Grades, grades, grades! In school, we are obsessed by grades. In my day, we got graded on everything: homework done, check; reading at grade level,
check; shoes tied, check; (and the most offensive…) showered after P.E.,
check. The endless system of checks
awarded and withheld is as ancient as school itself. When I was in school, the checks counted as
part of my overall grade for the class.
If I didn’t shower after P.E., it didn’t matter how well I had played
basketball, I would not get a good grade for the day. If I stood on the sidelines and let the ball
bounce right off of me, but took a shower, I got a good grade.
Times have changed, but the check
system has not. We still use a system of
checks awarded and withheld in order to let children know how well they are
meeting standards, most especially in regards to behavior. The good news is that the checks don’t
influence the grade a student gets in class anymore. We use checks to determine disciplinary
consequences, but not to lower someone’s grade.
The question poses itself: why have we made that change?
About twenty years ago,
educational research started to take off.
Researchers began asking why we did the things we did, and when there
wasn’t a compelling reason, change was suggested. One of the hot topics in educational research
has been assessment and grading. The
questions posed were many, among them: why do we assess what we do the way we
do? How do we determine what to assess
and how best to assess it? How do we
grade what we assess? How do we make
sure that grade is a valid representation of what a student has learned? These questions have challenged our essential
notions about what a grade really represents.
Through research, we have
determined that for grades to be valid, they must reflect what a student has
learned. It must not be impacted by
things such as timeliness of assignment submission or student behavior. In fact, any part of a grade that is
subjective rather than objective should be eliminated in order to best reflect
student learning. In this way, when we
look at a grade, we can accurately know what a student has learned and take
action to improve that learning.
This brings us to the question of
grading homework. Homework is generally
designed to give students an opportunity to practice new skills. If a student is “practicing,” it stands to
reason that he or she has not yet learned the skill. Counting homework in the grade is thus
unfair, since we can’t expect practice to demonstrate the end result of
learning. Certainly, using a grade to
make sure homework gets done is an improper use of a student’s grade, as well,
since it gives us no information about what the student knows. When the practice is over, the student is
assessed, either by test, quiz, paper, or project. That assessment lets us know what the student
has learned. When we calculate a grade
now, we use only the evidence from assessments; we do not include the steps
students take to practice. This allows
them the opportunity to make mistakes, correct them, and grow in understanding
prior to being graded.
In the lower grades, we don’t
even use grades anymore. We focus on how
well a student is mastering the skills being learned. To do this, we use descriptors like
“mastered,” which is the highest level and “non-emergent,” which means we don’t
see evidence of this skill yet. This system
provides valuable information to parents about how well their children are
progressing. More and more schools are
moving toward this type of report card, and next year, all reports of student
learning in grades Pre-K through 4 will follow this format. We will keep the traditional A-F scale in
grades 5-8 for ease in transitioning to high school, but the A-F scale now
truly represents what a student has proven she or he has learned.
Grades, grades, grades! Don’t we want our children to be so much more
than a grade? I do.
I remember being in church with my grandmother when I was a
small child. It was an old church,
probably built in the 1920’s to serve a Portuguese immigrant community. By the 1970’s, the school attached to the
church community had closed, and it was simply St. Joseph’s Church. I recall sitting in the pew with my
grandmother and playing with the hot-water heating pipes that ran the length of
the building. After a certain age, I
knew all of the prayers and the creed and could participate with everyone
else. I had not been through CCD,
though, had not had my first communion, and was never confirmed. In fact, I didn’t officially become Catholic
until I was 29… but that’s beside the point.
Though I knew the prayers and could participate, I never
really felt like the act of prayer worked for me. The only way I knew to pray was to get on my
knees, clasp my hands, and ask God for favors.
“Please give me bionics so I can run fast.” “Please make me an adult so I don’t have to
put up with the kid who teases me.” And
so on. A very child-like prayer system,
to be sure, but it’s all I knew.
One day as an adult, my friend asked me if I wanted to go to
church with him. I initially said no, as
I had not been to church in many years.
Somehow he convinced me, though, and I went to the Life Teen mass at
Annunciation in Longwood. I was blown
away! I had never experienced worship
and prayer like that before. The music
was loud and contemporary, people’s hands were in the air, teens were doing
sign language in front of the congregation, and there was clapping and the
thunder of “Amen” in the air. I was
enthralled. Fr. Joe did the homily that
day, and when it was over, I had tears in my eyes. Within a year, I had completed RCIA (the
process adults go through to become Catholic) and was confirmed.
As a new Catholic, I developed a rather deep prayer
life. I started praying the rosary and
the Liturgy of the Hours (the prayer used by priests and religious around the
world). I still loved the loud Life Teen
mass, but I settled into some quiet and reflective prayer for a while. That didn’t last long… I like my high energy
praise and worship! I also liked how
well teens took to the more “modern” version of mass. They were truly involved and were coming to
mass on their own! When I moved to
Daytona, I found Our Lady of Lourdes and the Ruah mass. I was instantly hooked and have been a
parishioner here ever since.
