Monday, August 28, 2017

Teachers. Thoughts on Grading #1 - HOMEWORK

This is the first of a series of 8 posts that ran sporadically
from 4/18-7/24 of this year. 
I never posted #8 because I decided
to reprise the series for the new school year.
I'm running all 8 posts on consecutive Mondays starting today. 
If you're not a teacher and you're reading this,
let a teacher know.
I've been in enough "inservice" sessions to guarantee that the information in this series is better than most they'll be sitting through this school year. 

When I started teaching in 1973 parts of grading were the same as they are to this day. 
If students complete an assignment, someone has to grade it. 

I told my student teachers, “If you want to know who that is, just look in a mirror.”

This blog series concentrates on the grading of papers and determining student grades for report cards.

The first thing a new teacher learns is that five periods of 30+ kids generate a LOT of papers to grade. Soon after that revelation, you realize that, if you grade every answer on every paper, there are not enough hours in a day to
      ·      Teach
      ·      Grade
      ·      Record grades
      ·      Eat
      ·      Sleep
      ·      Socialize
      ·      Exercise and other recreational activities
      ·      Take care of your spiritual needs
                               and continue to function as a human being.

This epiphany comes most often as you sit at a desk facing stacks of papers that could easily be mistaken for a model of the Himalayan Mountains.

Far too many new teachers try and try to fit the 30 hours of time-sucking activities into their allotted 24 hours. First-year teachers are the second most likely group to quit during or soon after the school year begins. Amazingly, a majority of rookie teachers make it into year two.

Second-year teachers are the most likely to quit the profession. That’s because they find out that what they hoped would happen—all that grading was accomplished by magical powers—doesn’t happen. The “give assignments/grade assignments” cycle continues unabated.
If you can't figure out which was 1973 and which was 2012, I suggest an ophthalmologist appointment.
It’s been 44 years since my first day in Room 1004 at Monte Vista High School. Here’s what I know now.
Assignments are not created equal. In every discipline there are [should be!] assignments designed      1.     for students to learn.  
     2.     for students to know what they don’t know.
           3.     to assess student learning.

Homework most commonly falls under design #1. I learned that I never really knew who did the homework a student turned in. In my heart, I believed each student worked diligently until (s)he completed an assignment. In my mind, I knew that was not the case for every student.

As I moved through my career, grading of homework became a time of communal learning. It was common for homework to be a “trade and grade” activity. The scenario went something like this.
Homework was due when students walked through the door.
Room 507 at Great Oak High School.
In the far left of this photo, you might be able to make a sign with arrows pointing down to a plastic tray. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. I didn't check the focus until I'd cleared the room when I retired.
I collected homework papers from the tray and brought them to my teaching station.

I checked papers for completeness, usually affixing a pig stamp indicating the degree of completeness.

“Put all writing utensils away,” I said.

“Take a grading pen/pencil from the box on your desk.” Students chose their favorite color. These were the only writing utensils allowed at the desks during a trade and grade of a self-grade session.
I walked down the center aisle of my room and dropped papers on each row.

“Pass these down.” Further directions included “take your own paper,” or “make sure you have the paper from a student that’s not in your row.”

Once all the papers were disseminated, I went through the answers. Students were my eyes and hands as they marked answers as right/wrong, added/subtracted text to an answer, and/or mad other annotations as directed.

Papers were returned to their owners before I collected them and recorded the grades.

Depending on the class, this grading process could be pretty sophisticated. I often used Powerpoint slides as visuals. Below is an example.

Global Science/Pre-AP Biology
Botany Focus Questions
Students are given these directions. I used these in all levels of my high school courses and use them now in the university courses I teach.
How to do focus question assignments
A.   Read glossary at the end of the chapter before reading.
B.    Read any Focus Questions for the assigned pages in that chapter BEFORE reading those pages.
C.    Read the assigned pages. Do not stop reading to write down definitions or answers!
D.   After you have FINISHED reading the assigned pages, write down what you remember. If you don’t know remember something, go back and find the information, and then answer, add to, or correct your answers.
This is part of the PowerPoint I went through. The slide background is the pond I had in my backyard.

Four Focus Questions with Answers.
I explained the point distribution for each question.
Slide 1: the points are self-explanatory.
Slide 2: Definition is one point. Type of plan is one point.
Slide 3: Definition is one point. Each division is worth one point for the first three divisions. To get the final point, there must be a total of five divisions described accurately.
Slide 4: This is the most subjective of the samples. Here, the key point is deciduous leaves fall “all at once” and evergreen leaves don’t. One point for each of those.

After that, all I had to do is answer clarification questions.

Email me: with questions/ comments.
Or, if you'd like more information or samples of anything described in this series, send an email there!

The next Teachers. Thoughts on Grading will have more examples of the “trade/grade” or “self-grade” process as well as more hints on homework.

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I'd appreciate your feedback!


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  3. I can't imagine dealing with the incrementalism of HS students. By the time they came to me at Grossmont College, many students, and some colleagues, were shocked at their new reality. I taught math according to very few principles. Frirst, there is NO extra credit -- there is only the work -- one either does the work or they don't. Second, I would assign homework every class meeting, but made it abundantly clear that I would neither collect nor grade said homework. The exams will tell us everything we need to know. Third, I would throw out the lowest test score because anyone can have a bad day -- just don't have two. Forth, and I beat this drum relentlessly, as much as anything else, their education was about building and internalizing the traits that comprise good character -- responsibility for one choices and actions, respect, loyalty, honesty, reliability, etc. above all else -- EVERYONE -- knew that as long as they held up their end of the log and did their personal best, I had their back. I would not quit them as long as they didn't quit -- whatever it took. Lastly, if they met my standards and made it through, there would be NO doubt ever again in their mind that they couldn't compete anywhere with anyone academically. I wanted them to feel and own the pride of accomplishment and no limits to achievement -- but it was not going to come easy.

    Cheers, Lee

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would like to hear your definition of incrementalism.


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