I feel the same as a teacher that I do as an employee (or just a person,
for that matter), people want to be rewarded for their efforts. That recognition
may be in the form of money, but more often it comes in other forms. My
students have the right to expect me to recognize them for their efforts,
and I try. The bell-shaped curve we are all familiar with and have seen
for years is not sufficient to accomplish this, in my opinion. I cannot
imagine a successful employer firing the same number of employees as are
promoted, or reprimanding the same of number of employees as are given
positive evaluations and raises. This simply would not appear to me to
be a successful strategy for maintaining a conducive environment for running
a business. It is not conducive, in my view, to the learning environment
either. My normal grade distribution graph looks more like a staircase
than a bell.
|As you can see from this typical grade distribution from one quarter
last year, my students earn B's more often than any other letter grade.
My strategies result in about the same number of C's as A's, and D's and
F's are rare. In fact, I can tell you that those lower letter grades are
basically earned by students who either rarely attend school, rarely do
homework, or both. I have made a conscious effort as a classroom teacher
to see that students who come to school on a regular basis and do most
of the work I require will earn a letter grade of at least a C. If the
combined percentage of A's, B's, and C's falls below 85% of my students,
I take a long, hard look at my instructional strategies and assessment
practices. I strongly feel that for students to give their maximum effort
they must be convinced that a teacher intends to reward their efforts.
I do not want to play the game of "Gotcha" in regard to student evaluations.
The instructional and assessment practices which produce the grade
distribution illustrated in this table did not come easily. It has taken
me years to get to where I am. It took a great deal of training, paid
for mostly by the District School Board of Pasco County, and it took a
great deal of soul searching to let go of outdated and counter-productive
practices which were engrained in my teaching philosophy. My methods do
not require as much monitoring as they once did, but they do require monitoring.
When I come across a new idea, I am willing to try it, but many are discarded
for various reasons.
There may be parents and educators out there who might assume that I
have simply inflated student achievements or decreased expectations to
get these results. I once would have responded this way when looking at
results like this. I can only say that I believe the academic standards
in my classroom are quite rigorous, and that my students perform quite
well in comparison to school, district, and state performance on every
standardized test now used in our district in the area of mathematics application,
the area my instruction is most concerned with.
I would be happy to share more specifically with anyone who is interested exactly
how I weight the different forms of assessment to produce these results, but
I will limit myself here to saying that I use a combination of traditional written
tests, both individual and cooperative, alternate forms of assessment, like
projects and activities, writing assignments, portfolio assessment, traditional
homework credit, and attendance incentives. In addition to these, I have an
ongoing Bonus System where students can earn extra credit by successfully accomplishing
challenging tasks and problem solving. This last category probably has more
to do with my students' enhanced performance on application sections of standardized
tests than any other single instructional strategy I employ. I got the idea
from a Colorado teacher several years ago. I wish I could remember her name,
so that I could give her credit here, but I can't. Anyway, my students attempt
to solve a challenging problem at the beginning of almost every class period.
This is done in a low-risk environment for them. They don't stand to lose anything
if they get the problem wrong. They do stand to earn extra credit for getting
it right. It's an opportune place for me to accomplish several aims outside
the established content guidelines, whether it be a review of skills or strategies,
shortcuts, theorems, formulas, problem-solving techniques, mathematical history,
high-interest topics, puzzles, or just about anything else you might think of.
The most important thing in problem solving is practice. In order to practice
problem solving, students must work on problems which they do not already know
how to solve. This needs to be accomplished in a low-risk environment to be
effective, and that's why this works, in my opinion.