Grading

Why Failure is Sometimes an Option

Why Failure IS an Option

I’m at the end of my third quarter, and I’m dealing with those last-minute panicked pleas about grades and make-up work and college and parents. In fact, some of those pleas come from parents themselves. This is the week when I turn from my usually laid-back, happy self into the hard-nosed, crusty, experienced teacher that I can be.

You see, I value education. I value learning, and working hard, and defining success by the effort a child puts into the process of education. Grades are less relevant that the lessons learned and the skills a student achieves in the process. Grades may be important to getting into that college of choice, but they are less important in what really matters: succeeding in life.

I value education. I value learning, and working hard, and defining success by the effort a child puts into the process of education.

Look, I’m a mom; I get it. Nobody wants to see her child fail. We worry that it will affect his future, his fragile psyche, or his ability to succeed in the future. And there are plenty of special circumstances where we need to step in to protect our children: our child is diagnosed with a learning disability, our child is seriously physically or mentally ill, there are extenuating circumstances in the family or at school affecting our child’s ability to perform well in class. These are all valid reasons to step in and advocate for your child. Additionally, if you feel that your child is being unfairly treated by a teacher or staff member at a school, then you should most certainly intervene.

However, most of the contact I have with students and parents that I have about grades involve none of these circumstances. 99% of the contact I have this final week before grades post has to do with missing work and an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.

Here’s the situation: Student #1 has completed all of his work during the course of the quarter. He has studied for every test and quiz, come in for extra help on writing assignments, made sure he has asked questions when he does not understand concepts or instructions.

Student #2, on the other hand, is missing a large portion of her homework and in-class assignments. She rarely reads her directions thoroughly, completes haphazard work, and, more often than not, is checked out in class. You do your best to make sure she is focused in class, to alert her and her parents to her not-so-stellar grade on many occasions, and to tell her what she can do to bring up her grade.

failure2

She may be your precious baby, but you are doing your teen injustice by saving her from her own natural consequences.

Can you then understand my dismay when student #2 or her parent contacts me during the last week of the quarter wondering what she can do bring her F up to an A? Often, terms such as “athlete,” “college,” or “extra credit” are dropped. Here’s the deal, and this is what truly frustrates me: I do not understand why this grade is suddenly important when it hasn’t been for the past eight weeks. Additionally, fluffing a grade  or offering last-minute extra credit cheapens both my professionalism as a teacher and the experience of student #1, who honestly earned the A. It’s not going to happen.

Why this grade is suddenly important when it hasn’t been for the past eight weeks?

What is more valuable than a cheap A, or B, or C, in this case, is the lesson learned from the natural consequences of the situation. So student #2 fails, or manages, at the last minute, to pull her grade up to a credit-saving D. It’s not stellar, and it’s not going to get her into an Ivy league school that her parents have been dreaming about. What it might do is to teach her the value of hard work, and that our actions have consequences. It might create motivation within her to change. I have seen in it happen in many a student over the years.

What’s a parent to do? Be in contact with your student’s teacher early in the year. Come to open house night and conferences. Intercede early when you see that your child may be struggling. Ask questions. See if the teacher can give you clues to what is happening in class. Perhaps there is a comprehension issue or it ma simply be a refusal to complete work. Stay abreast of the grade situation; most schools have an online grading system that is updated weekly, or more often. Do not make demands of teachers that would put their professionalism into question. Last, but certainly not least, encourage your child to advocate for himself. This is especially true of high school students.

Encourage your child to advocate for himself.

Failure is a word that we like to pretend is not a part of success. But students, you are doing yourselves no favor by trying to avoid the consequences of your own actions. Parents, you do your children a disservice when you step in to protect them from the consequences of their own actions. Character is not as easy to come by, but it will take your children farther in life than an easy A.

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10 Review Activities with No Grading

10 Review Activities

Do you ever find yourself with too much grading and not enough time? Yes, it’s the song of our people. I cannot honestly remember the last weekend I did not have a least a few hours of paperwork to catch up on that I did not have time for during my regular work week.

Splat: Divide students into two or more teams and give each team an unused flyswatter. Hang relevant vocabulary word on the wall. Provide the students with a definition or a sentence — minus the word. The first team to swat the correct word with the flyswatter gets a point. This would also work well with literary terms, characters, quotes — the sky’s the limit! This activity requires 30 minutes of preparation

Jeopardy: This is my absolute favorite way to prepare my students for a test over a novel, play, or other major unit. Simply create your Jeopardy game to highlight the important information you want your students to know. Divide the class into two teams, have them pick a spokesperson (the only one who can give answer), and have fun! I do recommend picking a squirrelly student to assist you with keeping score. Additionally, I take away points when a team is talking out of turn. You can find a template to create your own Jeopardy! review game here. This activity requires 1-2 hours of preparation, but you can reuse it over and over.

Timeline Puzzle: This is a quick review activity that requires 5-10 minutes of preparation. Take a short story, play, or novel and chose 10-15 important events. You can either write them on the board — out of order, or type them up and cut them apart. Have students, in groups, arrange the events in the correct order. When one group is done, send members out to help other groups.

Students create their own test: This is another one of my favorite collaborative pre-test activities. In groups, students create the test they think they may see in the next day or two. I have them write a mix of questions: multiple choice, true/false, short answer, and essay. Not only are they responsible for coming up with meaningful questions (no gotcha! questions, they are also responsible for writing the answer key to their test. Once complete, I team up groups to challenge their classmates. Preparation time: none! Give credit for participation.

Students Teach their Peers: Here’s another minimal-prep activity. Assign collaborative groups to a particular section of a novel or play. I use this all the time when I teach Shakespeare and The Canterbury Tales. Tell students they are responsible for teaching the rest of the class their assigned portion of the novel, play, or ____. (Add your own ideas here.) I grade them as they present their information. Additionally, all students are required to take notes during presentations.

Four Corners: This activity is good discussion theme, persuasion, and some controversial topics related to literature. The instructions can be found here, although you can adapt them to fit your needs. I love doing this activities with my older students, as the discussions we have are meaningful and increase their interest in the reading. Prep time: 20-30 minutes.

Who Am I? — This is a fun post-novel or play activity. Write the names of characters on tape or address labels. Put them on students’ backs so they cannot see their name, but other students can. Students may ask each other only yes or no questions until they figure out which character they are. This would also be fun with literary terms. Prep time: 15 minutes.

Snowball fight: This fun vocabulary game is a crowd-pleaser. This works with vocabulary, literary terms, or even as a review before a test. Prep time: 10 minutes.

17 Ways to Connect with Students

I recently discussed the ideas of advertising and persuasion with my 10th grade English students. “Be wary,” I told them, “because everyone wants to sell you something.” Isn’t that the truth, though? And isn’t it true that we teachers are trying to sell something, too? A lesson or a unit or perhaps even good manners?

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