyone got a 4 for participation, except for two students who got a 3 (or whatever). If you think it’s you and you want to discuss it, come see me.” End of class. At first lots of kids would come check in with me, mostly eager beavers who did fine. Then there would be a few clarifying discussions with those who got a 3. One student repeatedly insisted that she was actively participating, even though she was silent. I ended up showing all my documentation to her and her counselor (her quiz scores were very low) and eventually she dropped the class, which was better for me to get her black-hole energy out of there.
    Last year I made participation 50% (!) of their grade and occasionally reminded them. I think this year I’m going to lower it, maybe to 30%, not sure yet. I found the system easy, fast and honest. I’m going to continue using it, but I’m going to swing hard into playing with them and laughing together, build closeness and balance.

  3. The invisible world in that room was full of activity, I’ll tell you that. No small amount of angels had to dart in and dart out like they do just to keep my ass teaching. THAT is stuff that rarely gets discussed, right?
    One of the things that has suffered in our standardized, mechanized, consumerized, materialized world is the recognition that the invisible world even exists, let alone how powerful it is. If it can’t be “empirically” measured (touched, tasted, smelt, heard, seen) and “scientifically tested” it doesn’t exist. (This goes along with John’s recent post: Before classes begin each year I walk through my room, around the edges, through the rows, etc., and dedicate it to God and Good. Some of you have a different view of the invisible world, but at the very least you can see this as 1) claiming the territory for yourself and 2) infusing the room with good vibrations.
    Also, I will give updates throughout the year on how things are going with my attempt to bring the three modes of communication into play as far as grading is concerned. I still have a couple of weeks before school starts.

  4. I swear this happened in South Carolina years and years ago, Robert. There was a girl who was really a dark soul. It was one of those things like part of her was just evil is the only way I can say it. She sat in my class for months and months and I always felt pushed down when I looked at her. It was horrible. Who else has to work with such kids at the same time we have to work with others, in such a strange mix?
    So, relative to what we were saying above, we can say that there are those other kinds of kids who are not oppositional just because of ideas instilled in them by parents – there are those kids like the one kid above who no doubt are having a hard life anyway and so their darkness has little to nothing to do with our classes or our teaching. We just happen to be with them in those minutes.
    Those are the kids with long faces. That is a different story altogether. Those kids have been through so much in many cases that they can’t change, their pain can’t be loved away in a French class. Think how hard our classes must be for them when everyone in class around them, kids who were raised in homes where life gave them hope, are having fun.
    All we can do with those long faced kids, I guess, is to try to keep them from becoming black holes which suck energy from the class. We must do that, and I aggresively contact, early on, administrators and parents and the kid as well to be very clear that the child won’t get any kind of pass on following the rules.

  5. “People can change. We can’t change people. People can only make those changes themselves.”
    The best we can do is offer them the place, space, time and opportunity….WITHOUT SACRIFICING AN ATMOSPHERE OF GOOD.
    Anything less is not Love.
    Two students (real ones):
    A) A guy. Pain in the a#%. Always. Mean. Frustrating. A two-year old with a sailor’s vernacular and a football player’s body. I’m not even sure that he graduated…maybe went GED. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he wasn’t in the building. Ten years later, married and working, finishing college. Lives in the district, his wife works in the district. We see him at football games, social functions, you name it. He constantly, and honestly, apologizes for his behavior in high school. I don’t know how or why he ‘turned around” and unless he shares it, I’m not asking. What he does share is every memory he has of a time when an adult in the district showed faith in him, especially when he didn’t deserve it.
    Student B: a girl. Snottiest child I ever had the torture of teaching. She had a reputation for stuck up and snooty that preceded her to the high school. She was beautiful and impeccably dressed and coiffed at every moment. She made the most confident teachers buckle under her attitude. We wanted to strangle her. The word B&$ch was frequently used to describe her in the faculty room. People actually wished out loud to see her “comeuppance”. She went on to a highly prestigious Ivy League school. We were sure that there she would be “put in her place” No such luck. She fit right in. Her success was like the ultimate “f&*$ you I am so oooo much better than you” to many people. (yes….sometimes we do take things that personally…) Five years later she is at my church, showing slides about a recent trip to Rwanda where she is living in a hut with a hole for a toilet, pictures where she hasn’t showered in a month, speaking through tears about the Rwandan Cycling Team. She now, humbly, travels to Somalia, Tanzania, Rwanda working through various health NGOs while she finishes a Phd through Cornell so that she can help the poor and unfed on a world-wide scale. She cant believe the girl she used to be…but confided in me that hyper-anxiety and hyper-perfectionism kept her on the edge every minute of her younger life…and unable to connect with anyone. She spent several days back in the high school presenting her slides, and the story of the cycling team to any kid and any adult willing to listen. She talked not only about the team, but about herself in high school and how she had changed. She encouraged them all to look outside of themselves now because it would help them, and others, in the future.
    Just two stories…and yes…there are also stories of kids who ended up in jail or abusing others or cheating the system. But the point is…we are not in control of any of them….even when they are in our rooms. We are only in control of ourselves….and they of themselves. Not every salvation, or destruction, happens in our time and place.
    I know that I keep saying it….but Teaching is a Prayer. It is based on faith, and hope and love and well…you know the rest of that line. :o)
    Being fully present in the moment, fully directed toward Good, fully willing to share language, insight, humor, knowledge, and the reality of being human. Despite what the “system” may say, that is what teaching really is. The results reach so far and wide and deep that they are, truly, outside of our control. Only the present moment is within our grasp.
    with love,

  6. Laurie,
    How true. One of the foundations that my growth as a teacher over the past 6-7 has been built on is the idea of how important FAITH is to the teaching profession. A colleague shared with me how important it is to BELIEVE (act as if it is/will be so) that the student I see today is not the person s/he will be in the future and that something I do or say will help make that true. That makes your words ““People can change. We can’t change people. People can only make those changes themselves.”
    The best we can do is offer them the place, space, time and opportunity….WITHOUT SACRIFICING AN ATMOSPHERE OF GOOD.” even more vital.
    Thanks for your post….

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