Productive energy

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

20130223-072001.jpgsophomores write letters with quills as they read Jane Austen.
Hmm… Engaging with new ideas; finding your voice, reaching your goals…

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.


3 Responses to “Productive energy”

  1. 1 Judi Hultberg
    February 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    I have just spent 3 hours re-grading the work that I had 14 students re-do. During my first reading of their narratives I gave tips about how and where to add details. I highlighted with various colors (each color has a meaning in our writing program for paragraph content). Many of the re-writes were returned with ONE sentence added at the end OR ONE more simple detail. They did what I asked. They re-wrote their work. But did they LEARN from my comments? Did they put forth “productive energy” to make their work truly better? Yes, they are only fourth graders, but I feel like they must have these building blocks before moving on. I would love to change the report card to include “cares about doing their best work when it’s assigned” and “students work reflects that they have read teacher comments and incorporated suggested changes” and “subsequent work by student reflects they have internalized teacher comments for improvements.” Part of my comments are directed to parents so that they are equipped when providing assistance to their child. Both parent and child need to know the expectations. Next, I plan to create samples of work as it might progress from fall to winter to spring. Hopefully this will help students to see that the work they produce now should look different than the work they turned in at the beginning of the school year.
    While this post was about students’ productive energy, I am also seeking THE answer about learning, hopefully with less of my own productive energy expended!

    • February 24, 2013 at 12:15 am

      Wow, what a critical learning time this is for your developing writers! I love your concept of the year-long process samples to use as models for parents and students alike. An alternate step for a change I have tried is to ask students questions that demand they solve (and identify, when possible) the problems in a paper. I ask them to tell me what works and what needs work. Good job, holding them accountable for the revision. Probably not fun after a week plus of jury duty. I appreciate these ideas, Judi; clearly there is more at stake here than relabeling report cards. You are teaching students to learn to care about learning.

    • July 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Excellent remarks, process, and teaching, Judi! I completely agree with and support such categories in grade reporting, and more and more wish that grade reporting was not reducible and averaged into a single letter or number, especially as students tend to get older. Elementary grades seem to be more cognizant of the benefits of describing growth narratively, as if in the upper grades students have stopped developing and simply earn As, Bs, Cs.
      On behalf of your students I thank you for committing to their writing process, teaching revision. I hope I can be as diligent and caring as you clearly are!

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