Category Archives: Failures

Make a Deal?

I make deals with kids at the ends of semesters. Some of my colleagues don’t agree with my philosophy, but I think it makes perfect sense.

We have very precise course outlines for each of the classes we teach, so what students must learn to pass each course is spelled out (which is wonderful for new teachers learning to instruct the courses). This allows me to look very carefully at the students’ accomplishments and reasons for why they don’t pass a class.

When a student earns over 50% in the class, needs only a very few learnings (or redos), and agrees to a 2-3 week work window, I will pass a student if the essential learnings are met and the student redoes a couple assignments of my choice meeting an agreed upon minimum standard. I think that a student should be allowed a 2-3 week opportnity to pass a class rather than have the student lose an elective and spend 18 weeks repeating an entire course (especially when the student may need very little to pass).

Not only is this compassionate, but also it makes economic sense. If 10 teachers in a department can make 3 deals each (out of 125-150 kids each), that is one section of a course we don’t have to create and staff. Plus, we may be able to keep a student from losing hope. An ‘F’ grade can be very damaging to a student’s feelings of self-worth, in particular a student so close to passing.

I’m encouraging others to take on the small amount of extra work each semester to help these kids out. Maybe I am a bleeding heart. 🙂

Shouldn’t Be In That Position

As I watched the highlights of the Sunday NFL games, one coach was asked about his team’s one-point loss. He replied, “We shouldn’t have been in that position” and said that the final drive of the game for the opponent did not decide the game. He noted that the team bungled numerous opportunities throughout the game and that no game should come down to the final play.

This is exactly how I feel about the end of each semester; one assignment (i.e. the final) should not determine a student’s success or failure.

I know, however, I will have 5-6 students whose passage in a course will be decided by the final. Of course, the odds would seem to indicate that at least one student won’t make it as well. The parents will beg for extra credit or something else, but I always hold firm; no extra assignments and no retakes on the final. After 18 weeks, a student is ready or is not. If a student can’t pass the final, I don’t want to hear anything.

This would seem to go against my allowing students to retake tests belief, but it really does not. Other tests are the first summative assessment after numerous practices. The final is all review material, so the students will see no surprises. All of the material has been seen before. Plus, my finals are always objective. No excuses, especially when (in reality) the final did not determine the student’s success.

Anyone else feel this way?

Standards-Based Grading Presentation on Monday

I have to present on Monday to my department the information I learned from a workshop on standards-based grading two months ago, and the presenter used the following works to base his presentation, of which I have read only three:

  • A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O’Connor,
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck,
  • Transforming Classroom Grading by Robert Marzano,
  • Classroom Assessment & Grading that Work by Robert Marzano, and
  • Classroom Assessment For Student Learning by Richard Stiggins, et al.

Based on his research the presenter provided a number of points about how standards-based grading works, and these are the primary points I noted on my tablet as we discussed this new type of grading.

1. Student behaviors (effort, attendance, etc.) should not be a part of a student’s grades.

2. Late work does not result in a lower grade.

3. Extra credit should not be part of a student’s grade.

4. Academic dishonesty should not result in a lower grade.

5. Attendance should not be a part of a student’s grade.

6. Group scores should not be factored into individual grades.

7. Performance standards must be clear.

8. Grades should not be based on the mean.

9. Zeroes should not be factored into grades.

10. Homework should not be part of a student’s grade.

11. Grades should be based on more recent evidence.

How do you feel about these eleven points?


Previously I have blogged about my feelings on grading, and I’m still slowly molding my grading system, but it’s definitely moving towards standards-based grading. Here are some posts of mine on this topic and grading papers:

1. Standards-Based Grading

2. Standards-Based Grading (cont.) (featuring Jim Van Pelt, an excellent blogger)

3. Excused vs. Unexcused

4. Changing Grading May Change Failure Rates

5. The Rule of 24 and Anchor Papers

Teachers Teaching Teachers

I’m a firm believer in teachers helping their own, and I sure wish our professional development days were much the same. Having said that and being a new department head, I figure I have to walk the walk.

This year we have had three department meetings where we have taught one another with the following sessions:

  • Socratic Seminars in the Classroom,
  • the Thesis Statement and multiple levels of depth,
  • Best Practices for teaching To Kill A Mockingbird, and
  • the Summary Paragraph.

We have also started a year-long conversation regarding our department’s philosophy about vocabulary.

On Monday we have another meeting where we will look at the students with failing grades to see what is the major cause (which may allow us to help one another with some interventions), and then another teacher and I will share what we learned at a standards-based grading workshop we attended. When I put together the hand-out for the session on grading, I’ll post the major points in another post.

No matter how the standards-based grading session goes, I think The Science Goddess and The Repairman will be proud of me for starting the conversation.

Who to Blame?

Parents in a recent survey say teachers should stop blaming them for poor student performance. I agree to an extent. Parents are not 100% responsible for their students’ successes or failures, but they do have an enormous effect.

Without trying to determine every cause, here are my top reasons for my students’ lack of success (in no particular order):

  • reading level,
  • class size,
  • time spent on video games, tv, and the computer,
  • parent involvement,
  • an acceptance of low grades,
  • a lack of internal motivation,
  • attendance,
  • an inability to see relevance, and
  • apathy.

I don’t necessarily think any one person or group is responsible, and the system itself may be the most culpable. Granted, people control the system; however, a concerted effort must be undertaken to change it.

What do you feel are the biggest reasons for your students’ lack of success?

Oldies but Goodies

I may be unable to blog for a couple days, so here is a list of some of my more popular posts from my brief blogging history. I hope these links spark some conversation and, more importantly, some thought on a range of education topics.

1. Teaching Connotation and Denotation (and its follow up post and some poems to use)

2. Using the movie The Matrix in Class

3. Discussions Using the Fish Bowl

4. Do Teachers Create Student Failures?

5. Make-up Work and Absences

6. Standards-Based Grading (and its follow up)

7. The Purpose of Assessment

8. A Fun Game for the Classroom

9.Tracking Themes in Literature

10. Teacher Websites

And on a humorous note: My Snark is Prepared

Standards-Based Grading

I went to a professional development session on standards-based grading the other day, and here are the main ideas.

Formative assessments (practices) should not be factored into grades. This menas homework and classwork is not graded.

Only summative assessments should be recorded into grades. Only course requirements and final assessments should be used to assess student achievement. Continue reading