How to Slay the School Grading Dragon

Today I wanted to reblog a original post from John ThayerAnarchist Math Teacher blogger, Edutopia writter and author of Confessions of an Anarchist Math Teacher – that is very interesting, by having a very good and personal experience point of view on the contemporaneous grading systems applied on schools.

We’ve been always told at school by teachers and advisers that grades don’t matter. But nevertheless teachers give grades, sort of as an afterthought because society and school boards and as transcripts demand them.

But their principal forbade teachers to have a gradebook and the only grades they really gave were A’s, B’s, and F’s. Actually the F’s were “incompletes” until the student could never be brought around to fixing them. Even then, it was easy enough for them to start over again.

Classes were projects with multiple credits attached, there were no subjects either, or grade levels, no “freshman” to stuff in the garbage can. We didn’t even have seating charts or teachers’ desks, or walls.

But that was then. Now I find myself back teaching in a pretty standard, 2000+ population high school in a different state, where content, subject tracking, and grades are king. I want the other thing back in my classroom though. I want kids to focus on what they are creating and learning instead of how many points they are getting. Learning should be natural and fun, not a gnarled and twisted byproduct of subjugation and compliance. So right now the grading dragon is breathing fire and being fed and terrorizing everyone. I hate the grading dragon, always have. But now that I’ve been to a place where I’ve seen him neutralized, I’m going to do it again. Here’s how.

Step 1: Set a Trap

The grading dragon assumes he’s in control and that there is plenty of food to eat, children to terrorize, and teachers to do his bidding. He assumes he is invincible in his lair and that no one is a real threat to him. Let him think it. I am reaching back to the last time I taught in a big public high school and I used standards based grading. Back then, it was a new idea to me. Dan Meyer was writing about it in his math blog and other math teacher bloggers were joining him. It felt like a revolution and I was excited to be a part of it. You give points to kids based on concepts on targeted assessments and you track their progress on those concepts instead of assignments or unit tests. The grading dragon still loves this stuff. He sniffs around it at first and notices that it is a bit different, but he is a glutton so he takes a bite, then another, and another, until he falls asleep.

Step 2: Design a Project

There is not one formula for this except that it should be a long-term inquiry-based learning block where kids solve a real problem. Not the kind of textbook junk where you are having a party and order pizza and then new friends come by and you need to cut the pizza differently using “math.” No, I mean something that could actually happen. They should be answering a question such as, “Which cities have the best policies toward the homeless and what would happen if those policies were enacted in our city?” or, “Why do some playgrounds look like worlds with infinite possibility and other playgrounds look like cages?” They should learn the content you were hired to teach through those projects, but in a meaningful and relevant way. But this is still not enough because kids, though they will be intrigued by your project if you have set it up well, will not be able to ignore the snorting, fuming, jabberwocky ready for his next meal. They will want to know how to game your system. This brings us to the next step.

Step 3: Tasks

You will need some deliverables along the way for students to see how to make progress. Maybe some scale models, or a board game they design, or a new piece of music they write using geometric transformations. These products should include some of the standards that you are assessing them on. Tell them that if they are having trouble with the quizzes, these are new ways for them to show you what they are learning. This turns the standards based grading into performance based grading. While they are working, walk around and take some notes so you can catch them in the act of applying the standards to the project or teaching other kids. You’ll be surprised at how many kids are doing this naturally even though they are struggling on your quizzes. Keep your notes in a binder as evidence or whatever you need to do and change their grades on those concepts in your gradebook to reflect what you are seeing. Tell them when you do it so they see their grade increase. Watch them smile.

Step 4: Flatten It Out, Open It Up

Once students have seen that there are alternatives to the quizzes, tell them to start thinking of ways they can prove to you that they are learning. Ask them to create their own homework assignments, or give you quick presentations on what they are working on related to concepts they are struggling with. Tell them they need to know which concepts they need to improve so that they can create those opportunities. They will start focusing on the learning and their grades will improve to the point where they aren’t worried about them anymore. When they do something and it seems weird, give them the benefit of the doubt, assume that they are learning, try to understand them and believe in them. Give them more and more of the control.


