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This post has been a good year in the making, and I am not even close to being done with the project in a way that I can be thorough or complete with my thought. However, I do want to share what I have so far.

Last year, I attended some training with the Marzano Institute in relation to using proficiency scales. I can’t even get into that here in one blog post. There is a lot to think about, but the following chart is the result of that training, and I use it almost every day in the classroom.  
This is the grading scale I use for most assignments in my classroom. You will notice that the lowest grade a student can get on the assignment is a 2 out of 4, or a 50%.

Some people may be groaning right now. I get it. I see the reasons why this looks like I am trying to “make it easier” for the students. But this is not the case. Rather, I am making it fair.

Let me explain.

It is not easy to fail on a scale like this unless a student does not turn in work. Then I still give students a zero on the assignment. On the flip side, it is also not easy for students to get a 4 on most assignments in my classroom.

Take writing for example. Today in my class, students rewrote a paragraph for me where they were showing their ability to correct or edit a few different grammar mistakes. On an assignment like this, I do not mark how many they miss. Rather, I look at their work and give them a grade based on where they stand on the scale: advanced, proficient, low proficient, or basic. I rarely have a student in the below basic category on this assignment.

For me and the students in my class, this makes sense. They know where they stand on the assignment. It also works well when for our Standard Based Report Cards that are aligned to the Common Core.  Students really like the scales because the seem fair to them.

This is what I have observed after having used this scale for the last year:

  • I have lots of B- and C students.
  • It is hard to get a solid A in the class. if a students does this, the grade reflects that this is truly a student who is performing at the “advanced” level.
  • I do not have very many students fail the class. If they do, it due to a lack of turning in work.
  • I do give deadlines, but student grades cannot be penalized for being late when they are tied to a standard.
  • Grading like this takes a huge shift in mindset.

I would love to hear the thoughts of you who have used similar scales. What works. What doesn’t. How did students, parents, administrators etc. respond?

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At the moment, my students are working on a project. I want them to be creative, so I give them as little guidance as possible when starting the project. This drives them nuts because they want as much guidance as possible. Really, they want the whole thing spelled out for them.

No Way!

One of the best things I have found to help inspire students is to show them examples of people who are creative, and it really helps if there is some explanation of the “where” and “how” these people come up with their ideas.

OK Go is a great place to turn for examples of creativity. I don’t think the guys have ever put together a project that didn’t totally outdo the last one. Their projects just keep getting bigger and bigger. What I really like about the band is that they not only produce great music videos, but they also often have a follow-up video that shows how they put the videos together. They show the whole process from the initial brainstorming all the way through to the finished product.

This is powerful for students to see. Too many students (or people in general) feel that they have no creative talent. They feel that creative people are just born that way. But this is not the case. Students need to know that anyone can be creative if they put their minds to it.

It just takes a bunch of hard work.

Today, the video that I showed was “The One Moment.” I started by showing the actual music video and followed it with the “making of” video. The music video itself is just over 4 minutes long, and the “making of” video is just over 5 minutes long. So, the whole “creative inspiration” only takes 10 or 12 minutes. I don’t like to talk much about it with the students. I let them process what they need to out of the videos, and then we get right to work on the projects.

Below, you will find both “The One Moment” and the behind the scenes look at the video production.

 

 

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Grading projects can be messy, but it doesn’t have to be. The number one rule teachers break when grading a project is that they make it too complicated. Actually, this is probably the case for most of the headaches that teachers have.  I can’t say it any plainer:

Make it simple!!!

Here is a simple rubric that can be used for most projects done in the classroom. I also like this one because it can be adapted quickly (if that is really called for) to meet the needs of a particular assignment.

Remember, and I want you to repeat this 3 times, “I don’t have to grade every single thing a student does in my class.”

Life just got a whole lot easier!

