Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Although there are many aspects that compose a good class, like environment and the teacher, one of the most important things to students and administrators alike is how what type of assignments are assigned and how frequently assignments are given.
It doesn’t really matter to administrators how the grade gets in as long as it gets in. That leaves the subject very open to interpretation. What comes with much interpretation, however, is finding the right balance. If there’s a test every other day, that’s just too much. Information doesn’t get retained and the students will be perpetually stressed out in that class, and hate it as a result. The students will end up disengaged and not learn anything. But giving virtually no graded assignments is almost as bad. If a well-intentioned student makes one mistake, the entire rest of his quarter is ruined. When the entire quarter’s grade is at risk in one assignment, things get pretty stressful.
The frequency of the assignments isn’t the only variable that influences a student’s level of engagement, either. There’s so many assignments I’ve experienced in my many years of school. And from experience, I know that there’s no formula for crafting a perfect assessment schedule. There’s so many variables. For example, a few big projects might work in an assignment-lacking class, but in a test-heavy class, it would be too much. Rather than giving a formula, I’m going to give examples from my experience of poorly and well-executed assessment plans.
One of my science classes went very well for me. In my head, it’s the perfect balance of work. The assignments are different from one another, which made it very easy to retain the knowledge because I could go say, “Oh, that’s the one where we did so-and-so.” Having unique assignments not only made it easier to distinguish between assignments, but also made it easier to adapt to whatever we’re learning. Like, in some units where we had to learn two different subjects in subunits, we had two quizzes rather than one big test. This was very helpful during winter when there were multiple breaks during the quarter. Being able to adapt based on class time helped to keep the class very manageable. There were also unique labs. Each one had a different procedure that kept it interesting. The labs were the perfect balance of big grade and not enough to be stressful. The frequency of them was perfect to work together with all of the other assignments to create a very well-structured classroom. Just having a synergistic schedule was able to greatly sway my opinions about the class and I found myself taking more interest in it.
On the other side of the coin, however, is one of my gym classes. At one point in the year, we had health class. The teacher hadn’t been very engaging before this, as he didn’t even pay attention the entire class and just gave us one hundreds anyways. In the soccer unit, he literally brought us down to the field with a bag of soccer balls and left. But when I checked the gradebook at the end of the day, I had a one hundred. I had no idea how he was going to teach us health and shortly found out that he wouldn’t. When we got to class, we were expected to read a chapter of a very boring health textbook and answer every question at the end in full sentences, which was about twenty-five. But rephrasing everything to answer the questions took about the entire class, which was boring, but I was used to it. It continued to happen like that, though. We had to do four of them, which wasn’t the worst thing, but was still not pleasant. On the fourth day, we were informed that we had a test on the content of all of those chapters that we mindlessly filled out next class. I had barely remembered any of it and got pretty stressed. When we got there the next day, he had forgotten about it and he didn’t give it to us that day. But he did collect the worksheets that we had completed, forgetting to tell us that they would be part of our grade. I had done all of mine, but a lot of kids hadn’t. Who can blame them? At the time, it seemed like a colossal waste. The plan for that health assessment was a disaster. There were big grades with no preparation and boring work that seemed pointless. That example did nearly everything wrong and led to what seems like, to this day, a worthless waste of time. The teacher should actively be there to help prepare students for whatever assessment there may be and design engaging and useful lessons and assignments.
Donalyn Miller, a reading teacher, takes another unique approach on grading. She requires her students to read forty books in a year. She strives to spark an interest in reading in the student and her mentality is that “Ten books or twenty books are not enough to instill a love of reading in students… They might not internalize independent reading habits if my requirement expected less from them.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009) Miller showcases a lifelong assessment plan. Her goal isn’t really to get a grade in, but a love of reading. And it works very well in her case because she also says “I know this approach works because I have never had a student who reached the forty-book mark and stop there.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009)
The grade is a very important part of the classroom, as it’s the tangible representation of the class. Although it isn’t even close to everything, it’s one of the few things that matter on paper and to some students. The grading of a class is a very complex thing, but I hope that this gallery of successful and not-so-successful grading systems can give teachers an idea of how to make their own strong grading system to incorporate into their classroom. The grade and the stress of the class, as I said, can very heavily swing a student’s view of how good the class is at a surface level, so I hope that grading systems that the teachers concoct will work in their favor to take the first step to appealing to students.