3 Steps to Eliminate Fs…NO Extra Credit Required

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“Um, Ms. Smith, is there some extra credit I can do to bring my grade up?”

Such an annoying question, right?  And yet, many teachers succumb.  They find or create something the student can do to earn a few extra points. Especially when those points are the difference between and F and a D.

No teacher wants her students to fail. 

But how did we get here in the first place?

There is no reason for students to earn Fs—or even Ds in a class.  I mean , really, why do kids ever fail a class? 

Is it truly because they are not capable? 

If that’s the case, then there’s a system problem — a need for interventions, guidance,etc. 

But, for the most part, any student sitting in your classroom is capable of earning a passing grade and of mastering what is deemed ESSENTIAL for the course.

They may not all excel, but they can and should all pass… And extra credit need not play any role.

Here are 3 steps to take to eliminate Fs—with no extra credit!

1) MAKE 50 the lowest possible grade.

If you haven’t already, do not give scores lower than 50.  Or, if you prefer, use a 0-50 point scale. 

That simply keeps the grading scale aligned. 

The zero-100 scale is flawed:

A= 90-100 (10 point range)

B=80-89 (9 point range)

C= 70-79 (9 point range_

D= 60-69 (9 point range)

F= 0-59 (59 point range)

(See Monte Syrie’s discussion of the harmfulness of this scale here.)

Of course, if you want to keep the 0-100, that’s fine, but only if you insist on  multiple retakes until the student reaches the desired level of proficiency. (See #3 Below)

2. Replace or weigh grades over time.

Have you heard the one about the parachute operator?  Let’s say you’re going skydiving and you have your choice of two instructors to jump with you.  They both received a B in parachute opening.  Instructor Jamie did really well at the beginning of class, folding the parachute correctly and doing well on quizzes about the parachute. As time went by, his grades dropped when it became clear that he couldn’t open the parachute quickly. Instructor Jody did really poorly on those early folding and multiple choice quizzes, but toward the end of the course could demonstrate her proficiency in opening the darn thing. Both averaged a B.  Which one do you choose?

In my work, we’ve used a Decaying Average so that the later grades carry more weight.  There are other options, including a Power Law or Replacing Grades.  Erin Werra describes all three better than I can in this post.

2) Allow retakes. 

Better yet, insist on retakes below a certain score.   You can apply this to everyone so that anyone with X score has to retake it.  You can also  allow students to individually determine their lowest acceptable grade—with your blessing and, perhaps, with a parent notification form.

This is a shift and there will be grumbling from students (who might prefer to just ask for that dreaded extra credit later.)

Here’s a script:

In this class, it’s not okay to fail.  We are working on very important skills and concepts. I wouldn’t be doing my job if any of you failed. 

However, you all come to this class with different levels of skill, enthusiasm, etc.  So, while it would be great if everyone got an A, that might not be reasonable —or even in your best interests if you need to conserve time and effort for some other classes.

Therefore, I want everyone to share with me your highest desired grade, the lowest you can deal with and your expectation ( a best case scenario, a worst-case scenario and a realistic expectation). 

I’d also like you to share why you have this grade goal.  Might be something like:

  • This subject comes easily to me.  I think this class should be an “easy A” for me and will help boost my GPA
  • This subject has always been a struggle for me.  I know I can do the work with effort and I’d be okay with a C range grade.
  • I like this subject and can do the work, but I have to give more effort to some other, tougher classes. So while I think I could get an A, I’ll be satisfied in the B range.

As your teacher, I simply cannot accept Ds and Fs. Luckily for you, we have a retake policy in this class.  Anyone who scores below our Desired Level of Proficiency on a major assessment will have the opportunity to earn the DLP by retaking or redoing some or all of the assessment (or an alternate assessment). I have some guidelines about when, where and how that will happen.

EXTRA CREDIT Is just that..

It’s extra…beyond…unnecessary.

Don’t do it! Don’t have them do some throwaway extra something that neither of you cares about.  Instead, have them prove that they can do what’s necessary.

Listen, extra credit is additional time, work and energy for you and for your students.  So are retakes.  Which one makes more sense?

One simple tip for giving students feedback

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“May I give you some feedback?”
I heard this question recently during a middle school visit.  This classroom had a markedly different feel than others I’d visited that day–and it was during the last period of the day. (During the last period of a busy middle school day, when you might expect 13 and 14 year olds to be antsy for the day’s end…) This teacher was using lots of great instructional strategies–greeting kids at the door with a handshake, bringing everyone’s attention to the posted agenda, clear objectives and outcomes, (written as “How I Know I’ve Learned It” and the expectation of a self assessment exit ticket).

What really struck me, however, was the tone of the room–respectful and warm throughout the class and exemplified by that one question.

A student had just taken a turn leading the group–literally conducting a performance–and the end result was not as sharp as it could have been.  The student first acknowledged that with a shy smile and the teacher asked the group if anyone could give him pointers. A few did, respectfully, but none of them quite gave him enough for meaningful improvement.

That’s when the teacher asked, “May I give you some feedback?”

Clearly, it was time for the teacher to step in to make sure the student had a full understanding of how to perform this activity.  And, of course, she had to give him that feedback–so one might wonder why she phrased it that way. But she communicated was, “You own your learning.  I’d like to help you deepen it.  Would you like to hear my feedback so that you can do that?”

Of course the student nodded yes, tried again, and got it right.  Similar versions of the same ensued as other students made attempts, mistakes and more attempts.  Students get feedback it all the time–via assessments, via comments, non-verbal communication, etc. But getting isn’t receiving—it doesn’t always stick or help them grow.

Perhaps the simple trick is asking them if they are ready and willing to receive it.  When they do, they can own their own learning and truly take off as learners.

“EVOLUTIONIZING” the Teaching Profession

Evolutionizing TeachingA few years ago, I had the pleasure of listening and learning as four teams of teachers, including one from my own charter network, shared their stories of collaborative design thinking at the Business Innovation Factory. This “storytelling” event was the culmination of a six week project called TD4ED, in which teachers were given the space and time to consider a problem of practice and design their own solution. Continue reading