Monday, March 25, 2013

I've Absolutely Had It With Homework

For those of you who regularly read my blog you know, I think about standards based grading OFTEN! The other topic I am obsessed with is HOMEWORK.  Last May, one of my favorite education bloggers, Joe Bower wrote this piece on opting out of homework:
Alfie Kohn's "Opt Out of Homework" letter shared by Joe Bower

If you read the comments you will notice the long one I posted.  I have not done much writing here about homework.  I am not sure if it is because I feel it is not a battle worth picking since my views go against the mainstream thoughts of most educators.  Or if it has just taken a backseat to my need to write about other topics.  I have been collecting blog posts and articles for the better part of 2 years which are here for you to explore:
Kristen's Evernote Standards Based Grading and Homework Notebook

The resources I have been collecting (and obsessively continue to collect) have provided a burden of proof for me to share with those who question my philosophy on all things related to homework and standards based grading.  They have also given me enough peace that I haven't felt the need to push my views here or anywhere else except when I have to defend myself.  Interestingly two things happened this week that have awoken a sleeping giant and require my immediate attention.

Last week the second EVER chat for #sbgchat on twitter addressed homework:
Storify Archive of #sbgchat on Homework 03/20/13
It was a lively discussion that blew my mind with the speed of the chat and resources and thoughtful comments.  It also created a fire in my gut that told me I need to advocate for my views on homework.  Two days after that chat I received my son's first grade progress report in which he scored an S- for homework.  I would like to say that a light bulb sparked, however, it was more like an explosion of some sort.  So here goes another one of my "I Believe" rants which will be followed by a reflection on homework as the parent of a first grade student.
  • I believe that students should read or be read to at home everyday for at least 30 minutes (any type of media) and discuss, debate, question, with family members what they have read for an additional 10-15 minutes
  • I believe that students should have at least an hour of time to unwind or do whatever they choose
  • I believe that students should actively participate in some sort of family ritual every day (including preparing dinner, attending sporting events, attending other events, helping with chores, caring for animals, any other family time/event)
  • I believe that students should get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep a night
  • I believe that if students do all of the above, they will have not other time for "homework"
  • I believe that if students spend more than an hour on homework a night they are wasting their time.
Ouch, I am going to hear it on these!  First, the kiddos who are going to stay up until all hours of the night completing the homework you assign already know the material and most likely do not need the practice.  The ones who do need the practice will not do it anyway, nor will they do any of the things I mentioned above.  So, homework punishes the high achieving students by taking ALL of their quality family time and free time when they should be rewarded for their hard work during the school day.  The students who "need" homework" are usually the ones not completing it because they do not have the support at home.  They do not even do the things I mentioned above because their parents are usually working, and the student has to take care of siblings and/or cook dinner and/or be the parent.  

Please don't get me started on the responsibility argument!  It is an illusion to think that we can make anyone do anything, even our students.  This I have learned by becoming a parent.  The last thing I want my son to be is a blind rule follower.  I want him to be a thinker, problem-solver, questioner, creator, builder, includer, writer, reader, information consumer, member of a community, and contributer.  Because he is an individual there is no way to standardize this.  Unfortunately, school tries to.  

As I write this I have come to a realization, I do not fit into the system of school as an educator and as a parent.  Sadly, I have found that is also true for my son.  I just noticed the connection at this very moment.  Neither one of us truly fits in, in my case I can adjust as needed.  But for my son, is writing an "Opting Out of Homework" letter to his teacher going to be enough?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Lone Wolf and Standards Based Grading

I am the lone wolf when it comes to standards based grading at my middle school.  That is a very loaded statement and some at my school would disagree for the following reasons:

  • Our report card has the following grades: A, B, C, NM (No Mark) meaning the student has not demonstrated proof of understanding in ONE or more Essential Standards 
  • Every department has 10-12 "Essential Standards (ESC's)" for their courses
  • These ESC's are tested at the end of each unit using common assessments and the following rubric:  4- advanced, 3- proficient, 2- developing, 1- beginning, 0- did not attempt
  • If a student does not earn a 3 or 4 on an ESC then their OVERALL grade is a "No Mark" which means they are not passing the particular course
  • As a department we agree on how the students earn a particular rubric score based on agreed upon criteria for each problem or assessment item
  • If a student has a "No Mark" then they must complete a corrective activity or activities and then a re-take.  
Some of you may be wondering how this does not illustrate standards based grading.  I agree there is a lot of good stuff in all of this!  However, it breaks down when teachers combine the above with: zeros for missing homework, grading homework on completion, 10% off your grade for every day an assignment is late, formative quizzes count for 10% of your overall grade, and other types of grading based on behaviors rather than proof of understanding.  If you want to be reminded of my beliefs on grading behaviors etc... Read This

So, as the lone wolf, I have come to understand some things:
  • I really admire and respect the teachers I work with because first and foremost they LOVE working with middle school students
  • I understand their reservations in making the full fledged jump to grading students solely on their proof of understanding (or lack there of) of the Essential Standards - students, parents, board members, etc... ( a blog post for another time)
  • Change is difficult
On the other hand:
  • Teachers can't keep grading the way they are because that is the way they were graded
  • It is not okay to stay the course and maintain the status quo
  • It is a different world and we must be flexible and adapt
What I really wanted to write about was standards based grading and the correctives process, so I will share some quick thoughts and some resources I have created/gathered.  The whole idea behind implementing SBG is including the students in every aspect of the process.  What I find is that even though I am using a standards based grade book, the students have not utilized it fully.  I expected them to check their grades see NM's, highlight what they need to fix and come to me for correctives or what others call remediation.  About 2 months ago I came across this blog post: Mathy McMatherson's Wall of Remediation and I realized I needed to create something similar or duplicate this for what my district call correctives.  Instead of creating a physical wall, I created a virtual one.  So I created the following Google documents:

Now keep in mind these are beginning drafts, I am still searching for better online resources that will give the students practice.  Also keep in mind that these are very skill based which is the opposite of what my classroom is all about.  I am still working through all of this and also please remember that my implementation of standards based grading is a work in process! 
Please give me ideas and feedback!