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friday, august 19, 2005

this whole long term, science sub is turning out to be quite a learning experience - and, no, not in science. well, okay, maybe a little in science, but that's not what i'm talking about so much here. i'm talking about in teaching procedures, room control, even grading.

the grading is a big one right now because i had a real dilemma with most my kids. i remember when i was in middle school - teachers pretty much expected you to do what was required and there was no real . . . coddling. if you didn't get it, it was up to you to figure out how to go about getting it so you could pass. it was harsh, but it made sure the kids who advanced knew the material (at least until schools started adopting a no retention policy and promoted kids regardless of grades). obviously, this approach has its problems, but it really seems better to me than the approach that prevails now for the most part. and i have issues with both styles in that kids are expected to know study skills but are never actually taught them, but that's a whole different rant for another day. i do think it's good that teachers are trying to figure out how to get below grade level kids up to grade level, but i also think we have to watch for making the standards too wishy-washy and allowing kids who aren't ready to move up in grades because the curriculum and grading system have been modified so much.

which brings me to my classes.

most, though not all, my kids are working below grade level. granted, this is the first 2 weeks of middle school for them and middle school is a whole 'nother ball game from elementary (i think it's crazy that 6th grade is now middle school, but - again - a rant for another day), so there's a whole lot of adjusting going on for them. they're switching classrooms, have a completely different level of work and homework expected, and so on. however, even my best students are failing most of the homework, so i went to another teacher to ask for help. she suggested more in class work and very little homework and to adjust my grading system to a 5 point scale based mostly on effort.

both these options bother me a little. i am going to try to increase the amount of in class work, but do think i need to keep homework part of the picture. and grading solely on effort really bothers me. even if i adjust the grading scale, i think i still need to keep the percent the kids are getting right/wrong in there somehow. the number of 'f's are depressing, but passing them solely on effort just seems wrong to me. might as well just pass them without expecting them to actually learn anything!

so i came up with a dual grading option that i just might keep after this. it combines an effort grade and a percent correct grade into one score. first i figure out how much of the assignment they attempted to do and give it a number between 1 and 5 (based on percentage of the total points the assignment would be usually be worth). then i give a second number between 1 and 5 based on how much they actually got correct. i add these 2 numbers then average them to come up with a final score between 1 and 5 which equates to a A through F grade value for them. this way i'm getting a few more c's, my a's and b's are still getting a's and b's and my second language students have a chance to pass the class because they are trying even if they aren't quite getting it. the 1-5 scale also reduces the amount the homework actually counts in the total grade since i grade in class work and quizzes and tests on what they're actually worth. it's a bit more complicated than just grading straight through based on percent correct, but i think i like it. figuring in effort is always tough to do, and this does that without compromising too much. the kids get something for trying. i also hope it will encourage them to try to figure out the actual knowledge part eventually instead of frustrating them.

all of that made no sense, i'm sure.

i am also working on doing other things that i hope will help: trying to incorporate study skills of note taking, test study guides, and so on into the lessons; writing more notes and questions on the assignments (before all i did, really, was mark what was wrong); trying to do more in class work while trying to reduce the homework load a little; and so on. now i just have to figure out how to get them up to grade level. i had been using some printables from teachervision.com, supposedly for 6th graders, but my kids can't seem to get it. granted, they can't seem to "get" following instructions either - even when given 3 or 4 times, but it was really depressing to think i'd found some cool stuff to get started with only to have even the better students struggling. i'm sure part of it is my lack of experience both as a the teacher and with the subject matter, but there's no doubt i have to adjust some things to try to bring them up to level some how.

course, it's also quite possible the stuff at teachervision was too advanced, but that left me with pretty much nothing to work with so we'll not go there. ;)

the kids themselves have been amazingly patient with my learning process, however, so that's a very good thing. this group has proven to be a good group to learn with even if i'm only learning with them for a month or so. and from here on out, it should get a little easier since all the 6th grade teachers got together to determine lesson plans and so on for the next few weeks. we didn't make exact plans - i wasn't given lesson plans to implement, but we did determine what we were covering and ideas for the labs and so on were given. so i won't be searching quite so much and trying to figure it all out on my own so much. and they'll be giving me actual lesson ideas and instructions to help me out as well. the science teachers as a whole also will be meeting next week and i'll get more input there. and all of this will allow me to work more effectively with the material and make adjustments to my own group of slow starters.

i'm also getting quite an ear- and mindful at the general staff meetings. i've asked for a staff notebook of my own to be able to read and mark up and keep even after i'm no longer long term. i figure the more i know about everything, the easier the teaching thing will become no matter what subject i'm in and where my kids are. i still have to learn how to "bring them up," so to speak, but i'll get there. it's all a matter of adjusting my approach as i learn to deal with the different situations, really.

one interesting note from one of the teachers helping me out: seems the stuff i have questions on is the stuff the certification programs don't really teach you.

sounds like we're not the only ones who need to make some adjustments!

word of the moment: phlegmatic

stolidly calm, unexcitable; unemotional; having or showing a slow and stolid temperament

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