Category Archives: Uncategorized

What happened to the ‘A’?

For years, students have received letter grades assessing the material they have learned throughout the year.  In theory, each letter grade indicates the amount of knowledge learned.  (I think it goes without saying that it’s a flawed system that is deeply rooted within our educational system.)  However, at some point in the past 5 – 10 years the grading paradigm has shifted greatly.  From my own personal observations, the A no longer represents excellence or the ability to relate learned material to real world experiences or even in other classes.  An A is the only option for many students.  If they don’t receive an A the first time around then they don’t try again, many just move on.  Students believe they have failed to “master” the content.

The A has lost its spark.  The A has lost its spunk.  The A has lost that little something extra that makes every student proud of their work.  Instead, when a student doesn’t receive an A on an assignment or a final grade, they feel as if they have failed.  How did this happen?  When did students start to feel that the A meant average or was expected?

I blame us…the teachers. Not the students, not the parents, not the system, but the teachers.  And I don’t think we can get the A back to how it used to be.  In my opinion, the reason so many people are calling for a new assessment system other than grades is due to the fact that the A has lost its charm.  Failing is perceived negatively instead of a way for students to learn and grow, which in turn has made the A the ONLY other option for students. Forget D through B, those are still failing grades in many students eyes.  Why did this happen? What’s the solution? Do letter grades work?

A Huge Loss for North Carolina Education

A few weeks ago, the North Carolina’s General Assembly overruled Governor Perdue’s veto of the proposed state budget.  With that veto overruling, it was a sad day for North Carolina’s educational future.  Many educational budgetary items were cut and some of those are huge losses.  Below are a few the items cut from next year’s budget.

  • NC Science Olympiad    
  • Teaching Fellows
  • Teacher Academy
  • Teacher Cadet Program

Not to mention the hundreds of jobs eliminated throughout the state and the additional $500 taken away from per pupil spending for the next academic year.  It is a tough break for North Carolina’s educational future, its teachers, and its students.  While I do not envy having to make those type of decisions in this economic climate, I have to think there were better/smarter options especially with the national spotlight honed in on education.  We know education is key, but with these budget cuts we are putting our children at risk and doing them a disservice.

Both my wife and I received the Teaching Fellows scholarship, and I have worked closely with a couple of teacher cadets this past year, who even as high schoolers are very passionate about teaching.  These two programs — along with many others — have helped to inspire, promote, and encourage young people to become teachers in an era where the teaching profession has received some bad PR.  The programs were working well and in many places were incredibly popular and successful.  Why cut programs that were directly shaping and impacting North Carolina’s educational future?

Guest Blog Post – 3 Challenges of Accessing Online Learning Environments

Teachers are presented with a host of obstacles these days, like overcrowded classrooms and budget cuts. Thus, it’s imperative for educators to create various methods and tools to bring learning into the classroom while staying within their strained funding and predetermined curriculum. Online programs offer teachers the opportunity to provide resources for all grade levels that were unavailable in years past. But these programs also bring with them another set of challenges that teachers must work to overcome.

Challenge #1: Access to Technology
For an online education program to succeed, students must obviously first have access to the Internet. Often in rural and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, students may not have Internet access at home. While some students may have the opportunity to use the Internet at a local library or alternative location, not all students will have the means or transportation to do so. Teachers are then obligated to provide students with an opportunity to pursue Internet research during classroom time, if they are to follow the principles of Universal Design. Alternative methods of research and completion of assignments should also be provided. Also, paper handouts and books should be made available to students who need them.

Challenge #2: Understanding of Technology
Students and teachers must also have a minimum level of computer knowledge for an online program to work successfully. A student must know how to conduct research online, navigate search engines, and discriminate the increasingly hazy line of reliable and unreliable sources. Time would be taken away from the lesson at hand, if a teacher or facilitator needed to provide a student with the basic skills necessary to complete the program.

