Sitting in class, from a student’s point of view

I have always thought that my own vivid memories of being a student were helpful to me as a teacher.  I felt like I remembered how self-absorbed I was and how semi-attentive to the work.  I considered myself more thoughtful as a teacher because I could put myself in my students’ shoes.  So, maybe I still think that a little bit, but I am very humbled by this article from a Washington Post blog.

And I’m interested in observing or attending more classes at my school, videotaping myself teaching, and trying some of the suggestions that the author makes.

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns

I”m not sarcastic with my students in class.

Am I?


Fixing the rubric

I have washed off the green facepaint from my moment as Yoda this morning and am ready to explain my new battle plan.


Just to be sure I cover it all, and address all concerns, I’ll stick with the visually unsophisticated but reliable 1, 2, 3 method of organization.  These refer back to the numbered complaints in this post.

Fix #1: I deleted the column N/A.  Since the possible marks range from Exceeds Expectations to Needs Improvement, putting N/A on the far side of Needs Improvement was visually distracting.  Just like I’m finding the photo above to be visually distracting as I write.  Scrolling down to put me out of sight . . .  And so I just got rid of that column.  If it is not applicable, the student can just leave that row unmarked.

Fix #2: I deleted the explanation of each row and left a blank space.  (Well, not on the first one on the page.  I left the full description on each rubric at the top of the page, but I deleted the descriptions in the other three on the page.)  I found that the comments I added to explain my checkmarks were the most useful part, so I gave some room for comments.  And I told the students that if they chose anything besides Meets Expectations that they needed to explain it in the comment space.  After five class meetings, it’s clear this seems to work for them.

Fixes #3 and 4: After printing the rubrics but before photocopying them, I added the dates of the class meetings myself.  I was having trouble getting the students to add the dates and it made tracking progress and assignment completion impossible.    This was, I have to say, a simple but brilliant change.  (I think Jen Fleischer staples hers all in order and keeps them together all quarter, which would be another way to do it.)

Fix #5:  So, this problem was the absence of any info on content on the rubric.  And I’m going to address this in a different space.  And another post.

Fix #6: This problem was about tracking corrections.  I have fixed part of it by using the blank comment space to repeat every day: “Still missing 10/23 and 10/24 homework.”  This written nagging reminder seems to be helping students remember to turn in incomplete or late assignments.  And then the record of this will be there at quarter-end!  Hurray!  This does not address the issue of having students repeat and review the content they didn’t quite understand.  I think this is related to Fix #5 above and so I’ll tackle it in that post.

Fix #7: Got rid of the Evidence-based Writing row.  It was not used frequently enough and typically was being duplicated in quiz and writing feedback which goes on the paper to the student, and in an abbreviated narrative form on my computer.

Well, I feel like I’ve just cleaned out a messy drawer!  Here is the new rubric.  Sorry it’s so inelegant.  The non-bold descriptions in each row are deleted in all but the first rubric on a sheet of paper (there are a total of four on each page.)

Date___________________________ Assignment ___________________________________


E M D NI  
        Homework Process:   Assigned reading completed, accompanying brief notes cover main points of the reading. Assigned questions are answered thoroughly. Questions not completed show partial answers and student questions to ask in class. Work is neat and organized.
        Correction Process:   Any missing information has been added. Make-up and absent work is completed.   Mistakes on previous assignments are corrected as necessary.
        Individual and Class Work: Engaged listening and thoughtful, on-topic questions and comments. Clear speech with no fiddling or fidgeting. Focused on the assigned task and contributing positively to progress. Respectful of contributions made by others. Supportive of classmates. Asking questions of classmates or teacher as needed without disturbing others. If work is completed early, reading from Up Front magazine, text or other approved source.
        Preparedness: Arrive promptly in uniform and with all required materials (binder, iPad, activity book, colored pen, pencil, paper, etc.). Immediately take out homework and other study tools.
        Personal Responsibility for Learning: Asking questions to clarify your understanding when necessary. Coming in for extra help when needed. Doing appropriate practice and review at home. Taking advantage of extra resources to improve your understanding. Paying close attention to corrections on homework and assessments to gauge your strengths and areas needing improvement.
        Taking Risks and Making Mistakes: Maintaining a positive attitude even when faced with challenging material. Willingness to answer a question or offer a thought or explanation when unsure of correctness.

