As I continue my journey trying to deemphasize grades in my high school Biology classes (read more about it here and here), I am finding that I must constantly encourage my students to change the way they approach learning and understanding. I am not surprised. For many students, parents, and even entire schools, the ongoing movement to deemphasize grades is exemplary of a classic paradigm shift. The movement at my school started in the Language Arts Department and you can follow that history here.
But this will take time.
Below, I attempt to help a student reshape the way he is approaching my course. “Infinite Campus” is our imperfect online grading program we must use in my District.
Dear Dr. Strode:
“It said on Infinite Campus that my Unit 1 reflections were missing, and now I have a D in your class, is there anyway I could improve my grade?”
No, you don’t have a D in my class. Infinite Campus automatically calculates a letter grade from your progress percentage and I have no way of turning that off. What you do have though is inadequate progress through Unit 1.
First, you haven’t done your Unit 1 Reflections, so you aren’t showing any evidence of your great daily work that you will use to assess the level at which you have achieved this semester. I am sure you would like to claim that you have been achieving at an excellent level and you are on your way to being able to request an A as a Semester Grade. But let’s focus on learning and understanding the concepts and practices of the science of biology. What I have suggested to my students is that each of you spend 15 minutes or so each week adding to your Reflections. That way you can easily keep up with them and the things that happened in class will be fresh in your mind. It would be a great idea for you to spend some time this weekend putting your Unit 1 Reflections together. Your reflections will really help you process the material we have covered.
Remember, these are the goals to keep in mind throughout the Semester.
In the Google Doc that is in the folder you have shared with me on your Google Drive include your thoughts on the material we have covered: what you’ve enjoyed and why, what you have found challenging and why, how you have worked well as a member of your table group, etc. Also include examples and images of your great work and some reflecting on your first go at the Unit 1 Exam, even before you get it back on Monday. You can send me an email to let me know that I should take another look at your Reflections. That item will then go from “Missing” to “Partial.” The “Partial” reflects that the assignment wasn’t completed on time in the first place, but this is better than “Missing.” You really want to avoid those “Missing” items.
Second, you aren’t using your Lab Notebook to the best of your ability, that is why you have a “Rework” for that item. As I have discussed in class, the Lab Notebook is where you record all of the lab activities we do in class. What I would love to see in your Lab Notebook at this point is the following:
1) All the thinking that went into the Mystery Tube activity, including drawings of what you thought the mechanism inside the tube looked like (your testable models/hypotheses), and a summary of how the toilet paper roll model you built functioned compared to the Real World (the Mystery Tube).
2) All of your observations, planning, collected data (in a carefully constructed table), statistics calculations, graph of processed data, and written conclusion for the experiment your table group came up with to test the Precision Hypothesis for the differences you observed between the dominant and non-dominant hand white board exercise.
Here is an example from a page of one of your classmate’s Lab Notebooks:
Also, your Lab Notebook should be a physically separate book from your class notes, preferably a composition notebook with graphing paper, like you see above. I can’t remember if you have one of these, but they are only $1.00 at local office supply stores. Fix these things and you can change your “Rework” to “Complete!”
When you get your Unit 1 Exam back on Monday, you will see where I have suggested that you improve your answers. You will have the opportunity then to workshop your answers with your table group using green pen. You will turn your exam back in and I will write comments in Infinite Campus on how you did the first go around. In another column, I will indicate your improvement after the workshop session. The goal is to get to “Complete” by the second go-around.
By the way, as you can see in Infinite Campus, you are keeping up in all other ways, like the online quizzes and your exam note card, so keep up the great work in those areas!
I also sent the parents of my students a message about Parent Teacher Conferences and included the email to the student:
This coming week is Parent Teacher Conferences. If you come, you will have 3-5 minutes to discuss your student’s progress in my class. The conferences are for students who are really struggling. If your student is making great progress, there is no reason to meet with me at this time, although it’s always fun to chat with parents. But please do come if you have a struggling student and want more information not available on Infinite Campus or to discuss strategies to help your student.
Below is an email I sent to a student who is concerned about the “grade” Infinite Campus is showing for my class. Please read through my response so that you can see what a struggling student can do to get to the desired achievement level.