Teaching the Standards: Content vs. Responsibility

How do you balance your grading?

I’m not just talking about the balance of homework, classwork, quizzes, et cetera (though that’s part of it). I’m talking about the dichotomy between assessing content and assessing personal responsibility.

I ask because I’ve been thinking about grading a lot for a while, and any time I talk to anyone about it, they are absolutely convinced that their way is the number one best way to do it, and every other way is so sucktastic that it makes them throw up in their mouth a little bit to even consider it. (That’s assuming, of course, that they get to choose their own way of grading and don’t just have to do whatever their district dictates. That seems to automatically make everyone angry.)

At my school, we have two choices of how to grade: total points (which is, obviously, the total points a student can earn) and what we call standards-based weighted grading (which means that 80% of a student’s grade is from assessments, which are supposed to be of the standards, and 20% is participation, or basically the formative assessments like homework and classwork – all the practice to get you to the summative).

I use 80/20, and I like it. It means that the super smart kids who never do any homework but still know all the material and can still do really well on tests can still get a decent grade, but the kids who are hard workers and do every single assignment get rewarded for their work ethic. That to me seems fair.

When I was in 9th grade, I came really close to failing math, based solely on my non-completion of homework. I got As on every single test (literally EVERY SINGLE ONE – I am damn good at math, I just don’t like it), but I didn’t do my homework. My feeling was, I already understood the material and how to do it, and homework was supposed to be practice. If I didn’t need the practice to succeed on the test, why waste my time doing it? My teacher’s opinion differed – he used total points, and assigned sufficient points to the homework so that it was about half the grade for the semester. I assume his philosophy was the ever-popular one about teaching kids responsibility and that you have to do stuff that you don’t want to because in life you have to do stuff you don’t want to sometimes, and you better learn how to just suck it up and do it.

I get that perspective, I do. Colleagues frequently express that view to me, and I understand where they’re coming from. But…I have a hard time with it to some extent, partially because of my own experience, and partially because of what I’m supposed to teach. According to my school, my district, my state, my country, I’m supposed to be teaching standards of Language Arts. You know, about reading, writing, speaking, listening…all that jazz. I know my state standards very well, and I know my district’s curriculum framework very well, and nowhere in either is there anything about teaching responsibility. My standards are about content, and that’s it.

So I give my kids a lot of chances to demonstrate their knowledge about content. I take late work with no penalty, because 10% off for every day late has nothing to do with how well the kid can write a personal narrative, and that’s what I’m supposed to be assessing. Plus I harass the crap out of them to get the work done at all – I yank ‘em out of lunch, track ‘em down before and after school, call parents to enlist their support…anything that gets the work in. Some of my colleagues get all squicky about this and huff and puff about how then the kids aren’t learning to be responsible. Yep. That’s probably true. But they’re learning to write, and that’s what I’m supposed to be teaching them.

Now, do I think that responsibility is an important thing for kids to learn? Absolutely. If they’re going to go to college, they have to know how to be at least somewhat self-directed in their learning and get their work done on their own. Even if they don’t go to college, they’ll have to take responsibility for meeting deadlines in their jobs and in their personal lives. If your rent gets in late, well, your landlord probably isn’t going to be very understanding about that. So, yes, I want them to learn responsibility. But I want some guidelines on what it means to teach that. Some consistency. Some standards, if you will.

So that’d be my request. As this movement towards national standards keeps barreling forward, add some standards about responsibility. What that looks like in each grade level. What we expect kids to be able to do when they get out of public education. Whether that’s a general set of standards or part of each specific content area, I don’t know, but I’d be open to whatever. I think many people would agree that teaching kids to be productive members of society is part of the school system’s mission. Let’s formalize that so I can stop arguing with my colleagues over it.

What do you think? Do you consider teaching responsibility part of your job? Would you support standards around that goal?

(Photo credit to nosha)


Miss Eyre said...

What a provocative question. My initial response to the question of whether or not teachers should be in the business of teaching responsibility would generally be, "Of course," though the way you answer it here really gives one pause.

I understand the idea behind standards-based grading, but teachers grade, in some sense, on responsibility because there is no other way to keep kids accountable. You can't take away anything from a child these days if he or she slacks off; half the time a parent doesn't care UNLESS the slacking off is reflected in the grade.

I wonder what standards around "what kids should know and be able to do" in terms of responsibility would look like.

Rachel said...

I like the idea of incorporating social characteristics into our standards. For example, when I taught in VA (standards may have since changed) they had an objective that included students working cooperatively with others. I liked that the state acknowledged schools' roles in developing citizens, not just knowledge containers.

As for balancing my grading, I do the total points system - my first year I did % because that's what I was used to. I switched to total points last year for a couple reasons, and I'll do it again this year. The percentage system grouped a bunch of different assignments together so that only those assignments of the heftier weight seemed "important" - or at least that's the way students interpreted it. With the points, I think I can now better balance content & responsibility grading because I can adjust as necessary. Maybe one quiz is just to see if they've read the material from last night - 5-10 point quiz. Not necessarily "content" based, so it's not as many points. But maybe next week is a quiz to make sure they mastered skills - 20-30 point quiz because it's content based. Does that make sense?

I don't hunt my students down the same way you do, but I'm okay with that. Your students in middle school ARE still learning this concept of "personal responsibility" (i.e. no adults are doing it for me!). My 10th graders should have a pretty firm grasp on it - if they're ready to start driving, they're ready for personal responsibility!

teachin' said...

Thanks for your replies, ladies. I guess part of my concern with this is that I'm not sure what's appropriate to expect kids to do on their own and where I should expect to help them with it. So standards would help me figure out if my expectations are too low, too high, or just right (I feel like Goldilocks here).

Miss Eyre, I'm not sure exactly what that would look like, but don't you think they'd be interesting to see? Perhaps that's something I can try to work on, whether individually, with my school, or maybe even with my district.

Rachel, the Virginia thing is interesting. I wonder if other states do that too? And I think this year I'm going to have to rethink some of my hunting kids down - 8th graders need to get ready for high school where they won't have their hands held as much. I need to prep them for that. We'll see how it goes.

vlorbik said...

the kids who *don't* hate math?
we hate this arbitrary kiss the teacher's butt stuff.
i never would've made it back to college
never mind got a phd and a twenty-four year
teaching career if my math classes had rated me
on anything but the math i could put on the page.

there are many others like me.
do it to any other class you like;
they're mostly all mostly opinion anyway.

but it's death to math.
i hope this is still pretty widely understood.
pretty much any pro mathematician
will probably tell you the same thing.

one of the reasons teacher educators
tend to hate and fear them so much i expect.

teachin' said...

Hi vlorbik - thanks for commenting. I'm not sure I totally understand your point - you don't think students should be graded on anything other than test scores, ie the math you could put on the page? No formative assessment grades at all, all summative?

That to me sounds like standards-based grading in the truest sense of the term, and I'd love to be able to do that but right now I don't have that option - it's total points or 80/20. I guess I could do total points and only have summative assessments that I enter...I wonder what that would look like. I'll have to think about that.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
Copyright 2009 I'm a Dreamer All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates created by Deluxe Templates
Wordpress Theme by EZwpthemes