Original Source (Anarchist Math Teacher)

8 Pathways to Every Student Success

Teachers who transform lives understand not only how to teach curriculum, but also how children develop into capable, caring, and engaged adults. They see beyond quantitative measurements of success to the core abilities that help students live healthy, productive lives.

The world has changed dramatically since the early 1900s, yet the same goal remains: scaffolding children toward self-sufficiency. How does this occur today, particularly when test results often seem more important than the development of a child ready to tackle career-life challenges?

TStudent Sucess Compasshe Compass Advantage™ model is a visual, research-based, engaging way for families, schools, and communities to apply the principles of positive youth development. A framework for understanding why kids need these interconnected abilities and how they’re nurtured in different contexts, it’s also a call to act on behalf of children who deserve to live full, meaningful lives beyond external measures of success.

Original Source

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to College

As my fifth original post on my WordPress I’m going to share a very interesting article posted today on Lifehacker which I’ve read and identified with, not only on regarding my education basis, but can be also applied on many other fields and life personal experiences.

Check it out here: Seven Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Graduate School

The article is very insightful and interesting, discussing how if “you’re headed to grad school, the game changes”, and it really does, having a “reputation for being the most difficult time in a student’s life”, coming after a “long undergrad career, bringing empty pockets, longer classes, and teaching requirements to students—on top of the stress of independent studies or a thesis”, besides being an “eye-opening and fulfilling part of your academic career” and “opening doors you’ll appreciate for the rest of your life”.

«First and foremost, you need to ask yourself whether it is worth it to do grad school.»

I also suggest that you watch this open-minded and in the spirit of ideas worth spreading TEDx Talk (at Almada, Portugal, September 26th, 2012), combining to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group, from Fernando Santana – Catedratic Professor at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and currently Director of the School of Science and Technology – discussing objectively  about why do you take an university/college course, sharing many conclusions of case studies and personal/professional experiences.


The author of this Lifehacker’s post, Alan Henry, speaks and discusses very openly and with great precision about a couple of things what he and others from Lifehacker’s team “learned from our graduate schooling that you can take with you going in”.
The listing is awesome and very precise, starting with:

1. Be Prepared for a Level of Competition You’ve Never Experienced Before
(…) my classmates were intent on making sure they were at the top of the class, well-known and liked by professors and classmates, and as active in class activities as possible.»

«Normally a little friendly competition is healthy, but when it came time to work together in teams or collaborate, the competition was ridiculous. (…) When it came to the grunt work, like compiling research, interest waned. Tread carefully and hone your people skills.»

2. Intelligence Isn’t As Important As You Think It Is
When you’re an undergrad, your intelligence is highly valued. In graduate school, and truthfully, anywhere after that, intelligence is important, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

(…) the degree to which you’re knowledgeable on a specific topic isn’t enough anymore. You likely won’t be the smartest person in the room, and even if you are, you need to be diligent, confident, and communicate well too. You’ll meet people less intelligent than you who are better at those soft skills. And you know what? You’ll see them getting their feet into doors you won’t, and it’ll sting.»

«Intelligence is certainly still a door-opener. But it will never get the job done on its own. Diligence, rigour, a reliable network, and finally not being a dick are essential qualities of not just software engineering but any profession that’s outside the little bubble called grad school.» – Manuel Ebert

3. Do Everything and Make Connections: That’s What You’re Really There For
«(…) make sure you take the time to meet people, spent time with different people, and, for lack of a better word, “network” with as many people as possible. You will tap into them at some point for postgraduate projects, and they’ll do the same with you.

