by thea marie
What's on my mind....
|Today was the first day back to school here, but only for the teachers. It was what is called a Teacher Work Day. It should be renamed "Staff Meeting Day" because that is mostly what we do on these days without kids. We don't get a lot of time to do what we really need to do: work in our rooms, prepare our lessons, and get ready for our students. But that's not what's on my mind.
In one of the two staff meetings I attended today, the subject of assigning academic grades came up. It's time for second report cards, and the principal was speaking to us about her philosophy for assigning academic grades. Now, she and I as educators don't often share the same points of view on many things. But on the topic of grading, as much as I may not have wanted to for more personal reasons, I had to agree with her today.
She feels that a teacher should not rely on the numbers alone when issuing a student a grade. Her talk with us this morning was about the big picture. Did the kid show mastery of the concept? Does the child demonstrate that he or she knows the material?
She was saying that is the real question a teacher needs to consider when issuing grades. The grade a kid gets should not just be the result of an equation or the accumulation of assigned points; it should also be reflective of the answer to that very important question: can the child show mastery of the concept?
As a parent of three boys, each of whom is an individual unto himself, and as a veteran educator, I have been forced to approach this topic from several different perspectives.
As a teacher, I will not fail student who has done the work but struggled, or who has given it a good shot but come up short. I also will not fail a kid who even though he or she has, at best, a spotty homework/classwork record, but has aced the tests and quizzes. In both aforementioned cases, the student certainly won't get the highest grades, but he or she will not fail my class.
A student who pays attention, asks questions, and tries will get something out of the lessons, even if it's just a snippet of what was presented. Because he or she has made an attempt at learning, has done the practice, and has shown some understanding- even if it isn't on or near mastery level; I don't consider that failing.
By that same token, a student who rarely does classwork, never does homework, but can pull 80's, 90's, and 100's on the tests, also will not fail my class. It may make me angry and frustrated that the kid hasn't done the work, but the bottom line is maybe she didn't have to.
Some will argue that not doing homework and not doing classwork should fail a student because that's how it is in real life. In the world of work, you may be very intelligent, but if you don't do the job you're assigned, you'll bet fired from the job. That it true. But we're talking academics here, not the world of work. The objective of school and classes is to impart academic knowledge. If the child can show that he or she has gained and can work with that knowledge, then he or she has achieved the objective. Surely, the student should be graded down for the other areas which were lacking, but I don't think a failing grade is fair.
My youngest son, one of the two who tested off the paper on standardized tests, had a Kryptonotic aversion to homework. He began reading at age four, and by the third grade tests showed his comprehension near the ninth grade level. Because he often "forgot" to do his homework and had difficulty finishing his classwork, despite his high test grades and active participation in the class, he earned a grade of F. When I went to see his teacher about the grade, and to see how the grade was calculated, it was clear that he was mostly failing for not doing his homework. I asked if he was being graded for his progress in Reading or for doing his homework. To my surprise, the teacher looked a bit stunned to see that flunking him for not doing his homework was what she had done.
By high school, this had become my son's pattern, and I had long since quit going to bat for him over it. If you know what is expected of you, then dammit, you ought to do SOME of it. But my child obviously felt that the labs and classwork were for someone other than him. For him, doing homework was like swallowing cyanide. But his test and quiz grades in these classes were always in the 90's to 100. Because of the labs and homework, or I should say, lack thereof, he received F's.
I didn't fight for him, even though I wanted to. I knew my child, I knew what his patterns were, and I felt that he needed to suffer the consequences of his poor choices, which were repeating the class if he wanted to graduate on time. He should have done the work, but in his case, did he have to? If the bottom line is learning the material, do all kids really need the drill and practice that is assigned?
Life is not just about passing tests; it is about going the distance. But are you a complete failure because you don't?
I believe that F's are for those students who sit and do nothing. To me, fail means that you failed to attempt, and you failed to demonstrate that you understand the concept at all.