Should students be allowed to argue for a higher grade?

@MrBrettClark 1 Comments

I had a student one time who failed my Pre-Algebra class with a 59.3% for the semester.  He stood at my desk, with his first clinched, asking me to round his grade up to a D for the semester so he wouldn't have to re-take Pre-Algebra.  I didn't budge, and I had that same student again the next year.  This time he finished with a C.

I am glad I didn't round his grade up, because he needed another round of Pre-Algebra.  However, I wonder now if he needed another year of Pre-Algebra.  What if I had given him the chance to learn from his mistakes the very moment he made them, instead of a year later?  What if I had given him the chance to try again on every failed summative assessment?  Instead, the moment he failed, we were moving on and accepting his failure.

Honestly, how many of us understand something the first time we try it?  Right now I am trying to teach my son how to tie his shoes, and doing a terrible job at it.  He makes his loops too big, or he makes them too small.  He gets his fingers all tangled up and leaves his laces in a knot.  Eventually he'll get it, and if he was in my "shoe-tying" class, he'd get an F because his previous failures would, more than likely, outweigh his current success.

Does that feel wrong to anyone else but me?  So, I ask again, should students be allowed to argue for a higher grade?

I say, no, but they should be allowed the opportunity to provide evidence that they have learned from their mistakes and mastered a standard they once struggled with. Just like people are allowed to take the drivers test as many times as they need to, or a CPA is given years to pass all the test it takes to earn that title.  I had classmates who took the PRAXIS II exam multiple times before passing and then given their teaching license.  I have already had over 20 typos in this blog, but many of them you'll never see because I was allowed to replace my mistakes. 

What am I proposing? (Of course, this isn't an original idea of mine.  You can find research from Stiggins, Reaves, and other assessment experts on the issue.)  A student at any time should be allowed to have the opportunity to replace any graded assignment with another assignment that covers the same material.  I know this sounds like a lot of work for the teacher, but only because we teachers have the tendency to assign more homework and grades than what are necessary.  However,I'll have to discuss that sentence at another time.

In the meantime, lets give every student that walks in our classrooms the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  This way, instead of trying to argue for a higher grade, or earn some irrational extra credit, they will work on their areas of need. 

Does this sound like something you could use in your class or would want to see in your child's class?

Here are a few quotes from some experts. The last one might be my favorite.

“While high grades provide a small amount of motivation for some students, low grades do not motive students to do better. In fact they usually lead to withdrawal.” (Rick Wormeli)

“In order for a grade to be a valid mechanism for feedback and instructional planning, we cannot let the number of attempts to learn concepts and skills significantly influence the grade as an accurate indicator of mastery.” (Rick Wormeli)

“Healthy attitude for a teacher: Any grade below a C is always temporary.” (Doug Reeves)

“Are we interested more in holding students accountable or making sure they learn? Some accountability measures become ‘learn or I will hurt you’ measures.” (Nancy Doda/Rick Wormeli)


A Khan Academy Moment

@MrBrettClark 7 Comments

I wanted to share a quick experience I had today with Khan Academy.  My 8th grade students were in the lab today working on their Khan Academy lessons.  I walked over to a student, who has had some major struggles in school, both academically and behaviorally, and I was shocked by what I saw on his screen.  No, he wasn't on facebook, twitter, or gmail.  He was working on logarithms. 

I asked him why he was working on that, just out of curiosity.  He said, "I just wanted to know what they were."  I asked him if he understood what was on his screen.  He said, "no."  I asked him what could he do to find out more.  He started clicking the hint key.  A few seconds later he said to me, "Is that really all you have to do?"  I told him yes, and he started working through the problems.  I checked on him a few times, and he started his streak over several times and looked at the hints again.  A few minutes after that, he said he had correctly answered 9 questions in a row.  A student has to get 10 right in a row to be considered proficient on that lesson.  I stood there and watched as this student got his 10th problem in a row correct on adding, subtracting, and multiplying with logarithms! This is something that is introduced later in high school.

