Making the Grade, I

If you’re reading this post “live,”  tomorrow marks the end of the Third Reporting Period of the Second Semester in my face-to-face teaching world. Grades must be finalized by Friday, and report cards go home the following Tuesday. It’s also the week when AP testing begins, and end-of-year testing starts in three weeks. So everyone, students and teachers alike, is thinking about grades.

Back in September, I described the new, improved grading system my Spanish-teacher colleague and I developed this year. It’s designed to focus on proficiency rather than task compliance, to help students see, chart, and celebrate their growth over time. It’s a work in progress, but as we approach the end of the year, I can see real successes along with areas we might want to revise.

Many successes have come, with my early-morning Latin II class and the upper-level afternoon class. In both groups, the culture has shifted from “Do I have to do this?” to “I am learning and growing.” But not everyone is fully onboard.

Poor O, for example. I rarely mention him because there’s not much to say. He’s quiet and sweet, but all he really wants is to sleep. Unlike his friends D and U, seniors working to improve their GPA’s and complete that last graduation requirement, O isn’t graduating this year. Graduation, to him, seems as distant and impossible as any other long-term goal that Powers That Be (at home or school) dangle to “motivate” him.  The more pressure his Powers put on O, the sadder, more disconnected, more sleepy he gets, and the lower his grade becomes.  O would rather have a single-digit “grade” that measures nothing than put in effort, fall short of his (impossibly high) standards, and have to live with the self-imposed label of Not Good Enough.  B, in the mid-morning class, and L in the afternoon follow the same “avoidance of failure” pattern.

And then there’s X, of the happy couple of X and Y.  The relationship is old enough now that she’s able to concentrate – much of the time – on school work.  X is brilliant, so she’s sailed through school with minimal effort, though Ms. X calls her  “a good hard little worker who does lots and lots of extra credit.”  But X – precisely because she has done “all that extra credit” in the past – hasn’t really grasped the connection between academic effort and The Grade.  As an athlete, a very good one, she understands the effort-results connection, and we’ve talked about how learning a language – learning it deeply – is much more like what she does on the court than what happens in most classrooms.  But almost every day, though X talks about how she “has to”  graduate with honors, there’s a huge disconnect between words and actions.

I see that disconnect with the four “chief offenders” in the mid-morning class, the ones who ask – without realizing it – for a Traditional Latin Class sometimes.  Individually,  if you separate behavior from personality, they’re sweet, immature, very needy – a lot younger on the inside than their chronological ages.  But it’s hard to remember that, though, when D walks in the room grabbing and hitting K, or when T and D get involved in loud, animated conversations.  N and U aren’t “chief offenders,” but their banana conversation the other day – and their utter unwillingness, even inability, to focus on choosing and scripting a story Friday for the Major Assessment they’ll be filming today – made me question their pretty words about “doing better” and “getting a good grade” and “being part of the Latin Family.”

Even after all this time together, these students still haven’t grasped the effort-results connections.  That troubles me, though I guess it’s not surprising.  They spend 95 minutes or so with me a day, then leave for the topsy-turvy world of Ms. X’s class where effort and results are disconnected, where task compliance is all-important.  They’re the ones busy working on “Ms. X’s homework” – which usually involves copying terms and definitions from the textbook’s glossary into notebooks.  Sometimes they copy someone else’s notebook instead of the glossary, though Ms. X would scream about “cheating” and “getting a zero” and “calling your parents” if she knew.

Laura’s Google+ share of Mark Barnes’ recent blog post got me thinking about grades and their making again, as did a conversation with T Friday afternoon. Her older sister was among the last  “Latin Family” members to use the Old Textbook and the Former System, which T would have loved as much as L would have loved the Tres Columnae Way.  We talked about that … but we also talked about why I’d realized the Old Way had to go.  And I thought about One Ms. X, who’s worried – but not that worried – about how her students will do on the New Tests.  “I figure,” she’d said during lunch, “that what I’ve always done is still working pretty well.  If it stops working, I’ll think about changing it.”

That’s the factory way in a nutshell, isn’t it?  Keep doing the Same Old Thing until it “stops working” … but who gets to define that?  Ms. X’s Same Old Thing has never really reached her students, but it reliably generates Pretty Darn Good Test Scores … so why change?  She’s bored (she’s told me!), and so are her students (they tell me constantly!), but the factory keeps churning out unwanted, unneeded test-score products to spec.

Things are different in a joyful community.  There, commerce revolves around real needs and real wants, and real interactions between buyer and seller.  And in a joyful learning community, there’s real connection between teacher and learner, and the roles themselves are fluid.  But what’s the next right step to move from the dying factory to the living community?  And in the meantime, what will we do about Those Grades?

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Published in: on May 5, 2013 at 9:53 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] If you're reading this post "live," tomorrow marks the end of the Third Reporting Period of the Second Semester in my face-to-face teaching world. Grades must be finalized by Friday, and report ca…  […]

  2. […] addition to everything else I mentioned yesterday, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week.  To celebrate, there were ham, sausage, and chicken […]


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