                          E = Exceeds Expectations  M = Meets Expectations                               D = Developing                             NI = Needs Improvement


What went wrong with the rubric?

So in my last post, I was full of complaints and frustration.  I was disappointed that the rubric, which was sort of the cornerstone of my year, had proved somewhat difficult for me and the students to use at quarter-end.  I had thought that it would reveal so much about each student, that it would be able to demonstrate his or her work and progress.  And yet, I only blame myself for half of its failure.  The other half is also my fault, but I don’t blame myself for it.

First, mea culpa.  I was thinking that the rubric would be the key to understanding everything about a student’s performance.  But if I had just read the damn thing, I would have seen that it only comments on homework and class work.  OK, and it has (used to have!) a place to talk about writing.  But that’s it!  What about content?  Nowhere on that sheet does it say: “mastered the material” or “learned the vocabulary” or “can discuss the main issues.”  And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that learning the content of the course is the most important thing.  (Will I need to retract that statement?)

Second, and this is not so much my fault.  I’m still learning too!  I don’t know how to create a rubric . . . yet!  So I started with a rubric created by the fabulous Jen Fleischer, and then I tweaked it to suit Social Studies.  But I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  So there were some problems.  And I fixed them.  And you can learn all about it in my next post.  Which I’m going to write right now!



The Trouble with my Rubric

Oh, you lovely rubric, how hopeful I was that I got it right.  And how frustrated I was as I tried to make sense of those sheets of paper with the boxes checked when I worked on quarter grades and progress reports.  There was no way to absorb the information or even to eyeball it.  Had they just been a waste of time?  Plus, worse, was I wasting my colleagues’ time?  Lovely Joan and Katie, trying this idea so willingly . . . aaaaarrrgghhh!

Here are my complaints.  Solutions forthcoming.  Here is the original if you’d like to see it.

1. there is a box to check for “not applicable” – while this was useful vocabulary to teach my students, it was on the wrong side of “needs improvement” and so catches the eye as a negative

2. the most useful part were the couple of words I would add to explain a checked box – “answered a difficult question” or “playing with iPad while others were presenting” – okay, that’s not a couple of words, but these kind of comments were so useful when I thought about the child’s whole quarter – and there was hardly any room for them, and the students never added them

3. a huge percentage of rubrics had a bland date or blank assignment (or both) – not super useful, especially when I made a comment about the assignment! – or when I was trying to put them in chronological order!

4. number three above made tracking homework completion tricky

5. many students told me that because they had worked hard and done their best, they deserved a certain grade for the quarter – there is no place for content mastery on the rubric, and, uh, hello, you need to know the content to, uh, you know, pass the class?

6. even though there is a space to track corrections, the students didn’t understand what I was hoping for – they only made corrections when I told them to, not whenever something needed correction or improvement

7. there is a space to track “evidence-based writing” but it did not get well-used – typically I gave this kind of feedback on the assignment itself, so the row went unused, with lots of N/As distracting from other parts of the rubric

Oooooh!  I have some great ideas on how to fix these.  I can’t wait to get started.


Quarter Grades

Back from my rowing boondoggle in Boston, and here I am sitting down to write progress reports and compute quarter grades.  But wait!  I don’t have a gradebook this quarter.  How will I figure out which grade to place in that box to sum up the student’s work over the quarter?  Luckily I do have:


1. a journal with at least six entries, plus my feedback on half the entries – this includes the first writing assignment that required them to give examples to support their answers,

2. two quizzes, with feedback organized into categories: content, writing and memorization,

3. a S.E.E. paragraph, and the accompanying “works cited” page, with a page’s worth of my feedback,

4. a narrative summary of each student’s performance on the quizzes and paragraph,

5. daily rubrics for 90% of our class days, and

6. each student’s self-assessment of the quarter (about a page written), and

7. each student’s self-assigned grade, after writing the self-assessment above.

