Today was progress report day.  I gave each and every student a print out showing learning targets and their progress towards meeting them (aka did you do your assignments).  It was a huge hubbub and I’m now officially the most unpopular teacher at school.  The kids were in a tizzy and I even had 2 students storm outside for a break in the hall to collect themselves.  It’s appalling to me how many students come to school every day and still manage to complete absolutely zero assignments – no classwork, no lab, no quizzes, and most definitely no homework.  For some reason or another (I’m still mulling it over), this quarter has been an especially bad one.  In one class out of 30 students, only 7 have a passing grade or higher.  That means even if I “discount” students who never show up, I’m maintaining a 30% passing rate.  I have an abysmal HW return rate – they just don’t do it.  I also expect students to not only do their work, but to do it well and according to the guidelines of the assignment.  I don’t give credit for “effort”, meaning if I ask about osmosis and they scratch something out about Osmosis Jones, I don’t take it.

So this begs to question, “What am I doing wrong!?”  By the end of my third section of Living Environment class, I’d fallen into a pit of self-doubt.  After all, if so many kids are failing, it MUST be me and NOT them.  I’m doing something wrong, I need to change something.  Is that true?  Or have I been brainwashed by all the anti-teacher rhetoric floating around out there?  These grades (or lack of grades, rather) has weighed heavily on me all day, so I went searching for answers.  I gave my classes time to air grievances and make comments, I conferenced with my co-teacher and I even sought advice from my administrator (“let me think about that one…”).  This is what I learned today:

Student #1: “You grade too hard miss!  I struggle in all my classes, but yours way more than others!”

Student #2: “You’re too strict!  I worked so hard on this and you still only gave be a 2.1 (we use standards based grading where 1=not meeting the learning target, 2=approaching the target, 3=meets the target and 4= excels at the learning target)!

Student #3: “You give too much work!”

Student #4: (to another student, right in front of me) “I can’t even listen to her talk right now, I’m too pissed.  Ugh, she needs to just shut up!”

Student #5 “WHAT? This is mad f-ed up!  I do all my work!”

-I should have other teachers grade my lab reports and compare scores.  Maybe I am too strict with grading.  I use a rubric, which the kids have a copy of.  Maybe I need to ease up on sticking to it.

-I need to ease up on assigning homework, and/or I should not count all of them, just some.

-The kids thought I was laughing at them sinisterly when in fact I was trying to force a smile while they were all voicing their discontent.  My uncomfortable smile apparently = evil I’m-out-to-get-you laugh.  Crap.

-I just need to ease up in general.

In my defense, this is how I help support my kids academically with their work:

-I scaffold the shit out of every assignment I give by outlining reports for them, giving them graphic organizers, vocabulary instruction, etc.  I practically hold their hands through every assignment.  My co-teacher even created a “fill in the blank” lab report for my SPED (special-ed) and ELL (English language learners)!

-I give written feedback on every assignment I hand back.

-I’m available at any hour of the day for tutoring or help in person, over email or even by phone.  The kids have all my info, for real.

-I allow practically unlimited time for turning in assignments.  I accept any and all late work up until the day before grades are due.

-I allow for revisions: If a kid is not happy with his/her grade, they can revise their work (based on my feedback) and re-submit it.

-I assign work that is within their reach with realistic timelines (I think), such as “write a paragraph on whether or not the BRCA gene should be patented, using my given topic sentence”.

So, what do you guys think?  What do I need to change?  How can I up my passing rates without compromising my ethics and just pushing kids through?  My grade team had a discussion around broken grading practices and how to fix them last monday.  I need to continue the discussion.  Please help.

In the meantime, here’s what I wore today, pencil in hair, sinister smile and all.

Progress

Progress2

Progress3

Progress4

shirt: madewell – belt: j.crew – jeans: bdg – socks: juicy couture (gift from my sister years ago) – boots: steve madden – necklace: my popo via mommy

11 thoughts on “Progress

  1. I absolutely feel your pain…we hold our kids to high expectations and try to support them as best we can in meeting those expectations…when they don’t get there, it feels like we have failed as teachers–but that’s not true. You are asking all the right questions and responding reflectively instead of reactively. Remember, teenagers always REACT-but it is temporary and eventually, they reflect. I think you need to give yourself credit for all the support you gave, the clear expectations, AND for providing kids with progress reports in the first place! So many students have no idea how they are doing in a course until the end of the marking period or the end of the semester.

    I have definitely had classes react this way when divvying out progress reports–I always remind them that this is an OPPORTUNITY to bring their grades up, that nothing is set in stone. I usually give the progress reports on a day I am offering “make up madness.” I set aside that day for making up any missed assignments. When they get the progress report, it is not a paper detailing how terribly their doing, but a “to do list’ of work they need to knock out. Some of my best teaching days have been “make up madness” days.

