Friday, January 10, 2014



Philosophy and Work-arounds

Here's what I do.  I don't give extra credit opportunities and I let them know up front, on Day One.

My rationale is this: I want students to feel supported by me and their parents in their journey towards self-starting and self-motivation.  I don't want them to stumble and then ask if there's any extra credit they can do. On Day One, the answer is 'no.'  This rule also reinforces the serious nature of our learning together, that everything counts, and you're not going to get your grade through my charity but through your own focus and  hard work.  See my Workaround #1 : Extra Credit.  I'm not totally heartless.

I also don't give A+ grades.  An 'A' is the highest grade you can get in my class.  You throw an 'A+' in the mix and already the message is that an 'A' isn't good enough.  Bad message, in my opinion.  Especially because there is no A+ grade in the real world.  Students can be harder on themselves than even their parents or teachers.  So, in my class, an 'A' IS, and has to be,  good enough.  I don't want my students stressed about fighting over a point to get an A+.  I'd rather they focused their energies on social injustice or some bigger picture

"Pop" Quizzes, too.  I think "Pop" Quizzes, you know, the ones that are a surprise to students and 'Popped' on them without prior warning, are more about the teacher than they are about the students, and are often given after a teacher feels exasperated with a class.  The good students most always do well.  And often, it's the disruptive ones that are the brightest.  A "Pop" Quiz that counts ends up punishing the ones who need the most support in learning the material, some of whom are quietly concentrating and really trying to do their best for you.  Plus, if a teacher gives a "Pop" Quiz and then doesn't count it, it perturbs the brighter students and the students who try hard but still struggle won't take you seriously next time.

I Never Drop the Lowest Grade.
Sure, everyone has a bad day, I get it.  But I'll be damned if I let my students think that what I'm teaching can be minimized, eliminated, ignored, or even skipped over.  Everything is important, every test, every quiz,  every class activity, every project.  So, I'm not dropping any grades, even the lowest.

Here is my work-around on each of these issues.


Nerfoop Review

As I've said, I don't give nor do I believe in Extra Credit.  However, here's a little workaround for that idea.  I tell all my students that the review is very important and their answers count for points that they collect during the semester.  When their final grade is computed, these points are added to their semester total (I always use a points-based system) and often there are enough points to get them to the next grade, for example, a C+ could become a B-, a B+ an A-.

Here's the magic.  It's called Nerfoop Review and this is how it works.

Remember, my objective is to impress upon my students that 'everything counts' and 'everything in the unit could be on the test.'  If a student asks, 'Is this going to count?'  or 'Is this going to be covered on the test?', the answer is always 'yes, expect it.'

Consistent with this concept, I have a review session before every major 100-point exam.  The review counts for bonus points.  I tell them the more orderly they are, the more questions I can ask and the more points you might get.  During the review, each student is called upon individually and, from their seat, I ask them a relevant review question.   All students are encouraged to take notes and motivated by my assertion that many of these questions WILL appear on the test.  Seems unbelievable, perhaps, but, that's right, everyone participates in the review and most everyone participates in voluntarily taking notes.  I'm encouraging willful participation in their own learning by making note-taking voluntary and suggesting they work on the skill of notetaking because they're going to be using it more and more in their studies as they progress through the grades and onto educational pursuits after high school.

Here's how Nerfoop Review works in my classroom: I have an open-note, open-book, open-mind review before each major 100 point test.  Students are encouraged to take notes during the review because, I tell them, there may be some questions I'm asking that will appear on the test, either as part of a multiple choice question and answer or as part of a short answer/essay question.

The review is structured so student participation is automatic.  That's right.  I'm going to call on every child individually to answer a question related to the unit material we just finished covering.  They are taking notes because some of the questions, I tell them, are going to be on the exam tomorrow.  Take good notes today, study some more tonight, and you should do well.  Put in more time and you'll probably do even better, I tell them.

I start by going around the room, one student at a time.  Because these are potential test questions, almost everyone is taking notes on everyone's questions and answers.  When a student is called upon and gets the answer correct, they get one point.  At the same time, they get to shoot for another point.  That's right.  I've got my little nerf ball and my little hoop with the hoop attached to the top of a bulletin board.  I place a line of masking tape about 6-7 feet away from the hoop.  I take a practice shot and make it of course to show it's possible.  A student gets the opportunity to shoot for the extra point (making it two possible points per student per question) ONLY after they answer the review question correctly.  Given the size of your class and the nature of the exam, make sure you have enough questions for each student to have a unique one.  Record the points in your roll book under the heading Review Points.  I tell students that the points are recorded and then used at the end of the semester to help them solidify their grade.

What about the students who don't answer their question correctly?  Well, because it's open note and open book review, if there's time after the first go around, I'll ask those who didn't get their first question correct another question.  That way, students don't feel that all is lost after the first go around because they didn't get any points.  Explaining this approach, the other students recognize a teacher's effort to be inclusive and modeling patience with their peers.  What I tell them all is this:  What's Easy for Some is More Challenging for Others.  If you're consistent with this mantra, they'll understand.  Your students are smart.

At the end of the first round of questions, I determine who hasn't answered a question correctly and go back to those students.  They're often the ones who need the extra points anyway. Ask them another question, maybe even a question that's been asked already.  Either way, you're encouraging risk-taking: speaking in public, answering the question right or wrong, being viewed unfavorably by peers).  As the teacher, you're encouraging risk-taking by creating the safe environment to do so and then giving students the opportunity to take that risk.


I know.  I show no mercy.  No, I'm not dropping your lowest grade.  I understand.  Everybody has a bad day.  I'm sorry you had a bad day.  Here's what we're going to do.

And this is my classroom policy on a student's 'bad day' grade.

You can retake the test.  That's correct.  With one caveat: I'll average the two test scores together but you can only raise your score to a 72/100.  So, if you received a 62/100 on take number one and you received a 92/A- on your retake, the highest average  there would be 73/C.  Why?  I'm glad you asked.

Because giving a higher score would penalize those who tried hard the first time.  I want to encourage hard work the first time and being responsible to yourself the second time.

I think this holds students accountable for everything and encourages taking responsibility.  You don't get a doctor's note excusing you from the pursuit of knowledge and you don't want the good students bragging that they don't have to take the final exam.  For me, case closed.


In my classroom, there is no such thing as an A+.  An A grade is the highest I'll give because the '+' sign doesn't add any value to a grade that is already the highest you can receive.  Yes, that goes for that nonsense quest to have a 4.225 grade point average.  Call me old fashioned.  An A is the highest grade I ever gave.

The 'Why?' is this.  Students, teachers, and parents are crazy enough.  You start giving A+ grades and all of a sudden, an A isn't enough.  You've got to get an A+!  Going over grades when you review a test, they will fight tooth and nail for that extra point, a 96 to a 97 for example.  It's psychologically cruel and unnecessary. In the real world, there are no A+ grades so why create an illusion of greater entitlement in the classroom?  A score of 93 is an A; a score of 100 is an A.

And, of course there's a B+ and a C+ and a D+...those are fine grades... but THERE IS NO F+ !

As a matter of fact, since you're using a points scale for grading anyway, don't even put a letter grade on a test that scores in the F range.  Ask them if they'd like to schedule a retake (see my policy on Dropping the Lowest Grade).  Encourage them to try again.  Same with all C- or below grades.  Anyone receiving a C- or below can schedule a retake.  The retake opportunity encourages my principle of encouraging the love of learning and at the same time encouraging responsibility for their achievements.

No comments: