Rethinking Grading (and virtually everything else)

Instruction, Professional Development

As usual, I have a giant list of teacher books to read this summer.  There are even some books I’d like to revisit (Focus by Mike Schmoker being one of those).  I thought this stack would be the extent of my PD this summer, but yesterday I was given an awesome opportunity.  I was able to go to a conference featuring Rick Wormlei! (Jealous? You should be.  Hehe.  JK.  Sort of).

The conference at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL was very thought provoking.  If you didn’t make it, here are some resources from the day.  The conference focused on a few different topics: Project/Problem Based Learning (PBL), Standards Based Grading (SBG), and Redos & Retakes.  Now, just one of those topics would be enough to send my head spinning, but all three…KABOOM!  I’m not going to explain what all of these mean; I’m going to assume you know.  And if you don’t, I’m going to suggest you go do some serious research because this is good stuff.  It’s going to take some time to wrap my head around it all, but here’s what I’ve thought so far.

  • I really want to implement PBL in my classroom but I’m seriously struggling with figuring out how to work it in to English 11 (and Public Speaking, for that matter).  
    • Since I’m curious, I’ve done a little research so I’ll share the sites I’ve found so far.  I have a LOT of reading to do (in addition to the books stacked pictured above).
    • In addition, Wormlei has resources on his page and I logged into my English Companion Ning account to see what my PLN was saying about it.  Side note, if you’re an English teacher and you’re NOT a member of that ning, you need to join ASAP!  It’s a community started by Jim Burke and the resources are endless!
    • One idea for this popped in my head after I received an email from my friend and colleague, Hannah (@hanzarz) who was #ACTE today.  It said “I have an awesome idea-ish for PBL project. Communities = companies.  I’ll explain later.” As of right now I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it sparked an idea for my Public Speaking class.  A couple ideas actually.  
      • I really want to make this class relevant, so I plan to ask students right away what careers they plan to pursue later in life.  Then I thought we could research the types of speaking/presentations/etc. that are required for those jobs (I don’t want this to take very long).  The PBL part (I think) would be to have the students come up with a real-world problem related to the job of their choice.  Prepare a presentation for it and present it to the class (and, if I can pull it off, members of the community who are in that field).  Granted, there is a lot of work to be done here to make this PBL and improve it, but I think it could be cool.  The first step, according to Rick Wormlei, is unpacking the standards; however, there are no official standards for public speaking (aside from those included in the English CCSS) in Alabama so I’m going to have to figure that out.  The other idea is that students are in groups and they create a company.  There are several public speaking opportunities here:  interviewing each other for the “positions” in the company, proposals for products, presentations to potential investors.  This could potentially be an ongoing project while we are doing other speeches in class as well. (I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on these ideas!!) 
  • As far as SBG, I really want to see a gradebook.  I can’t quite wrap my head around this.  I think it’s brilliant, but logistically, I’m stuck.  You’ll find if you read my blog for any length of time that details aren’t really my thing. I can see a “big picture” or “big idea” but I really struggle with logistics, details, and application.  (Yikes!)
  • Redos, retakes-  I’m on board for this.  I’ll be honest, it’s taken a little while for me to be convinced.  I still struggle with those kids who just refuse to do anything.  For example, I had a student who didn’t turn in his giant essay that we worked on for WEEKS.  I gave him until AFTER school was out.  I sent him to Saturday school (he didn’t have a ride).  I asked his teachers to send him to see me.  I let him come work in my classroom. I called his mom. I emailed him.  I called home (again).  I did everything I could think to do, and he still didn’t turn in his essay.  How do these ideas apply to kids like him?
    • The scariest (and best?) part about this is that it really makes you rethink everything you do. If a student doesn’t have to make it up, then what was it worth in the first place?  
Okay, as usual, my post is scattered and messy. I apologize for that.  What I’m getting at is this, I’m so overwhelmed with ideas for next year and improving my teaching that I can’t seem to organize them.  I’ve got to figure out a way to take what I’m hearing and reading and put it into a concrete, usable format.  
Anyway, lots to think about.  I’ll be posting more this summer about all of the above as well as my findings from that stack of books.  Also, I’ll soon have a short review of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, which I’m going to go read right now.
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