    Sorry this is so long and sorry you had such a tough day. We have all been there…

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    1. OMG, great advice! I was very clear with them about being able to turn in every single item on the progress report, but from now on, I’m crossing that title off and calling it a “to-do list”.

      I like the idea of a make-up day…but I also feel the pressure of getting in all the topics before they take the regents exam in june. I’m running out of time! There must be an in-between, right?

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      1. To do list is a great idea! I like the idea of giving students a specific list of things to do or to know that they can cross out on their own as they go?

        I teach college, so it is different. But I absolutely need students to know to get their work done on time on their own. So I’m surprised to see so many students not complete homework! It sounds like you’re doing so many things to help your students pass – you’ve provided them with the tools to help themselves.

        My pass rates are lower than I would like, too. 😦

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  2. Based on the description of your methods and practices, I’d say you’re doing an awesome job as a teacher.

    As a sanity check, you could have other teachers grade your labs reports and compare notes, but besides that I think you stick to your guns. Russell’s advice is great in that it adopts more effective messaging without lowering expectations.

    Hang in there!

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  3. Unfortunately as a student and not a teacher, I don’t have an answer for you! However, I do sympathize and understand how badly teachers are treated by students and parents. I’m about to graduate and I still know of people who have their parents call in and complain if their child does poorly on a test. It’s about time kids take responsibility in the first place and then accept that they won’t score perfectly every time.

    But on a different note, you look lovely! I love the belt, and of course it’s J.Crew. Love all things J. Crew. Keep your chin up! xx

    Allie @ callmesassafras.wordpress.com

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  4. You are working so hard and it shows how much you care about your students! Is this school very different from your last one? I have so many similar problems, and they were especially apparent when I switched from a small suburban school to a large urban school.

    Some possible suggestions: what percentage is homework out of their overall grade? Keep that low, like 10%, and cut way back on homework. For anything you consider a major, important assignment, have them do it in class. Yes it will slow you down, but if you weight it as that important, they need to do it when they are with you so you can help and so they will succeed. Keep homework to small assignments, like finishing up class notes from the day. Small successes will lead to more confidence and investment in the class for them.

    Up the classwork grade. It is a bit of a philosophy change, but does not change your high expectations or ethics. My department believes that students should be mostly graded on what they do while they are physically in the room with you each day. Our classwork is over 50% of the total grade. Much of this is based on effort, but that will still fit in to your overall belief system. Grade them on the effort for trying something, force them to revise until they get the right answers, help them figure it out on their own (socratic method) or in small groups. Count the major assignments as project/quiz/test grades as you already do, just up the percentage of what counts while they are working in class. I have many techniques and rubrics for this style if you are interested.

    Any new strategy takes time. You need time to learn it, practice it, reflect, and revise. It will get better! I always find March as the most difficult month. It’s the longest month, at the end of winter when everyone is ready for a season change, no vacations, state testing is usually done then. Things will turn around when the weather gets better, it has such an impact on students on the east coast. And teachers!

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    1. You have great ideas! I think next time I assign a large assessment (such as a lab report), I’ll schedule a due date and then turn that day into a socratic style peer review with time to edit. The last time I tried to do that, I told the kids that a “rough draft” was due, so only 2 of them showed up prepared. Maybe with a little trickery, it will help with the quality of work produced. Currently, much of my homework is simple vocabulary from the day’s lesson along with a summary. The bulk of my grades stem from labs or writing assignments that we start in class. I think the key thing I need to make time for is getting the kids to finish these tasks in class, maybe even at the expense of discussion/reading/group work.

      My last school in SF was more traditional in terms of grading. I used to have weighted grades for classwork, HW, etc with HW at 10%, and that worked to boost grades in a way that fit with my expectations. The way we do it at my current school is by grading per learning target. I have certain assessments for each learning target and while there are weights for assignments, they become less significant. The big idea is that kids are graded for whether or not they mean the learning goal, which is content based. So if they can’t produce quality work that demonstrates they are meeting the learning targets, then I can’t just give them credit for effort.

      Our state test is at the end of the school year, in June – a test these kids have to pass in order to graduate. I worry for them.

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  5. Only just discovered your blog. 🙂

    I’m a trainee teacher in the UK, and it sounds like you’re setting clear expectations which is good, and loads of support. The one thing you didn’t mention is positive reinforcement; from your description doing the work to achieve a high grade doesn’t appeal to them as a reward, so maybe say if they hand it in on time they achieve one point, if they achieve their target grade they get two, and if they exceed it they get 3? Then your can provide a reward once they’ve earned 10 points. Just an idea.

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  6. It’s better now than never, so here is my advice for you:
    You are doing it great and they should take responsability of their own work. Maybe you can give them all the assignments at the beggining of a lesson or month ( I don’t know how you manage that), so they can organize their time and accomplish every activity. Also, you can create a Facebook group or a blog for your students so they can check what they have to do, when and if they have doubts they can discuss it in there.

    I hope it works, good luck 🙂

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