Compliance and Grades

Welcome back to school! I love back to school season. All the fun school supplies. I especially love the back to school pictures of everyone’s kids on social media. But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post on social media about those first day of school letters from teachers to parents and students. Those letters are usually full of procedures, FAQ, standards, etc. I love the “I don’t give homework” ones and I love the ones where you can tell the teachers are excited about the upcoming year. But I’m seeing another trend. A trend of teachers sending home procedures that are linked to grades. Those have really made me pause. Pause and reflect on things I did wrong as a teacher as well as what grades are in general.

Now I’m just going to put this disclaimer out there and get it over with, I know some of you hate grades and think we should all be standards based or whatever. This is not about that so don’t go there. Some teachers don’t get a choice. My focus is on making that choice wisely.

OK now that is out of the way, back to those lovely parent letters and procedures. I’ve seen posts about bathroom passes costing points. If paper is not headed correctly. Turned into the wrong place. Not done in pencil (seriously it’s 2016). Notebooks not in correct order. Tardiness adding up. Class Dojo points added to grade. List goes on and on.

I had my own quirks as a teacher. I took off points after a week late. I gave homework then gave grades for students just finishing it, not on correctness. I stopped giving homework because I realized I was just giving grades for those that had parents at home not for learning.

One post about restroom passes equally bonus points, a teacher replied that she didn’t do this but had 56 students a day and needed them to help organization. I wish I had had 56 students, I had 156, but organization can’t be my focus of the day.

So let’s stop for one minute. Forget all I said above and remember why we have school. What is the point? Why do we have grades? I had a teacher ask me last week why I started using Google Drive. I told her because I felt like my classroom was becoming more of a place for me to work instead of a place for my students to learn so I had to make it more streamlined and less about paperwork.  But that is a huge problem. We are putting so much on teachers that schools are becoming a workplace not a learning place. That stress and burden is then reflected in our grading system.

We have to stop and think, “does this grade reflect learning or does it reflect learning?” If it is about completion, behavior, etc, it’s not about learning. Yes we need order to have a safe place to learn, but what you see as organization is not clear organization for some of your students. Think about students with ADHD. Those that don’t know me, I’m huge advocate for kids with ADHD because there is so much more that goes on in their brains than just paying attention. Now look at that list in the 2nd paragraph. Heading papers – Yeah speed isn’t on their side, your heading just added 10 to 20 minutes of procrastination to their assignment. Restroom – please spend a week on ADHD meds and tell me how your stomach feels after the lunchroom. Notebooks and tardiness – not even going to touch organization and timeliness. Dojo –  just stop. The list goes on and on. Same thing could be said for kids with disabilities. Dyslexia. Autism. ESL.

So our grades are going to reflect two things, compliance or learning. If your grades are reflecting compliance, kids are going to be resentful. They are going to give up because it really doesn’t matter if they study because they can still have a low grades. It also is doing the opposite. It’s allowing students to show up to your class and pass with high grades but not learn what is needed to move to the next course. How many times have you gotten a group of students and they didn’t know the basics from the year before and you wanted to blame that teacher last year. Maybe the kids didn’t learn, they just headed their papers pretty and didn’t use restroom passes to make that 60 to move on.

Be mindful of what your expectations are for your class. Be mindful of your grades. Before you put in that grade book or mark of a paper, ask yourself if you can prove the student learned something here. If not, reevaluate. We want learners not compliant little people. Isn’t that what the entire school reform movement is all about, getting away from teaching students to be robotic factory workers but places for students to learn to be successful at their pace and skill levels?

5 thoughts on “Compliance and Grades

  1. Your message was lost in the poor structure of your writing. We learn to compose complete sentences so that what we are communicating does not get lost. You probably write like you talk and you talk with vocal inflections, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Writings do not carry vocal variations, gestures or facial clues so the reader is left wondering what point you are trying to make. I hope you are not a teacher. One of the purposes of education is to teach children how to communicate effectively. That point was lost on you and you seem to be intent on passing that on.

