Friday, February 8, 2013

Grades and Student Connections

How important are grades in elementary school?  I ask the question because I'm curious.  I believe there are three scenarios that drive people's thoughts. 

Perspective 1)  Grades matter!  The person that believes grades matter typically uses grades to motivate and occasionally punish.  What I mean by punish is the big red marks with check marks everywhere, to a kid this feels like a punishment.  If grades matter to you, you aren't alone.  Grades matter to many parents, it is a way for adults to relate to their own educational experience.  Grades are not always a bad thing.  Grades can inform parents and students of their overall understanding.  Grades tend to be more general in nature.

Perspective 2)  Grades are vague, Standards Matter!  Essentially this is the lower elementary philosophy.  Standards tell teachers, parents and students what has been mastered and what needs improvement.  The shift to Standard Based Grading is an example of Standards over Grades.  The biggest trick to shifting to Standard Based is this, "A student's attitude and effort are null and void."  This is tough for some parents and teachers to grasp.  I've been in that seat, you see little Johnny who typically struggles and he is working so hard.  Inside you want to reward this, but if you are truly basing it on knowledge of the standard you cannot look at the rubric and base it on effort.

Perspective 3)  The eyeball test!  This is where your personal knowledge is most valuable.  I'll use my son as a perfect example.  Drew is bright, he reads at a very high level, his brain works systematically.  He understands science on a deeper level.  His understanding of history is average.  His writing skills can be strong, but it all depends on the topic and his level of interest.  Finally, he is an average math student.  Mathematically he gets answers correct, but he is not fast.  Let me be clear, I know my sons strengths and weaknesses, I truly do not care to look at his report card.  But I did.  The first thing that caught my eye was his reading grade.  Drew received a B- in reading.  I chuckled inside.  His reading grade DOES NOT reflect his true reading ability, level of comprehension, fluency, or deeper understanding.  Drew and I read together and he discusses issues that tell me he has taken his reading to a "deeper" level.  Ultimately I can't let the B- get Drew down, I blew it off, and told him that he is a phenomenal reader.  Sometimes grades mean nothing, sometimes it is best to use the eyeball test!

So how do we figure out how to assess students strengths and weaknesses and also properly motivate students to give their best effort?

Research says students that connect with their teachers put forth the best effort.  Seems so simple, but it's not.  I remember being in the classroom and I'll never forget two separate situations.  The first situation was with a student named Lauren.  Lauren came to me in 5th grade after missing almost half of her 4th grade year with various illnesses.  Lauren was a sweet girl, but I could tell she lacked self-esteem, peer connections and some concepts due to absences.  From day one I made it a priority to help Lauren connect with her peers.  I set her up for successful moments in class, I worked very hard at building a classroom community, and above all I conferenced with my students regularly.  This helped me truly understand each student's interests (what motivates them, what is challenging, and what their dreams are and what they fear).  I valued my one-on-one conferences, I learned to be very patient, flexible and to be a good listener.  Once I began to understand my students on a deeper level I was able to motivate them more efficiently.  When I saw a student put forth mediocre effort I would immediately pull them aside and try to figure out what was going on.  I guess this was my way of truly differentiating.  Lauren really came out of her shell during 5th grade.  She is now attending college, and I couldn't be more proud of her success.

It wasn't always peaches and roses.  I'll never forget a student named Kevin.  I tried very hard to connect with Kevin, he loved basketball and I even coached him in an after school program.  What I discovered with Kevin is that his home life was a tremendous stresser.  Kevin brought so much baggage to school that I had a very tough time getting through to him.  Midway through 5th grade my efforts with Kevin and his parents blew up in my face.  Kevin's mom was very hurt by her ex and hence did not care for men in general.  Thus, I had no shot.  I did my best with Kevin, but sometimes you can't win them all.

Research says students that connect with their teachers are more engaged and this leads to enjoying school.  Students that enjoy school tend to do better than students that do not enjoy school.  That is a simple fact.  

My question for all of you is this, do you have students in your room that you are struggling with?  Ask yourself this question, have you connected with this student?  If you are true to yourself and you said no, what could you do to start connecting?

Next Week at a Glance:

Monday, February 11th:  Mobile Dentist
Monday, February 11th:  iCreate Poetry Assembly 9am Grades 3-5
Tuesday, February 12th:  Panther Pride Lunch
Tuesday, February 12th:  Happy BDay Shirley Campbell
Tuesday, February 12th:  2pm Red Wings Assembly in the Gym
Tuesday, February 12th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Tuesday, February 12th:  School Improvement 3:45 (attendance optional)
Tuesday, February 12th:  String Team practice
Wednesday, February 13th:  No assembly this Wednesday (IEP's and Technology Steering Committee Meeting)
Thursday, February 14th:  Happy Valentine's Day
Thursday, February 14th:  9am 3rd grade Barter Day
Thursday, February 14th:  Sign-up day for Interest Fair
Friday, February 15th:  Happy BDay Amber Bacon

Articles Worth Reading:

The Skinny on Accelerated Reader  shared by @colbysharp

*What is the purpose of Accelerated Reader?  Is it a motivator?  Is it used to assess?  Should Accelerated Reader determine grades?  I've got my opinions, what are yours?

74% of Educators Support Technology  shared by @MrPowersCMS

iPad iNformation:

Videos Worth Your Time:

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work (12 min)

Perfect for Valentine's Day!  I love this clip...(1 min)

Sami Stoner's courageous experience. I showed this video at the last assembly, touching and inspiring (10 min)

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Lots of great concepts explored in this post.

    Grades DONT matter (really) until 9th grade (if you want to go to a four year college). The kids who do the best are the ones who buy into the "game": higher grades=I get to choose which college.

    Relationships ACTUALLY impact thinking and learning MORE than they impact grades, for the kids who aren't buying into the college thing. Relationships also impact the kids with the college goal. Relationships also impact the kid with too much trauma on their plate NOW to show you it matters. They take pieces of you and make them their own. It lives on with them, regardless of grades.

    We can only impact so much. Relationships are pivotal in so many ways.