Link:  General Project Rubric

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I just finished up summer school classes today. As a part of the class for the last few days, students had to create a choose-your-own-adventure story using Google Forms. At first glance, the project seems pretty big. There are several steps in creating the story, and getting it all to work out in Google Forms takes some patience and attention to detail. However, after having worked on the project with several students, I found that it is a pretty simple project once they get their minds wrapped around how it works.

This is where the problem rears its ugly head!

A good bunch of students do not like to wrap their minds around anything if they think it has to do with learning. It is amazing how many students would rather sit and look at the wall instead of using their allotted learning time wisely. I think that some of this is human nature, but some of it also has to do with the fact that thinking is work, something teens try to avoid like a kiss from aunt Susan.

This is where technology projects come in handy. Notice that I said technology projects, not just technology. Technology by itself is not the key to engaging students. A computer is only good if the task at hand is meaningful or has a purpose. John McCarthy says in his Edutopia article, “Igniting Student Engagement,” that there are three components to successfully egaging students:

  1. Connect skills and  concepts to student interests.
  2. Engage students in professional dialogue with professionals in the field.
  3. Challengs students to solve a problem, design for a need, or explore their own questions.

This makes a lot of sense, and with technology, the possiblility of accomplishing these tasks is very real. Just think of how much easier all three of these suggestions are when using tech in the classroom.

Too many educators, and especially too many adminstrators, think that having a shiny bank of chromebooks in the front of the room take their rooms and schools to the cutting edge of technology. However, those shiny chromebooks are only good when the students use them to think and learn. Sure, wordprocessing and research are good, but put those skills to work in having a student creat a product that can be share with classmates and even the entire world.

The following links will give you a place to start when planning a technology project to use in the classroom:

 

 

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One sure fire way for a teacher to burn out is to spend hours and hours pouring over student papers. Grading has to be one of the biggest culprits of killing teachers. Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom as an instructor has done it, and anyone who has lasted long in the classroom has figured out a means of enduring it. But a teacher does not need to put up with all of this tedious grading for hours on end.

Some seem to think that this is the lot of a teacher. I have worked with many teachers in the past, some having worked for decades, who feel this is just the life a teacher has chosen to lead. Somehow, they have figured out how to manage the hours of work.

I’ll be honest, I am still not now what I consider to be seasoned teacher. I still do not have my first ten years down. However, I do know this; if I had to spend several hours a night grading papers, I would not still be teaching at this point. I probably wouldn’t have made it through the first few years.

The Problem

Being an English teacher, there is plenty of grading to do. Papers are the big time eaters. There is nothing more depressing to a first year teacher than a pile of 100 student essay, all written to the lofty 5 page length requirement, laying on a desk next to an extensive rubric that grades for everything from style and voice down to the last poorly place comma. Of course, reading the papers isn’t all that bad. The hard part is making comments and marking the rubric and then rereading the paper to check for grammar errors. This takes time. I have worked with teachers in the past who take up to a 1/2 hour per paper graded. With a 100 papers, this is some serious time, most of which has to be done outside of normal school hours.

I’ve been there. I’ve done it.

But now I have seen the light (I’m trying to see how many cliche’s I can use!).

Read these next few words knowing that I will explain what I mean in the next few paragraphs. Grading papers, especially student writing, is overrated.

Just ask any student: “How many of the comments did you read that I spent hours writing knowing they were words of great wisdom that would make you a better writer?”

The answer for 99 percent of the students I have worked with is, “None. Well I did look at the grade at the top, but after that, none.” Teachers are killing themselves by hours of grading and commenting when the students are not even paying attention.

The Solution

Don’t grade so much. This means something different for every teacher. This is what it means for me.

When grading anything that resembles a test, I use multiple choice bubble sheets. My school does not have a scanner to grade these, so I have improvised by using the Catpin Bubble Sheet Generator. I just make a bubble sheet for the test. Then for the answer key, I use a hole punch and make a master. I then use this to grade the test. I can do a whole class in less than five minutes. No more looking back and forth at a master test or answer page. Just overlay the master, mark those that are wrong with a marker, and count up how many the students missed.

