Last week I wrote about engagement, which started me thinking about grading; and this a.m. I came across the paragraph I wrote in front of my combination 11-12 class. Here it is, with a modicum of tinkering to contain the verb forms:
An engaged club is alive! In 11-12 this will sound like a hubbub and fervor of excited yet focused energy and attention. People will be holding books, flipping pages, and seeking the exact quote that continues someone’s thought or refutes it; smiles, attentive eye contact, mirth, and every sign of listening will be evident. Sometimes writing will happen, and everyone has a pen or pencil at the ready. For whole minutes, complete silence may occupy a group as they write down their ideas. Other times a group will be quickly speaking, gesturing with hands, making connections, etc. I observe that effectively engaged group members kept their groups intact, without crossing into other talk from the room. Concentration is necessary, of course. There is reference to notebooks, so it is clear that when a person arrives at book club, she or he is well prepared to ask questions, share thoughts from the reading, and add to the knowledge and writing done already. In an engaged 11-12 club, members are open to and encouraging of new thinking and the making of meaning out of what was read. I surmise that meaning-making is a form of life-bringing activity: it enriches life and causes or leads to new growth.
Because of someone’s blog post last week I have been thinking how to
modify overhaul my report card grading categories. I’d rather use such categories as risk, trust, caring, initiative, and productive energy–the latter suggested by the above exercise–to lead students to see what I value most in my classes. My current categories, homework sharing and independent reading, begin to do that, but it still niggles at me that they are insufficient to dissuade a senior from approaching me and saying “I noticed my grade went down because I didn’t do that assignment, so I turned it in yesterday.” I guess I would rather have heard him say, “I realized I hadn’t cared enough about the assignment to put my productive energy into it, nor did I even take the initiative to write it down the day you assigned it, then go home and take a risk by posting my changes to the googledoc so everyone in class might see them. I realize now that the rest of the class was deprived of my contributions to the film review criteria–contributions that were important since I love movies and have a lot of experience to offer.”
I am interested to hear what you value in your classroom. As long as we have reports, why not let them reflect what we value? Even if it’s a bit whimsical, I would love to consider non-traditional categories such as critical thinking, productive energy, playfulness…
Have you tried rebuilding your grading system? As we call into question even such traditions AS homework, we must replace these obviously empty categories (homework) with meaningful terms that provide information to parents and students about what is truly important: “asks good questions”, “invites others into exchanges about significant ideas or events”.
I suppose it is not so odd to consider having students complete weekly self-evaluations for such categories, compare them with my own observations, and both of us monitor such practices in consultation with the other over a grading period.
I think what I really want, consistent with my prior aims, is for students as well as teacher to continually ask What is Learning?
What is Learning to you? As always, I am waiting for THE Answer.