As the fall semester and 2016 come to a close, I asked my students to reflect on how they are doing with blogging. Many said they weren't sure at first, but they have grown to really like it. Others thought it was a great idea from the start and hope to do it long after the school year ends (What a great affirmation for any teacher!). A few are still finding it difficult. I asked them to share how they had grown or something they do well (a glow) and something they need to work on (a grow). Many could do only one of the two. The students who enjoy the process found the glows pretty quickly. Those who don't like to do it focused on the grows. Their reflections gave me insight into more than just their writing process. It gave me a better understanding of each of them. One student even commented on how they have to read and comment on each others' blogs and that allows them to know their classmates more. Awwww.
As I read through their blogs, I started to think of my own process. I have been blogging for 9 months now. While each post is a reflection in itself, I have never put a lot of extra thought into the process itself. I had multiple reasons why I started this (see the first blog in March 2016). One of them was to force myself to put into writing what I do in the classroom for myself and others. I was never one to reflect for long on what I was doing with the students. I knew what worked, what needed tweaking and what to never try again, but that was about as far as it went. I shared with those who I work with and a few friends, but no one else. Why would they care?
Through this process, I have been forced to really think through what I do. Some posts are because I need to keep the ritual going so I don't find an excuse to stop. Others are posts I am truely passionate about and have to stop myself before I write so much I bore the reader. As many of my students expressed in their latest posts, it was definitely easier to write the ones I was excited about. However, it is also the ones that aren't as great (at least in my opinion) that may have given me the best insight. If I can't get behind something I am doing in the classroom or writing about, how can I expect others to? How can I make sure more of what I do is something I can get passionate about? This would be my grow.
I have learned that there is an audience out there for anyone who wants to share their thoughts. I admit I geek out a little when I see my stats increase (especially for new views, and I do check more than I care to admit.) I'm a teacher in a small school in a smallish town. What do I have to offer? Apparently more than I thought based on the number of people who are reading it. While having an audience is not the sole reason one should blog, it helps to know others value what you say. So that would definitely be a glow for me.
As we get ready to finish off the fall semester (we have 3 more days until break), I think about all that I have written in my posts and done in my classroom. For the most part, the students and I are happy with how things are. Most of them enjoy blogging and are greatly improving in their writing skills. Those who don't like it are improving as well, just not quite as quickly (effort goes a long way to improving anything you do, as any teacher can tell you!) Since I started on my own journey, I have grown in a lot of ways. Sharing with others has affected much more than I ever thought possible. It has been a wonderful journey that I hope to take for a long time. Thanks to everyone for taking it with me.
Have a wonderful holiday season!
I know what you're thinking, but no, this is not a blog about the holidays. It is the time of year most teachers dread. Time for grades and report cards. Ok, many students and parents aren't too thrilled about it either. On Sunday, I am co-modding the #svtchat with the wonderful @ms_woz. Both of us wanted to do this topic because we are both confused, passionate, and at times angry about grading. We came up with all the questions for the chat within 5 minutes. This is unheard of for at least me. Usually, I spend some solid time thinking about what I want to ask my PLN about a topic, even one I am passionate about. So why is this topic such an important one?
Grades are personal to everyone involved. Students want to know if they "passed". Parents want to know how their child compares to themselves, other children, or what society says is above or below average. Adminstrators want to keep an eye on what is going on in their school. Teachers have to find a way to convey how the students are actually learning. If we are all working toward the same goal, why should it be so hard.
One of the reasons I am finding it difficult to convey what the students know is that I have to use number grades. We are a standards-based district for our elementary report cards. (This causes some problems for our middle school teachers who use A-F, but I'll save that blog post for one more qualified to discuss it.) While the idea that students can fall on a number scale should be easy to do, it is anything but. Parents (and some students) want their child to be at the highest level of grades. For us, that means a 4, exceeds expectation. Conveying to others that (for me at least) students are not exceeding just because they got all answers correct is a very difficult concept. Giving more work ("extra credit") doesn't work either. As many times as I have tried to explain to some parents what exceeding the standards means, it is still a very high goal for many. The same goes for the other end of the spectrum. A 1 means does not mean the standards. Do you base it on the fact that some students are missing so much work that there is little to score so they earn a 1 or is it for those kids who really have no understanding of the concept. A 2, close to meeting, is not much better. Is a child close to meeting when they can get some of the problems or is it for that child who is ALMOST there, but makes the same mistakes over and over? While a 3, meeting the standards, is the true goal, there is even confusion among the teachers about what that looks like.
Why should it be so difficult? If I talk with a parent about what their child can do or struggles with, it is pretty clear for everyone what to do next. Narrative report cards can give much more information than a letter or number. I tend to write more specific comments on the report card than might be necessary. However, there isn't always enough room to truly convey what I see in each student. I also have 35 students I have to report on. This makes for a lot of work. Is it worth it, yes. Do I always have the energy just before winter break or the end of the school year to do it? Maybe not.
There is no definitive way to do grades. Our district requires certain things for the report card. That usually defines how I grade at the end of the semester each year. Would I like to see it changed. Definitely. Do I know a better way that doesn't put extra work on the teachers and conveys accurately all that is going on with a student. Definitely not.
The chat this week ought to be very interesting to hear the different perspectives on this topic. There are a wide variety of grade levels and others involoved in education. Please join us with your thoughts about grades or leave a comment here.
What I learned:
- There is no right answer when it comes to grades.
- Students are more than a number or a letter.
- This is a much more passionate topic than I ever thought when I was a beginning teacher.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching