Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Today was great day. . .

Today was a great day in the classroom.  In fact, the last two weeks have just been awesome.  This year I am teaching 7th grade and I have one section each of general math, pre-algebra, and algebra 1.  And for the record, I am at least 1 month behind in getting everything on the standard course of study (SCOS) covered in time for Testivus and its annual celebration of end of grade testing.

Why am I behind?  I'm glad you asked.  I'm behind because we have spend so much time just learning and making connections.  I took more time than was recommended on a few key concepts to ensure that my students really understood what they were doing.  The last two weeks have been so great because we have spent that time going BEYOND the SCOS and exploring other connections.  Today I was just giddy with excitement as I watched all the little light bulbs flicker above everyone's heads.  I then shared why I was so excited.  Do my kids think I'm weird?  Definitely, but that was a foregone conclusion without today's behavior.  Did I demonstrate to them a passion and excitement for learning?  Most definitely/.  Did some of them experience that for themselves?  I gotta say yes.

Today was a great day.

What I learned about grading by working retail

It's been a really long time since I've blogged or tweeted, like almost six months.  Thanks to both of you who missed me.  Part of the reason is I've been working a second part time job for a major electronics retailer.  State budget cuts and frozen salaries combined with a continually rising cost of living have made this a necessity.

Like any retailer, the holidays are a major source of revenue.  In my particular department, we make somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of our annual revenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Black Friday is a big deal for us.  I sold a lot of stuff that day.

I am not paid on commission but my personal sales are tracked.  On Black Friday, each person in the department had an assigned goal of approximately $30,000 in sales.  Keep in mind I'm not selling cars but consumer electronics.  That's a pretty high goal.  On the following Monday I checked our tracking system to see my totals.  To be honest I was pretty excited to see just how much I sold.  Due to a glitch in programming, not all the data was properly assigned.  In my own estimation I knew I had exceeded the goals for all three days of Black Friday weekend, but nothing was there to show it.  I was bummed.  Despite knowing I do not receive any commission or special recognition for my individual sales, I wanted to know.  Then I had one of those "oh great wise one share your wisdom with me" moments of clarity - this is how my students feel about grades.

This is my second year using a standards based grading system.  Assignments receive a score between 1 and 4, depending on the level of mastery they have shown.  At the end of the grading period I conference with each student and we assign a similar score for their overall progress.  I then convert this to a typical 100 point based grade to satisfy local requirements.  I tracked with my students from 6th grade to 7th so this system is nothing new.  However, this year I'm teaching math, a tested subject.  The kids don't really care about grades but their parents do.  Every time I send home a progress report with ones, twos, threes, and fours I have to answer the question, "What's my child's grade?"  These numbers are important because so many people measure everything by them.

So, what exactly did I learn about grading from working retail?

  • despite the lofty ideals of working /learning for the sake of simply doing so, we all want to see some fruit for our efforts
  • when you are being assessed on your work/learning, everyone wants it to be a meaningful assessment.  Don't just give me a set of exercises to do, connect them to something.  Do they really assess my learning OR my ability to recreate rote tasks?

The task for me now is to find a way to address and apply both of these lessons.  What suggestions do you have?