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Communication Clears the Cluttered Path: Project 180 Guest Post

Anything worth having doesn’t come easy.  Yes, this is a phrase I’ve lived by for a while, but the past few months it has truly stood the test of time as we’ve ventured down the “select-and-support” grading path.  One thing that isn’t always easy for teachers, rookies and veterans, is communicating with parents.  Why?  It takes time…They can be intimidating…we have 150 students…etc.  But, that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  It’s something we need to do.  Parents needs to know.  But whether it was teacher or parent initiated depended on the situation.  This year that has both changed and stayed the same.

At the beginning of the year the majority of the communication came from me.  I sent documents home.  No one really contacted me.  I sent mass emails.  A few responded.  I was at open house.  And while a small number of parents did attend open house, few asked questions, and I did most of the talking.  But at that point things were still new, still unfamiliar, and still a little confusing looking ahead.  That all changed when we realized everything had to “count” in the gradebook online.

Emails from parents filled my inbox.  I’m concerned about my child’s grade in your class.  Can they make-up missing assignments? How can they improve their grade?  Questions from students started to pour in.  Why do I have a(n) _____?  How can I get my grade up?  Can I redo that assignment/performance?  Eventually, after the questions were asked and the answers were provided, the directions of the grading path became clear:  1) Assignments represent completion.  2) Performance represent proficiency.  3) All assignments and performance can be made up, at any time, without a penalty.  4) All assignments and performances can be redone or retaken, as many times as they want, until they get the score they want.  5) In the end, letter grades will be determined by reaching proficiency on all four of the must-meet standards.  Through constant and consistent reminders of these directions, more and more students are understanding that their work ethic needs to change.  They need to start paying attention.  They need to start trying.  They need to start doing the work.  They need to start asking questions.  They need to start learning.  But not for me, for themselves. And as we have made our way farther down the path, they are starting to realize that they have not only the freedom to do these things but also the responsibility.  

Finally, this week, we arrived at the pit stop on our path.  Midterm grades.  On Monday, October 30 each student selected and supported the grade that they feel is a fair representation of their grade at this time based on the three performances (and possible retakes) that we’ve done so far.  As they were filling these out, student stress started to disappear.  For many it was a result of the fact that what’s in Skyward (the online grade book) won’t actually be their midterm grade.  For others it was a result of realizing their hard work is paying off.  For some it was a result of knowing they still have time to reach proficiency and get the grade they really want at midterm. Whatever the reason, we can continue on our path to the final destination.

Do. Reflect. Do Better.

Jenna Tamura is a teacher and the ELA Dept. Chair at Cheney High School. She is a monthly contributor to Project 180. You can follow her on Twitter @JennaTamura


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