The most compelling thing to me, was that he learned this, not because it was the next section in his book, but because he saw something he didn't understand and wanted to know what it was. 

To find out more about Khan Academy, check out my previous post, or visit their website.


My first day with Khan Academy

@MrBrettClark 1 Comments

There is a lot of talk in the education world about a "flipped classroom," where a student goes home and watches video lessons for his or her homework, then the next day they work on the assignment they traditionally would have done as homework with the teacher acting more as coach.  Now, that is a very simple explanation of a very complex process.

At the center of this discussion is a man named, Salman Khan, who is the founder of Khan Academy.  You can find out more about him by watching his speech at TED Talks and by checking out his website.


I'm not saying he has all the answers, but I decided I wanted to try this in my remediation classes the last few weeks of school.  So, I introduced The Khan Academy to my students today.  I showed them how to sign up, add me as their coach, start lessons, watch videos, get hints, and earn badges for their progress.  My first two remediation classes have access to the computer lab.  We went down, signed up and I let them explore a little bit.  It took them a while to get going, but they appeared to be genuinely excited about it.

This brings me to my last period of the day.  This class does not have access to the computer lab.  I only have 5 computers in my classrooms.  I told them how I would break them up into groups and they would probably only get one day a week on Khan Academy during class, but they could always get on at home if they wanted.  I let one student demonstrate on the Promethean Board how to use Khan Academy. I gave them all the information I had given my other classes, but we didn't get to the lab.

After I put my sons to bed I signed into my account on Khan Academy and was just playing around.  Then, I noticed something.  One of my 9th period students had gone home, created an account, added me as his coach, and worked on 15 different lessons!  He did this, not because I gave it to him as homework, but completely on his own!

I can not wait to talk to this young man tomorrow, who also happens to be ELL, and find out what he thought about doing these lessons at home.  Like I said, I do not think that the flipped classroom holds all the answers to everything that needs fixed in education, but I am anxious to see how these last 33 days of school are going to go with my students using Khan Academy!


What makes a great teacher?

@MrBrettClark 1 Comments

Think about the teachers you have had over the years.  Everyone of us have had teachers who we would categorize at many levels from "Jedi Master" to "Train Wreck".  Although, it might be humorous and maybe even therapeutic to share stories and characteristics of those "Train Wreck" teachers, lets focus on what makes a great teacher.

When I first started my masters program I read a book by Jeff Kottler, Stanley Zehm, and Ellen Kottler called, "On Being a Teacher: The Human Dimension."  In the opening chapter, they layout what they believe makes a great teacher.  In no certain order, here is their list, with some of my toughts:

1.  Charisma - This is the ability to inspire others.  I don't care how well a teacher knows his or her content area.  If that teacher can not inspire the students in the class, then how much good can they accomplish.

2.  Compassion - Teachers have to care more about their students than they do their subject area.  That sometimes mean putting the books aside to deal with issues the students are facing.

3.  Egalitarianism - We as teachers have to rise above discrimination and prejudice and treat all students equally.  Students will not reach their highest level of success in a class where the teacher is perceived as biased or inequitable in the way he or she enforces rules.

4.   Working with Diverse Students - No two students are alike and the teacher who can adapt to meet the needs of all students is truly a great teacher. 

5.  Sense of Humor - There are very few times when laughter is not a good thing.  We enjoy laughing when we feel on the mountain top and we need laughter when we are in the valley. 

6.   Additional Traits - Smarts, creativity, honesty, emotional stability, patience, the ability to challenge or motivate, novelty, and interest in students. In these additional traits, a teacher must allow themselves to be human and to take risk, even if it means failing in front of our students.  We must show our students that we can be trusted.  That we can provide stability, even in the most difficult and unstable times.  That we will be patient, because our students are worth waiting on.  That we will challenge them and push them to their highest level of success.  That we will be ourselves, and they should do the same.  That we care about them as people and we are invested in them, and not just our subject.

I would love to hear what you would add to this list.  Maybe share a tribute to a great teacher you had and what made him or her great.