Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Supporting No Zeroes

A "no zeroes" policy makes perfect sense.  A zero will skew your gradebook significantly.  Zeroes are punishment of behavior, not assessment of learning.  Grades are not intended to be the motivator, again they are to describe learning.  So I will not make a case of why to do a no zeroes policy.  Instead, how do we implement a policy like this in the real world.

Practical matter of no zeroes
1. Think of homework as practice.  Our goal is learning, not completion for the sake of completion.  Assessments should be given regularly, be meaningful, be connected to homework, and should give feedback to students.  Practice should not be graded.  Homework is not the assessment.
2. Put programs in place for those students who need extra help.

Changing Homeworks Purpose

Change the way you think about grading, homework, practice, motivation, etc. and everything changes.  Yes, this can be scary.  You may have to look at what classroom activities are really just time fillers and get rid of those activities and practices.

No zeroes policies-common and practical questions:
1. Why will students do the homework if I'm not grading it? (motivation)
2. All students have to do homework.  How could I manage a class if some students did homework and others didn't do the homework? (management)

When homework is used as practice, it helps students learn concepts already taught in class.  Keep the answer book open in the back of the room.  The practice isn't graded anyways.  This sends a message that the homework is for learning, not grading.  Then you can have conversations with students and give better, more natural feedback to students.  Have them turn in work and comment on it.  Walk around the room as they are working on it.  Answer questions, interact with students, check for understanding, and get a feel for who needs to do the homework

But why would a student do the work if it isn't graded?  Because your homework is directly aligned to what will be on your assessments.  You can have many small assessments, authentic assessments, quizzes, and tests in class.  You will be grading that student's work.  You will know that the work was not done by sitting in the hallway looking off the smart kids homework.  When homework is a grading game, count on the fact that many students (even your best) are cheating to get the work done.  This isn't a negative view of "these darn kids today," it's just reality.  If they see the homework as checking something off of a list, then that is the quality of work you will get.

What if one of my students gets it, but the rest of the students needs practice?  If the student completely "gets it" before others do the practice, will doing the same level problem that they already understand over and over going to help that student?  No, but it will kill their motivation to learn.  If you differentiate and give them problems that challenge them, then fine but differentiation is a whole topic on it's own so no point in going there in this post.  So yes, all students have to practice and prepare, but that may not look exactly the same for each kid.

We went to a no zeroes policy at the Middle School 6 years ago.  At the Middle School, we created the Eagle Success Program known as ESP.  The basics of ESP: if students don't complete homework, they are assigned an ESP.  At the high school level, we use the Grade Recovery Intervention Program.  We do not have a no zeroes policy in the high school but have put GRIP into place so that if teachers have a no zero policy, they have support from the school and school administration.  Students are required to stay after school to complete homework.  GRIP lasts from 3:35-4:15 and take priority over after school sports.  We use common sense and we do not make unreasonable punishments for students.  Our goal with both programs is to get completed work, not punish kids.  For instance, if  a kid has a meeting with their TeamMates (School based mentoring program) mentor, they will meet with their mentor and get the homework done later.  We want to be flexible enough that the purpose is clear, turning in essential homework (homework that for this student must be done so they will be prepared for the assessment) is required.  We have found that time is a bigger motivator than grades could ever be for many students. By the way, the students that are actually motivated by grades are not the students we are talking about with these homework programs anyways.

High School-One student failed one class in the first semester and two students failed three classes in the second semester.

Middle School-One student failed one class in the first semester and no students failed any class in the second semester.

Our failing rates went down by 90% or more.  Of course it is possible that because we are focusing on failing grades, our teachers may feel pressure to pass kids.  However,  our 8th grade students scored highest of all our conference schools on our state's writing assessment.  We also scored very high (well above the state average) on all of our state testing. It appears that the programs we have put into place do in fact support learning and do not lower our high standards.