Here are my questions for my next post – when I finish writing reports and assigning grades:  How is my daily rubric working?  Is the feedback I’m giving useful to me?  How can I better organize my feedback so that it’s more streamlined? What about a shared document for each student that has running feedback?  Are my progress reports better this year?


Students using a twitter feed

Last year, my fabulous colleague, Sara Ahmed, showed us all the twitter feed she has for her classroom.  I found it so exciting that she was sharing the work she and her students were doing – with other teachers, with authors and with parents.

I created my own twitter feed in August in preparation for the beginning of this school year.  (Each blog post is automatically shared via a tweet when I post here.)  I started following news outlets to keep my social studies classes apprised of current events (see upcoming post).  And when the school year started, I started documenting our work in class.  It’s SO great.  I love the chance to capture all the excellent work students do, sometimes with photos.  Just think, how fun it is for my little sister (the only one who ever “favorites” [reads maybe?] my tweets) to know all that we are working on!

My challenge was bringing the twitter feed into class.  When we read the news together, there is a lot of noise that distracts from the current events we are looking for.  Probably I could tweak my feed so that all the sports and cultural news wouldn’t get in our way . . . Anyone know how to do this?  Post in the comments, please.

BUT! This week, I was so excited by some journal responses from my students that I wanted to find a way for them to share – with each other.  And then, I realized we could share with each other and with the world (or at least my 23 followers).  So during class, while they peer-edited their paragraphs on development (a photo of which I also tweeted), they each had a chance to come up and tweet from their journal entry.

The assignment was: “If it were your job to design policies to decrease the single-use packaging in San Diego, what would you recommend?  Give reasons to support your plans.”  The kids did the typing and we worked together to make them provocative and educational.  I had twitter opened on my projector so that as they worked, they could look up and see their classmates’ ideas.  It was so cool!

Here is a sample tweet:  WWSS7D? – Put a price on plastic bags. People don’t want to spend money on a useless thing like a single-use plastic bag.  (WWSS7D? = What would Social Studies 7 do?)

Another: WWSS7D? – Stop using paper, textbooks and pencils all the time. How about computers, iPads and Leapfrogs?

Check out my twitter feed – @TBSVandeweghe.


“If you had to give this a grade . . .”


So I didn’t make a big deal about it.  I didn’t say I would not be giving their work letter or number grades.  I just told them what I would be giving.  And I handed back the first assessment and though they did wonder where the grade was, there were no questions about it.  But I handed back one quiz just this week to a child who was absent when I returned everyone else’s.  And he said, “But, if you had to give this a grade, what would it be?”  And I will give quarter grades.  What will they be?

I know where I’m going for the information to back up the grades.  I’ll be looking at the daily rubrics – I should have close to 30 per child.  I’ll be looking at their assessments and writing.  And I’ll look at a narrative on each assignment that looks like this:

Quiz 1 – Written answers – unclear wording, one correct but not thorough, one totally misunderstood. Content – missing a defn. Memorization missed six. L&L perfect.

Or, like this:

Quiz 1 – Written answers were correct, just need small additions, failed to answer one part of one question. Content – mastered. Memorization perfect. L&L missed one.

And before I begin my review of their work, I’ll hand it all to them in a folder and ask them to comment on their work this quarter and to assign themselves a grade.  And I imagine I’ll hand them something that looks like this:

A – Content is mastered.  Written expression is clear, complete and well-developed. You are participating in the progress of class each day by contributing to discussions and group work, working well independently and completing homework on time.  You ask for help as needed and take feedback seriously.

B – Content is mostly mastered.  Written expression is clear but not always complete and well-developed.  You participate in the progress of class but are sometimes distracted or off-topic; your homework is not always completed.  You sometimes ask for help and need a reminder to pay attention to feedback.

C – Content is partially mastered.  Written expression is not always clear or complete.  You participate minimally in the progress of class and often neglect your homework.  You rarely ask for help or focus on feedback.

D – Content is not mastered.  Written expression is not clear or complete.  You hardly participate in class and neglect your homework.  You do not ask for help or respond to feedback.

What do you think of my grading scale?  If you teach math or science, leave your version in the comments for others.