The following questions make me insane:
“Is this for a grade?”
“Am I passing?”
“Can I pass if___?”
“Why can’t you just give me a 70?”
“I’m passing, so why do I have to do this?”
“Can I turn this in for a late grade?”
“Am I failing?”
“Can I go to the bathroom?” (Not related, just a question that bothers me.)
Activities should be constructed to where if a student does them, they will get some, if not all, of the information you want them to get out of a given unit. They should be able to teach themselves without much intervention from you, and they should want to learn it. I know, wishful thinking.
That said, students and teachers both get sucked into this compliance mindset, throw fun stuff like movies, games, etc. out just because they are focused on the magic number, 70. I know I can’t get rid of that number or the fear of failing. I have made a few changes that have allowed me to put more of the emphasis on learning rather than the grades.
- I give a ton of grades to reduce the individual impact of each one. We’ve all seen a kid give up because their grade is so low they mathematically recover. That’s why, in my first couple years teaching in Dallas ISD, I was strongly discouraged from giving anything below a 50 even if the kid never even put their name on the assignment. More grades means that even one misstep doesn’t ruin a student’s grade. We all make mistakes and have different priorities sometimes. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t graduate.
- Collaborative Quizzes have been successful for me as well. Allowing single students to answer questions out loud and in the event of a student not knowing the answer they can ask one classmate for help by “paying” 5 points and adding the correct response to their notes. Students can either be graded individually or as a class
- Student selected projects and papers, within the bounds of the current section of the curriculum, are a good way, I’ve found, to connect my students with the topic of discussion without making them all drag through the same few facts they’ve heard over and over again since they started school.
None of this is particularly revolutionary, but it certainly makes teaching more fun for me and my students. I was afraid, at first, that de-emphasizing grades would mean that my students stop working. The opposite has been true and there have been almost no instances of academic dishonesty. The temptation just isn’t there in the same way when the stakes aren’t as high. I’m not saying that there’s not still a risk that students take advantage and lean too heavily on their peers, but if learning is the goal rather than the number, at some point, learning is learning and there’s only so much you can fake and steal.
Stepping away from grades has improved my classroom. Now it’s up to me to find out how to make it a more effective teaching method.
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