This,  of course doesn’t help with writing projects. Here is how I handle the grading of papers.

To start, I plan class activities in such a manner that I will have some time to grade papers while students are working independently and quietly in the classroom. My plan, in most cases, is to have the papers graded, within one class period (we are on the block) before the students leave the room.

The biggest change I had to make in my grading style was to get over making comments on the papers. Anymore, I don’t even write a word on most papers I grade. I read the paper one time through and then go to the rubric. On a sticky note, I record the grades according the rubric. I then tuck these grades into a separate pile, mark the paper as graded with a check, and move on to the next paper. Except for the check, there are no other marks on the paper! Remember, the students are not going to read them.

I can feel the cringing and screaming from all you seasoned teachers. Students need feedback! Well, we’re not done with the papers yet. Let me restate that. The students are not done with their papers yet.

Usually, in one of the next few class periods, I give the students back their papers with a rubric. They grade their own papers by analyzing what they have written in comparison to the rubric. I have many different means of doing this. Sometimes, I also give them some exemplar papers to read before they read theirs, so they know what a top notch paper looks like. When they are finished looking over their own paper, I show them the grade that I gave them. They then compare what I observed when I graded their paper to what they found.

The students give themselves their own feedback. I do not have to tell them a thing. This is students being critical of their own work and becoming better writers. In my experience, students like this means of grading. Students often comment that they like getting a paper grade within a week instead of waiting for a month, which is going to be the case if a teacher spends a 1/2 hour on each paper.

Cutting down on grading does not mean that a teacher is slacking off on the job or that a teacher doesn’t care about student learning. It just makes sense. On top of that, it keeps me sane!

 

 

 

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Handwriting vs. Typing

The Grammarly Facebook page had an interesting question for readers today. The asked whether or not cursive writing should be taught in schools. I was quite surprised to see that most of the comments by readers said “Yes, students should learn to write in cursive.”  This totally blew my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a good skill to be able to write legibly. However, I did learn to use cursive in school, and I don’t think I have used it since. Sure, you might notice some hints of cursive in my handwriting, but I don’t know that I could write a whole sentence in perfect cursive. Maybe I will give it a quick try… I just tried, and, no I cannot do it. I am not sure how to make some of the letters anymore. I think I have them right, but I’m not quite sure.

I think we might be better off, and so would all students, to learn to type efficiently. Right now, I have a bunch of students who can neither write legibly (in any form, let alone cursive), or type efficiently. Many of my high school students still use the one finger method, and many of them complain about how slow they are.

I can see that it would be nice to have a bunch of kids who can write very nicely with a pen, but I am afraid those days are coming to an end. I mean the days of writing on a paper with a pen. I will admit, that I like to write with a pen. When I want to jot down a quick note, I head straight for the sticky note drawer. However, these notes are for me to read and no one else. Therefore, I can write as sloppy as I want to and in any form (and I often do!).

On the other hand, I write on a daily basis for others using a keyboard, and I do this multiple times. Sometimes, I feel like I spend the whole day doing this. This is the skill that is going to help students become successful. This how people communicate now through written word. We don’t write a letter and send it in the mail. We use e-mail. Kids don’t write a note on a piece of paper and slyly pass it across the room. They text.

In light of this, I would venture to say that typing should be taught before handwriting. When a student becomes proficient on the keyboard, then they can learn to write with a  pencil. We’re probably not quite to that point yet, but it’s coming.

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Cool video

I shared this quick video today with my students. It leads to a good discussion of what they want to do in the future and how they are going to get there. Mind you, we were working with grammar today, so I tied the video into that by stressing the opportunities that educations gives a person. The narrator does not say to skip school. Rather, he says that a person should pursue a career that is he or she is interested in and passionate about.

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