Do everything extra you can: This applies to a bachelor’s degree too, of course, but I think the extra-curricular stuff in grad school is really way more important than it is during a bachelor’s program.» – Thorin Klosowski
«You may have heard this advice before: Do all the extracurriculars you possibly can. Go to the guest speakers and lectures. Join study groups. Go on offsites and class trips. Join student societies. Assist professors who are looking for grad students to help out. When you do, you’re building on our first point: You’re meeting the people you’ll make valuable connections with. You’re also learning how to network professionally without being sleazy about it, which is one of those soft skills that will take you places.»

4. Leave Your Comfort Zone Behind
It may cause you some anxiety—in my case, it was a lot of anxiety—but it’s one thing you should absolutely get ready for. No one will force you to attend those guest lectures, or travel for talks and conferences. No one will insist you go study abroad for a term, or work in someone else’s lab for a little while so you can offer your expertise. You could stay at home and coast, and ignore all of those events, just because it’s easier to. Don’t do it.»

5. Embrace the “Poor Grad Student” Stereotype, Even If You’re Not
Depending on your personal situation, that can be true. Even if it’s not and you can afford to feed yourself without resorting to ramen noodles and frozen vegetables, sometimes it’s better if you embrace that stereotype anyway.

We’re not saying you can’t enjoy a decent place to live and good food if you can afford it, but keeping your lifestyle neat, portable, and minimal now will serve you later when the student loan bills start coming in

6. Keep Your Textbooks and Find Your Niche
Unlike undergraduate schooling, which focuses on giving you a broad education on your major, in grad school you’ll expand on what you learned and drill down into specific topics. Don’t coast and just flow with the curriculum—take the time to find parts of your studies that really interest you. Ideally, this is how you’ll uncover your future career.

When you do find it, connect as much as possible with the people involved with it. As you study that specific topic, you’ll learn about where the best research on the topic is being performed and who you can talk to at your current school that’s involved with it.»

7. Don’t Expect Anything After Graduating
«It doesn’t really matter which field you studied, but just because you have a shiny new MBA doesn’t mean you’ll get a high-paying job the month you graduate. In the sciences, being a freshly minted post-doc just means you get to compete with everyone else who graduated that year for a slot in someone’s lab. You still have a long way to go.»

«If you have those connections we mentioned earlier, the whole process is a little easier. Your business school colleagues may have leads to share, or they may be starting their own companies. The professors you worked with may bring you into their labs, or write recommendations to help you get into great institutions. Even so, don’t expect anything—you’ll still need to work your ass off to get a job

Alan Henry argues that “if you’re expecting a miraculous sense of self-fulfillment or accomplishment when you graduate, you may be out of luck”, as Thorin Klosowski (who also went to grad school) notes:

Don’t expect to “get” anything when you graduate: Most liberal arts programs are about teaching you how to learn and how to think. A graduate program’s no different—and if you walk in expecting to finish some grandiose project or have a sense of completion, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, you’ll walk away being more confused about the world than when you started, BUT you’ll at least be able to explain your way through it a little better. To that point, I’d argue that when you’re picking out a school, atmosphere and culture-fit is WAY more important in grad school than in an undergrad program. Your general view of the world, and how you think about it will be tainted by the grad program you choose, so pick one that you think is relevant and interesting.

The author of the post ends beautifully by saying:
However, because grad school is part education, part work, and part professional networking, there’s more to the picture you should remember before diving in. If you’re headed for graduate school next term, hopefully this is useful to you. Grad school can be grueling, stressful, and challenging, or it can be easier than your undergrad schooling—a lot of it is how you approach it and what you take away from the experience. Have some fun, enjoy the journey, and as they say, consider the destination as its own reward. – Alan Henry

My faculty colleague and recently graduated in Communication Sciences, Sofia Cintra, added to my upper short texts of my brilliant WordPress (her words, not mine): “Don’t expect nothing and smile”, that’s how she graduated with an awesome average and is currently on her way to a Masters degree, good luck Sofia 😀

Thanks again for reading and for following, I hope you’ve liked it and found it interesting.

Best regards,
Pedro Calado