At the 9 week mark….

Here is a letter I just sent home to parents, explaining my grading scale. I’d welcome any feedback about both the letter and my video (attached). What do you think of the hammering in the nail metaphor?
Dear Parents,
As the 9 weeks comments are coming out, I wanted to make sure that you and your boys were able to understand what these grades mean in English Class.
In traditional classes, teachers give many small assignments, all of which are graded. This was the system that you and I grew up under. This system tends to lend itself toward averages  which are hard to move. If a student struggles in the beginning and then masters the concept at the end, the average does not accurately reflect that eventual mastery, which is what is important in learning.
 I use a different grading system which includes Standards Based Grading (hence the categories of Reading, Writing, Discussion, Etc), and of the Guskey 4 point scale.  I also have lots of non-graded practice for the students and less frequent larger summative assessments.
Think of my grading system like practicing for a play or practicing a sport for a game. During the practice time I provide lots of  of frequent formative feedback (like a coach would at practice or a director would during play rehearsal).  Then on the infrequent summative assessments (like games or the performance, to continue the metaphor) I will provide numerical and narrative feedback. As of now, the boys have had lots of practice with research, writing, reading, and responsibility, with feedback in those categories, but they have only had one “game/performance” which was the culmination of these skills into a research paper. This paper is where the grades come from.
Please watch the following 7 minute video that will hopefully provide a better understanding of where the 9 week grades come from:
This type of feedback system is research based (See the work of Tom Guskey and Shawn Cornally) as being a more effective way of communicating specific learning to students, which is why I am using it this year. If you want to know more about how we got the translation scale, please read this blog post by Jill Gough which explains the scale in more mathematical terms:
Your students received/will receive a grade report print out this week.  They also received an email from me with narrative and numerical comments on their papers. I encourage the boys to share all of these with you so that you can see their progress in Reading, Research, Writing, and Responsibility. In fact, I encourage you to sit down and look at the paper with your son, and perhaps find some bright spots where you might point out where he did really well. Even if your son earned a 1 or a 2 on his first try, please remember that he is continuing to practice his writing skills and research skills, and he will have multiple tries to show he can meet expectations. Please look for the new grade report that will be coming home in a week or two after the boys turn in their rewrites.
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5 Responses to At the 9 week mark….

  1. james says:

    I am guessing based your comments about your “boys” that you teach in a private school? I am married to a public school teacher and have been picking away at a certification myself. If you sent that letter to the typical parent in my wife’s classroom they would have no idea what you are talking about, but if your parents are mostly college educated and in general “together” I think you made are clear in what you are doing.

    • dobbsep says:

      Hi James,
      I do teach in private school. I taught for three years in the public school system, and I will agree that my parental audience here is very different from my parental audience when I taught in public school. I wonder which parts did you think were too edu-speaky? I think part of my problem of speaking with parents (both private and public school parents) is that my edu-ese gets lost on all of them. Sometimes I feel like my message gets lost in translation. Can you provide any ideas about how to change what I wrote/said for a lay-audience?

      • james says:

        I am sorry I didn’t get back to this sooner. I am often criticized is my own writing for the sophistication of the language I use. I have a habit of using language in contexts that the average reader doesn’t typically see. I also have very specific technical backgrounds which, like teaching, have a language all their own. This combination is dangerous when writing for a lay audience. I will admit I did not watch your video and maybe some of the following is explained there, but taking the letter itself a couple things jumped out at me.

        With a few rare examples no parents are going to understand what any of the education specific language means. In your third paragraph you reference “Standards Based Grading” and the “Guskey Scale”. As you stated your parents are a little savvier in private school, but even so a lawyer putting huge emphasis and large sums of money into his son’s education is going to have to look these things up. It’s got nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with vocation specific language. Is there a way to explain how your grading system works in a limited number of words without even using the name of the systems of philosophies they are based on? I was a little worried about your reference to “summative assessments” at first, but the sports/drama analogy works well to explain that.

        The 5th paragraph points them to references that explain the 3rd, but it really sounds like more “edu-ese” as you call it. With the type of parents you have some may very well be interested in that material, but rather than an entire paragraph a simple sentence directing them to more info may be simpler, and keep them from getting lost along the way. In my own head I see the 3rd paragraph with a brief laymen’s explanation of how your grading works with a final sentence that says something to the effect of; “For more information on the research/philosophy behind this system go to x website and look for Standards Based Grading, and y website to read about Guskey’s 4 point scale. Of course you can always contact me with questions regarding this system”. The 5th paragraph would be nixed.

        This is all just my opinion and there may be reasons I don’t understand that my suggestions won’t work, but as a writer who has often struggled with the same problems I hope my input has been somewhat helpful.

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  3. Pingback: My Grading Policy Explained | Superfluous Thoughts

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