  2. Wow. Bless your heart. Yes, I wrote that just like I talk. So I have had some tell me, privately of course, to trash this. But I am not because I am a believer in learning experiences and this is a great one for many reasons. I am going to list some below.

    1. This is a perfect example for when I talk to students and teachers about digital footprint. You see, you wrote this from a computer and included your name. I started with Googling your name. There were a few Constance Jensens so I took your IP address which accompanied your email and located you in Kodak, AK. I could then find that You teach PE and Music at St. Mary’s and a small very college, Kodak. Many times students and teachers think that they can post whatever and it disappears into cyber space and unkind things can never come back to them but this is a perfect example of how wrong they are.

    2. There is a debate in education circles of the importance of soft skills vs curriculum skills. Many times the debate questions which makes you more college and career ready and who would you rather hire, someone with personal skills or someone who can “do school.” Usually the soft skills win out. There is a movement that the number one 21st Century skill needs to be empathy. I wonder if those debating compared my poorly written blog reflection to your mean comment, who is more college and career ready?

    3. Many times in America we judge people based on religion. We have an epidemic of hate towards those who are not Christians. Especially where I live in the southeastern states. It is hard for my colleagues to give examples to students without immediate prejudice. But our students are either catholic or have a friend that is. Using hateful words from a catholic school teacher is a great way for me to show them you cannot judge an entire religion based on a mean spirited few.

    4. No I am no longer a classroom teacher. You are probably cheering. I am a tech specialist who supports 4,000 teachers and 37,000 students. In that position I teach that there are many ways to, as you said perfectly, “communicate effectively.” There are videos, pictures, etc, but I often teach about the effectiveness of public reflection through blogs. One thing that I always point out is that blogs are not literature. They are not research articles. They are a place of conversation, just as you have started above. The tone and language of a blog is much different than articles that are based on research instead of opinion. I teach how blog posts are to start a conversation or ignite a thought. In the mean time studies have proven that people who blog retain knowledge they are reflecting on for longer periods of time. The article I spent time writing tonight for my classes at Harvard, my tone is more professional and “not like I talk.”

    Thank you for giving me this moment to learn and conversations to start. I also encourage you in the future to follow the rule, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. Or the rule we had when I was in the classroom, don’t be a jerk.

  3. Your post is super clear and gave me some things to think about. I completely agree that a blog is not a place for formal academic language. The way you wrote this sounds like a friendly voice in my head, the teacher down the hall. It is accessible and familiar.

    This year I decided I wanted to do points for participation focused on a couple key skills but it is so hard! With 128 students keeping good data is a challenge. But so is really knowing the learning and not having some completion grades. When I try to do more I fall behind. Tough balance! Great topic to discuss!


  4. Thanks for the feedback!

    As for keeping up with all the data, it is hard. My last year in the classroom I was having trouble with being students to complete work, turn it in, and keeping up with all the grades. We did project based work throughout the units. We had “deadlines” for each step of the project. At those deadlines I would spend the class period meeting with groups/students in a central location in the room. I used a rubric to grade and once I felt they mastered that part, I would sign off on their checklist and on my checklist give them the rubric grade. Made it easier to keep up with grades, progress, and time to actually talk to all 130 of the kids. Just a thought.

    I think giving participation is better than punishing for being human.

  5. First, I would like to say ‘Félicitations’ for your reply to C Jensen after her comments. The criticisms of ‘personal’ thoughts and ideas are being thrown daily lately to anything posted, shared or reflected upon. My fear would be having that brought into a classroom. We all need new ideas shared, not always to embrace but at least to hear. So TY again.

    I have done away w/so many numeric assessments that I still have a fear of final quarter grades and having something in the box, but I want my students comfortable trying a new language w/out slams. If the don’t feel that, they will hold themselves back. Luckily my county supports me and my parents do too. But inhale, exhale often comes to mind!

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