I am (not really, but kinda) Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockovich

It’s time to get those grades in – end of third quarter. I got the email reminder last week. Two grades per week are mandated, and I know of teachers who have met that mandate with word searches and documenting breathing. I’m sorry, but that has nothing to do with how well our students are developing their skills and how much they are learning.

So it’s “time’s up” for the students to which I was giving a little more time to catch up after being absent or after deciding that they really did have to do work in my classes even though I don’t appear to be a hard-ass. It’s “time’s up” for those who were still working to make that blog post or opinion article from a couple weeks ago better while still trying to work on the current assignment. It’s “time’s up” for the teacher to actually do something with that blue folder she keeps taking home from school, then back to school, then home from school – the one with all the rubrics and lists of who’s doing what project what for which class.

But I have assessed their work

The thing is, it’s not like I haven’t looked at their work. By the time I post a grade, I’ve seen each assignment an average of 2-3 times and provided feedback so the student could revise and develop skills. Why would I post a grade from an early, rough draft when I know that with a little work, it’s going to get better? And with the work invested in that piece, the work the student does on the next piece has a pretty good chance of starting out much better than the first one started out.

So while it may look like I only have seven or eight grades in the online grade book at the 9-week mark, you can pretty much multiply that by two or three. That’s how much I’ve really assessed work.

Document, oh, document

So, OK, all that assessment isn’t in the online grade book – it’s not documented. How’s a principal or parent supposed to be able to check on a student?

How about ask me? How about ask the student? We’re all developing all of the time. The idea of twice weekly labeling every kid, “Today you are B.” or “Today you are C.” or, whoops, you were absent and didn’t get caught up on time? Or you really, really don’t get slope? “Today you are F.” I’m sorry, folks, but that sucks.

As I was pondering whether I should continue to keep my bottom glued to the dining room chair on this Sunday afternoon, after being gone all day yesterday because I took four journalism students to an all-day workshop where we all learned stuff, OR, whether I should shower, dress and get ready to go to the cookout I was invited to, a thought occurred to me.

Erin Brockovich

Or, maybe it was just how Julia Roberts portrayed her in the 2000 movie.

Sure, everything may not be documented, but ask me. Ask me who is caught up and who is behind. Ask me who has natural writing skills and who struggles to understand point of view – or remembering to capitalize I. Ask me who can focus amid a busy journalism room and who is distracted by the wheels on the rolling chair he sits on. Ask me who pretends she’s not hungry because she doesn’t have money to eat on. Ask me who’s close to their mom and who feels like a mom. Ask me who’s grown to like the feedback method and learns more than in other classes because they’re actually doing stuff. Ask me who’s proud of stepping outside their comfort zone to interview others or present to the class. Ask me who takes on additional yearbook or newspaper work because someone else didn’t pull their weight this month. Ask me who’s proud of that and who resents it just a little.

Students are not one size fits all. Mandated grades per week does nothing to increase or even measure learning. Even if grades could measure learning, mandating grades when there isn’t real, additional work to assess only skews the data.

Back to the dining room chair I go.


About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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