Friday, February 10, 2017

Grading Practices and Student Engagement

By Kristen Gierman 

As teachers, we are constantly reflecting.  But as the semester winds down, we devote a particular attention to grades.  That’s not to say we do not notice the successes and less than of our students throughout the semester, but we are more in tune with the trends within the grading system as the semester nears its end.

This year I noticed a striking oddity when it came to my particular gradebook for World History.  The lowest category across all of my classes was reading.  Now that’s not to say that my students cannot read, dislike reading, or just avoid it altogether.  But perhaps there was a flaw in the way we were assessing it OR in the strategies students were using to be successful.

Put simply, the reading of our World History sophomores is elevated compared to that of the Human Geography freshmen.  While most would argue that this would seem or should be a natural progression in a school setting, what I mean by this is that the stakes are raised tremendously.  As a member of both the Human Geography and World History teams the past three years, I have noticed that students generally succeed or find reading in Human Geography “easy” because the curriculum is about the world that they live in and in doing so help create.  For instance, analyzing the impact the media has on stereotypes is a normal process because the students live it, feel it, and perhaps have strong opinions on the matter.  World History, on the other hand, asks students to take a trip to the past, analyze verbiage from a different time, and find interest in the unfamiliar.  Comparatively speaking, for a student the task of reading becomes more complex or daunting than ever.  

As a result, I have made it a personal goal to incorporate more document-based work in the classroom this semester.  I am doing so in the hopes that students experience growth in their reading skills and confidence.  Furthermore, it will also require that they become engaged in historical inquiry.  The usage of documents forces students to ask questions, collect evidence, and produce claims about the past.  The difficulty with document-based work is that it can be extremely complex and time consuming.  The benefit, as I have already seen, is that the students have become more engaged in the process and their learning has become more authentic as we continue to practice this skill regularly.  

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