Challenge #3: Utility of Technology
Once the student is provided with Internet access and is able to successfully navigate the World Wide Web, the next challenge would be the reliability of the technology itself. When the programs and equipment are running properly, issues are minimized or non-existent. However, breakdowns in equipment or glitches in software can occur that would hinder or even block the learning experience. Computers fail, networks crash, hosting becomes blocked and the Internet connection drops. Teachers must prepare for these scenarios and provide the necessary materials needed to continue with the curriculum sans the technology.

This post was submitted by Sarah Fudin who currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California’s MAT Degree program, which provides the opportunity to earn a teaching credential online.  Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

The Grading Battle: Homework

As my school ends its current year and begins a new one, a major topic of discussion has been grading.  We have been tasked with creating departmental/PLT-wide grading systems.  This way students – no matter what team – will be assessed the same way in any given subject across the school.  While this makes sense in theory, it has generated a lot of interesting discussions regarding best grading practices.  Many questions have been raised such as:

  • What is the most accurate way to assess and grade students?
  • Should homework count? (focal point of this blog post)
  • Do we accept late work?
  • Should we allow students to re-test?

These questions and a handful of others have been discussed over and over again.  While the conversations are great and need to be had, we all know that teachers — myself included — are stubborn and grade sits at the philosophical core of who we are as teachers.  We all think we assess our students in the most fair manner, but do we really.  A co-worker of mine (@mrscienceteach) recently blogged about his thoughts regarding grades on his blog, Scripted Spontaneity, and at least least two other times…one and two (I told you it was a hot topic at our school lately). He and I both share a similar grading philosophy.  In fact I would go as far to say that he helped define my own grading philosophy.

Currently, I do not grade homework (nor do I rarely assign it for that matter) and if I do, my homework is almost always something I have asked my students to do in preparation for class the next day.  And even then…I don’t grade it.

I view homework (in any content-area) as a tool to practice what was just learned in class and a part of the student’s learning process.  Just as it would be unfair to release a musician’s first attempt at a song, it would be unfair to assess a student’s knowledge of a particular subject based on their completion of one homework assignment.  Many teachers do it and will continue to do it, but I truly believe that homework is for practice and should not factor into a student’s final grade.  We do not define championships by watching the Dallas Mavericks practice.  We do not define success by looking through Bill Gate’s trash can.  We should not assess our students mastery by looking at 20 random assignments throughout the year.  Grading should be a bigger picture.

What type of message does it send to our students to say, “Go home and practice this material. Yes, you just learned it in 45 minutes and you may or may not understand.  Complete #1 – 22 on page 224 for homework. This will be graded even though you had questions that I couldn’t answer due to time constraints. I will be collecting and this will count towards a homework grade. Yes I already said I know you have questions. Just give it your best shot and I’ll grade it anyway.  Absolutely no excuses and I do not accept late work. Forget after school activities, all of your other subjects, or even dinner.”

Think about this:

Most teachers grade homework for a fraction (10% – 15%) of a student’s overall grade. Is it fair to give a student a B in a class who has routinely aced every test you have given this year? Or maybe a student has received a C on every test, but since they did their homework, they got an A or B for the year?

Do either of the above scenarios accurately portray how much either student understood about the particular subject matter?  More than likely not.

I’m not saying, “DO NOT GIVE HOMEWORK.”  Instead, try and find a way to assess a student’s understanding other than assigning 20 problems or reading a passage and answering a few questions.  Homework is essential for math reinforcement (and many other subjects), but we, as teachers, can create better ways to hold our students accountable for doing homework other than assigning a grade.  It may require more work, but to be fair to our students, it’s necessary if we want to assess what our students truly know.

New Home for Minithoughts/Proofread

Well my blog has officially moved.  I have shut down due to growing expenses.  It will remain visible for awhile, but will no longer be updated.  I got tired up paying for hosting and server space and decided to go the free route.  I will begin to blog only at my new blog spot,  I have moved over all of the posts and comments from my previous blog.  However, I want to re-direct and re-focus my purpose for blogging.  Enjoy!