I wish I could say this post is urgent, but alas, I know the truth: I’m avoiding ‘real’ summer work– the projects and ideas that are supposed to rejuvenate me and get back in touch with my ‘real’ self. So here’s a deal: I’ll write this post, and then go do something. Maybe take the dog for a walk. Maybe organize my jewelry box. Or go find some Pokemon. Who knows? The world is wide open. And gotta catch ’em all.
When the school year starts again, it’s closed, boxed, a hedge maze of navigating rules and schedules. And consistently over the years I’ve tried to shape and refine my teaching practices. Sometimes those practices come at the will of administration and changing district policies, but all in all, I know those are in alignment with my personal teaching values more than ever, and truth be told I am feeling a great confidence of agency. As long as I can honestly say what I’m doing is in the best interest of students as my litmus test, then every decision holds integrity and intention.
The “A” Word
One such is the notion that teachers grade everything. We’ve gotten in this feedback loop of complaining about when students aren’t motivated, even for grades, and then use too many sticks and run out of carrots. In this post about accountability, I should have said ‘punitive’ — but was trying to be too soft-edged, I suppose. I am really starting to dislike the word ‘accountable,’ and I know that bias is all mine. Accountability is an accountant, a bean-counter, a points-shiny-stars-gamificationated-hoop-jumping word. Please– any other word but ‘accountable.’ If, in my book club, the other ladies said, “we are going to hold you accountable for reading all the books” I’d be so out of there my wine glass would shatter from the squealing of tires. We read each other’s book choices because we get to discuss things with those of various points of view. And there are snacks.
The question became side-tracked, naturally. And that’s fine. Let me see if I can get this back on point: the 40 book challenge is meant to create readers. There are multiple ways for students to share what they’ve read.
The post I linked above says many things, but mainly this:
An unfamiliar parent emailed me to complain. She tracked me down on the Internet after asking her son’s teacher about the “outrageous requirement” that students read 40 books and complete 40 book reports this school year. Her son’s teacher said the assignment was based on my work, and this upset mom wanted me to know that I was hurting her son. I responded that while I expect my students to read 40 books, I don’t tie any assignments or grades to this expectation.
Consider this: when doing something like a 40-book challenge, weave in the next two concepts about technology and grading policies. Consider carefully what the goal is. It takes students some getting used to doing something because it’s amazing. Maybe I can do a mash-up between books and Pokemon? Wait, what am I saying?!
If you want to know exactly how to best use technology for any student, underserved or not, read this article by Molly B. Zielezinski @mollybullock. What a Decade of Education Research Tells Us About Technology in the Hands of Underserved Students. The article provides clear constructs for how to use technology in the classroom.
Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Policies by Andrew Miller. Our new admin had their plates full last year; I wonder if a discussion about grading policies will hit the meetings this year? I hope so. As a staff, learning new ways to grade and assess effectively and meaningfully would sure go a long way to help our students we serve. I had a great conservation about grading policies in Twitter at #edchat the other day. It’s on everyone’s minds, and something that the current grading software programs we use don’t provide much in terms of true reflection of growth or stagnation, for that matter. I am going to integrate Miller’s ideas in with my syllabus for this year, along with some of the grading policies and explanations for parents.
This is one of those issues I didn’t think was a big deal until I encountered an interpretation I had never considered before. If a student is talking to another teacher, and receives a late pass, but another teacher still marks them down tardy as his/her only means of showing that the student missed instruction, what is the point of this? If a teacher’s class runs over a few minutes, and then asks that those students are not marked tardy, why wouldn’t people honor that? Perhaps, like the word accountable, there needs to be different shades of meaning: if a student is clearly hanging out in the bathroom avoiding class, then yes, tardy. But for those times where students need to confer with a teacher for a few minutes, but another teacher needs to show that they missed the entry task, perhaps a ‘conference’ demarkation would be a good idea? That way they’re not punished or disciplined in any way, and it shows that the student was attempting to get clarification on something, and allows for flexibility for the entire staff.
If we truly want this school-to-prison pipeline to be shut down, it’s time.
Well, I made a deal. This post is done. Time to honor summer again. I felt as if I haven’t gotten anything done, or accomplished, but that’s not true. I made this, and others are going to share it. I hope you will, too.