Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My favorite lesson plan

The REAL report card is the student’s own

One of the problems with teaching is evaluating students’ accomplishments at the end of the term. The teacher has to evaluate what a student has done, and then the teacher must attach some means of measuring, typically a letter of the alphabet or possibly a number, that somehow defines what the student has learned. Sure, such a measurement is nice and tidy, and it lends itself to the arithmetic used to calculate things like the student’s grade-point average. But it doesn’t tell a whole lot about how much the student has really learned, especially in a subject such as English where very little can be measured mathematically. In developmental English, the problem is even worse – since what I teach is college-preparatory, it’s not counted in the student’s grade-point average, and the only official grade I give is just whether the student passed the course or didn’t. Even if such distinctions are close to meaningless, I don’t even get to distinguish whether the student got an A or a C; all I can say is that the student is ready to move up to college-level course work.

But I have found a way to make my students’ accomplishments more meaningful. They get to write their own report cards.

At the beginning of the term, all of my students (and all of the other students in developmental English classes at CNM) spend the second hour of the first class session writing a “diagnostic essay” that instructors use to assess the students’ strengths and weaknesses and to spot students who might do better in a higher or lower level class or benefit from a workshop for non-native speakers of English. Most instructors take that essay, mark it, and return it to the students; many instructors use it as a launching point for the first series of lessons for the course.

I don’t. I take that essay, unmarked, and I tuck it away in the back of the folder in which I keep the materials for that particular class.

Then, at the end of the term, I return that essay to the students. I tell them to look at it, and to compare it to the writing that they are putting into their end-of-term portfolios. I tell them to write two to three paragraphs about how their writing has changed and what they have learned during the course of the term.

I love it! The students stare, wide-eyed, at their earlier writing, and they make horrified comments, such as “I wrote like THAT?” or “Oh, my GAWD!” Then they set about writing about what they have learned and what they have gained from the class. For some, it’s improvement in writing skills, which is what the class is supposed to be about. For others, it can be other skills, such as the former star athlete whose high school teachers had just let him slide by with passing grades that he hadn’t earned, who now knows both that he must and also that he can maintain academic standards – once he applied the discipline from his athletic training to getting his school work done, he was an excellent student.

The big thing here is that I can’t give students any score other than pass or fail, but the students can give themselves detailed assessments of what they have really accomplished. And even if those measures will never show up on any college transcript, they are probably more meaningful than anything that can be calculated by numbers.

Essentially, my students are giving themselves their own report cards. The assessment of what they have done this term is theirs, not mine. They own their accomplishments. Yes, in the end, I enter the letter into the computer that shows up in their transcripts. But their real accomplishment shows up elsewhere.


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