Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trying to do what's best for kids...

I recently made some big changes in my German classes. I have been contemplating these changes for a while now, so please don't assume I made these changes without thoughtful consideration. My focus has transitioned to having my students show what they have learned, instead of simply assessing them on what they are willing to do. It bothers me when I see students who have a high level of content mastery, but yet have a low grade. Likewise, I see misrepresentation when students who do all their work and are very good at playing the "school game" have high grades, but yet are lacking when it comes to content mastery. It is my hope that with these new changes students will be more focused on learning, rather than simple compliance and grades. Additionally, I want future grades to be a much more accurate representation of actual German ability.

Old way:

- Traditional paper/pencil homework every night (5 -10 minutes)
- Homework was always graded on completion (worth 10 points)
- Homework made up about 50% of a student's grade
- Homework was used to reinforce the concepts learned in class


1) - Students were completing homework for the sake of completing the homework (grade driven)
2) - Homework was being copied and the focus was taken off of learning
3) - Students had jobs or had a difficult home environment, thus homework was not completed
4) - Semester grades were not always an accurate representation of mastery of German content
5) - Some grades were inflated, while others were low when compared to actual content understanding

New way:

- Traditional homework has been eliminated
- The weekly reflective discussion post on Facebook will remain to get class feedback from students
- Students will spend more time creating, discovering, and exploring while in class
- Grades will be based more on what students are able to do, versus their simple compliance
Blogs, presentations, skits, movies, quizzes, and reflective discussions will be new assessments 
- Students will be more intrinsically motivated to learn

New Concerns:

1) - Homework provided additional practice which actually benefited some students
2) - Students who had a higher grade because of homework might not do as well this semester
3) - Parents might not be happy with the new changes in homework policy
4) - Fear of being "that" teacher who does not give homework

I encourage you to leave comments and feedback, as I look forward to reading what people have to say based off of their own individual experiences. Thank you.


  1. Justin- I am right where you are when it comes to grading.

    I moved to a new grading system called the "3P Grading System". It has reinvigorated my teaching, and I think you will really like it.

    Here is the original article I read written by Steve Peha:

    I am blogging about my experience with it on my blog:

  2. Justin,

    I would think your class would be perfect for a change. It seems that it only makes sense that you assess your students on their ability to communicate in German.

    The question I have is how do you set up a grade system that shows student improvement? Not only will you have to decide on what your expectations are, but how to modify them for individual student abilities.

    One more thing, have you considered giving "homework" but not in the typical way? You could easily create audio that students could listen to while on the go. If students could listen to the lessons (and even create them) for just five-ten minutes a night they would get more out of that than a half-hour of worksheets.

  3. Justin, It makes sense that there would be some adjustment as you, your students and their parents get used to this new way of learning and demonstrating their abilities and understandings. I wonder- have you polled the students and parents for what is important to them and what they would hope to get out of an instructional program that supports the best learning? In my experience, if the questions focus on asking about their experiences and identifying questions they have, you can get a good sense of the level of satisfaction and frustration without opening yourself up to a cheerleading or complaint session. I have also found that engaging students and parents in the thinking and conversation about what IS working and to help all recognize their role in the shared responsibility to support students to best learn, they come up with great input that you could use to guide your decisions. The openness alone often eases anxiety about change and helps during the transition.

    Please, keep us updated as you go!

  4. Very intrigued as to your progress on this. Will you keep us updated on what happens? I'm particularly interested in seeing if and how your students who are playing the "school game" react. Will they/ how fast will they figure out this new approach.