Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Year in AP: What Grade Have I Earned? (Week Thirty)

By Mark Heintz


Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Thirty: Answer the Question

This week I am going to take a break from the usual format.
Provide Specific Evidence: 

The quarter just ended and I have only a few weeks left in the semester.  At this point, I wanted to get a feel for how the students felt they were progressing.

I was inspired by Jesse Stommel's post on how he has not graded in the past seventeen years.  You can read his post here.  I feel that I am in a similar mindset as Jesse in regards to grades.  I have written about how grades have hurt some of my student's mentality.  The grade changed the narrative of course for them and altered their perception of their progress.  Using grades as a baseline and to determine their perception of what went into a grade,  I wanted to know what they felt was going well for them and what they valued as a student.

To gather data, I posted a Google form that asked the students to state what their current grade is, what grade they felt they have earned, and explain why they earned the grade they selected. I was amazed at the honesty in their responses.  There were quite a few students who gave themselves a lower score and some of their responses really made me think about the year.  

Here is what some of the students had to say.

Pete

So far this semester I've been very productive with my checklists and participating during class, which I think in particular has been a strength that has helped me understand some confusing topics throughout history. Occasionally I slack off, but I don't think I'm alone in that aspect. Currently, my grade reflects my assessment scores, which I know I can improve during our next testing. Helping others with their studies also bolsters my understanding of many of the subjects, simply because I go through once more whatever topic is at hand. I believe that at times I can focus a bit better, but as long as I continue being successful with my checklists and participating in class, I will be able to earn and prove why I deserve an A in this class.

Me

I feel that Pete's assessment of his semester is what a teacher would hope for.  He has a good sense of what he needs to work on and has a few minor suggestions for himself. I love how he blends traditional metrics of success while connecting his learning to helping others.

Rabia

I feel like I have earned this grade (B) because I know my content and how to write my DBQ and short answers but I’m a bad test taker. The checklists I do complete but the reviews from last semester were very challenging and some of the videos do not help. I have completed all of the current checklists from this semester on time. I do struggle with the content but I know enough of it to be able to complete my work. It may seem as if I don’t put in the effort when it comes to those old checklists I do try very much so but it gives me a lot of anxiety with the fact they are timed and how far back some of the questions go. I try to complete all of the inside and outside work of class to the best of my ability

Me

I have been questioning how to make the checklists a lot easier.  Some of the content reviews in the checklists get long and most of it very specific.  The older checklists make it so the students can't see the forest for the trees. I need to come up with a different plan to get the students to keep going back to the older content.  I want to make changes to the process because the students feel that I don't think they put in the effort when I knew they do!  Schoology enables me to I see how long they spend on the quizzes and some of them spend an enormous amount of time on each quiz.  I want to give them successful ways of moving forward while spending less time doing it.

Also, Rabia is not the only student to highlight that they are a bad test taker.  There is a lot of pressure put on these students centered around the tests.  Some of that anxiety translates into poor performance on something they know and I know they can do.  It frustrates me and I am constantly looking for ways to de-stress them.

Brandon

(Current grade D, stated he has earned a C) Checklists were unfinished. Did not ask for help. Other classes to worry about. Not the most intelligent student. Stress. Sports. Other classes add on. Hard to stay on track after other work. Tired. Sleep schedule ruined. Sleep. Hungry. Need more time in a day. More studying.


Me

I love his honesty. I agree with him that shouldn't have a D.  He has a lot of other interests outside of AP and he does complete almost everything I ask him.  He needs sleep.  When he is not too tired, he is great in class. His writing has improved tremendously this year and he is able to make connections to material across time.  I need to find a way to increase student agency in a course that is very rigid.

Joanna

I think I deserve a C because I don't try as hard as I should in and out of class. I feel like I'm behind on a lot of information that my classmates know and I don't know how to catch myself back up. I go into tests thinking I'll do poorly which leads me to not try very hard in the first place. I basically set myself up for failure because I've given up on my grade in the class. I got a two on the AP test last year so I'm not that worried about this year which also isn't a good mindset.

Me

I am disappointed in myself for her feelings.  She is a great person and has had a few bumps in the road, which this course is very unforgiving in.  I hate how a score on a test makes someone feel inferior.  Currently, most people validate themselves with external metrics of success.  I wish the pressure wasn't so intense and that grades were not that important.  Furthermore, I wish that it could be more about learning and helping students to find their passion or interest.  I know she has a lot to offer and does amazing work, yet the curent way of me doing things does not always reward that.

Elle

I think I deserve a B because I contribute a lot of thoughts to class and although I'm not always right, I always bring forth my best effort and try as hard as I can. I also believe that while I try my best on tests and responses, I think class work and discussions should be counted for a grade as well even if it's small.  I also know that I get distracted a lot but that doesn't really inhibit my learning experience because I usually get back to my work fast. I realize that I have to turn in my assignments on time but overall I do think that a B in the class would best reflect my efforts and general knowledge of the class.

Me

A recurring comment I read was how they are distracted.    must be harping on them to stay attentive in class.  I feel that the students are almost always on task and I am really proud of them.  It is interesting to read how they want more class work to count in the grade book.  I have never done that and I am not sure if it would get the effect they want.

Reflection and Impact:

First, I need to frequently tell my students I care about their well being and how amazing they are.  They put enormous amounts of time in accomplishing tasks for the course, I just want them to know that I see their time commitment.

Next steps
: I want to ask students more frequently to assess their ability. Start earlier in the year.  Ideally, I like the idea of me not assigning the final grade, but rather the students doing it. Alsa, I am not there yet. I want students to be reflective and give me insight on what they need and what I am doing that creates conditions to help them.  I am going to ask them the same question again before the semester ends and I hope they view themselves better.  I was happy to read their insights and feedback on the process.  I am glad I did it and looking forward to seeing what it will look like next year when I start the process earlier.

Read week thiry-one here. 

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