Where the Rubber Meets the Road

There are two “grading periods” per semester at CHS; the kids get a progress report in October, another one in December, and grades close for the semester at the end of January.  I finished writing their December narratives this afternoon.

Man, but it’s hard to write an academic death sentence in a polite way!

I’ve got this kid.  You’ve met him before, in fact, and he is nothing if not consistent.  The boy still refuses to do any work at all (charmingly and without malice, I’ll grant you, but still…).  The child has been booted out of my room no fewer than five times in the last several weeks because he’s come to class without having read the assignment for the day (and, consequently, he can’t participate in the class discussion; he just sits there and stares vacantly into space).  He spent today in the director’s office, as a matter of fact, because he not only admitted to not having read the assignment, but he didn’t even bring the book to class.  The boy has a 33.6 average in my class (and I know for sure that he’s running right around there in at least one of his other classes, too).  Truly; his proverbial ship has sailed.

How on earth do I write a narrative that doesn’t tell the kid to just give up, already?

He’s one of the (surprisingly many) kids who’s in line to be booted back to their sending schools for non-performance at CHS (we’re in the process of reevaluating the admission standards; they’ll be in place for the next batch of admissions that begins in January), and there’s nothing I can do to save him.

CHS doesn’t just rely on numerical grades; factors such as work ethic and participation are considered in the final grades, as well.  Nothing this kid is doing, though, will make these considerations enough to get his grade up to anything even approaching acceptable.

There are some kids, however, who are on the borderline – some on the wrong side, some on the right side.  For those kids, considerations such as participation and work ethic WILL matter – some kids will rise with them, and others will sink.

I like this grading policy better than straight numbers, though; I don’t think it’s right to judge a student’s performance solely on the work they produce, especially when so much of my classes are discussion-based.  A lot of how I understand my students’ progress is tied to how they interact with me and each other in the classroom.  I want to give credit to the students who strive for those Helen Keller moments, and I want to ding the kids who sit there and pass notes or, as our dear Peter is so fond of doing, stare vacantly into space for an hour and a half every morning.

The truth of the matter is that I have always adjusted my grades according to how my students function in the classroom, even when such things weren’t built into the grading scheme.  Now that I work in a place that does honor more than the raw numbers, though, I’m feeling more confident than ever that the grades I record for my students more closely represent the whole of the work they do.



Filed under analysis, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, Helen Keller Moment, I love my boss, I love my job, Learning, self-analysis, student chutzpah, Teaching, the good ones, You're kidding...right?

3 responses to “Where the Rubber Meets the Road

  1. Improbable Joe


    Hehe… that never gets old!

    Here’s one place that we do agree. If a kid comes into class as prepared as they can be, participates in the discussion. and just has issues understanding the material or writing down ideas, you can give them a couple of points for participation and effort. At the same time, you can knock down someone’s grade if they have a bad attitude or refuse to participate, even if the work they turn in is otherwise acceptable.

    I don’t think trying hard earns you an A, no matter what level of work you turn in, but I think it should sometimes allow someone who is borderline-failing to pass a class.

  2. Zee

    What is it with the staring out into space for an entire class (in my case 60-90 minutes depending) that these teenagers find so compelling?! I have a few of those. They do it every week. I mean I am a fan of day dreaming and all…but all day? Every week? Aren’t they bored yet?! They seem bored at every other occasion!

  3. sphyrnatude

    I have always managed this by stating up front that 5% of the grade is determined by class participation. I then make a point of laying out in plain blunt English that what that 5% really means is that I get to move their grade up or down by as much as 5% based on nothing except how I feel about their performance in class, attitude, etc.

    Many kids are shocked that I’m so blunt, some assume that they are going to automatically get a 5% boost. I VERY rarely actually use the 5% – if there is a kid that really stands out in classroom participation/attitude, etc, they’ve usually earned an A already. The tuned out kids are usually failing, and 5% wouldn’t make any difference.

    The vast majority of what I teach is skills/knowledge transfer type stuff. Either you know it, or you don’t, so grading by the numbers is pretty easy.

    Occasionally, I’ll end up with a student that has truly mastered the materials, but for some reason bombs an exam (I had a student show up for a lab exam with a temperature of 102 once). They get extra 5%. I also once had a student who clearly demonstrated that she didn’t know a thing about the class material, coasted through the entire year with an average in the solid “f” range, then somehow managed to pull a perfect final exam. Some discussions with her after I graded the final made it very clear that she couldn’t have passed the exam on her own. The 5% rule let me knock her back down to an F, without having to go through the hassles of “proving” that she had cheated.

    Yes, I’m a hard ass. Effort really doesn’t count for much, because effort will result in a good grade. If you try really hard, do all the work, and still can’t master the material, you are in the wrong class… (at least for the classes I teach)

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