When I became principal of Lourdes Academy, one of my jobs
was to lead prayer every day, sometimes twice a day. Each day, I go to the Liturgy of the Hours
(online on my iPhone, now!) and pull up the reading of the day. We then follow the format of the Hours as we
pray as a community. I also do a talk
right after the reading where I try to apply the Word of God to the children’s
lives. Sometimes, we get a little
carried away and the “Amens!” get a little loud. But I can’t think of another sound I like
more than the sound of children worshipping and praising our Lord. Some children will gravitate toward quiet and
reflective prayer, while some will take to a high energy approach. My job is to balance the two.
Psalm 97:6 and says "Make a joyful noise before the
Lord our King." While the definition
of joyful noise can be debated, the idea of true joy in the Lord cannot. Peace!
I don’t consider
myself to be creative at all. I can’t
draw a stick figure that doesn’t look like it’s been mangled in a car wreck, I
can’t compose music, and I tend to decorate my house in a very neutral
way. Once, I was selected for the gifted
art program, but by the end of fourth grade, it was evident that my selection
had been a mistake. Yet, people in my life
have told me that I actually am creative.
To see that creativity in myself, I have to move beyond the bounds of
the typical “artistic” definition of the word, and look toward thinking styles.
I think around
things. In other words, when I am
presented with an idea, I try to think of all of the roadblocks between the
idea and its implementation: Who will this affect? How will those involved respond? Does this bring good value to what we
do? Who’s going to do the leg work? How much is this going to cost? How much time will this take? I attack a problem from all sides, and I do
this immediately. Once I am satisfied
that I have good answers to my questions, I begin to think of how best to make
the idea happen. This is where the
creativity seems to come into play. I
toss ideas around with colleagues, I make notes and diagrams, and I continue to
ask hard questions about how things might go wrong, in an effort to avoid
As I grow older and
realize how much more I have to learn in my life, I think about our children
and how best to teach them to attack the problems they will encounter in
life. Sometimes, I don’t have to do
much. The other day, I was working with
the Constitutional Convention representatives in MicroSociety, and I observed
two fifth graders develop a plan to get feedback on a name for the
society. I didn’t have to coach them at
all; they simply came up with a solid plan and then implemented it. I was duly impressed! It’s amazing what kids can do when their
imaginations are engaged.
At other times, I know that my intervention is needed. When I meet with a student who is having
trouble interacting with her or his teachers or with peers in class, I have to
take a step-by-step approach to helping the child solve the problem: What
happened right before your less-than-perfect interaction with your peer? How did what happened before play into how
things turned out? Is there another way
that interaction could have gone?
Role-play a new version of that interaction with me… what might you say
in this case? Why do you think your peer
reacted the way he or she did? By
starting with problem-identification questions and then moving into creative
thinking and role-play, students can sometimes see how different actions can
produce different results from those around them.
I suppose in the end, creativity is about how you see the
world. The most creative people I know
are the ones who take the time to try to view things from different
perspectives. When St. Paul was teaching
the Jews about why it was okay for Gentiles to be Christians without having to
obey Jewish ritual and dietary laws, he had to engage the minds of the Jews to
help them understand a completely new perspective. As educators, we have the obligation to teach
our children how to see things from all sides.
This will make them better citizens and better Christians. It will also make them creative in their own
One week down, thirty-five to go! We got off to a great start at Lourdes
Academy this year. With over two hundred
and sixty students, we are blessed to be at capacity in several
classrooms. Keeping a school running in
this economy is no easy feat, but with your love and support we are thriving! Thanks be to God.
Our new school lunch program is off to a good start. There have been some bumps in the road, as we
are serving almost 75% more student lunches this year over last. I thank you for your kindness as we work out
our new systems. Providing free and
reduced price lunches to our children is an amazing benefit, and your patience
is allowing it to happen.
We have school pictures on Monday! Please make sure that your child dresses in the
regular school uniform rather than the P.E. uniform (grades 1-8). We want everyone to look his or her best.
This morning, I was reading the bible and came across this
line in the letter to the Ephesians: “You
are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints,
and part of God’s household.” As I read
these words, I thought about our school community. Most of our children were here last year, but
a good number are new to us, and must feel a bit like aliens visiting a new
land. Everyone dresses the same, we are
in the church for prayer every day, all of the faces are new, etc. A change of school can be very stressful!
I like to think of our school community as a family; I spend
much more time with my school family than I do with my actual family back in
New England! That being said, the new
children who have joined us may not feel like family yet. My goal is for the entire Lourdes community
to reach out to our new family members in welcome. I want everyone to feel like Lourdes is where
they belong… like everyone is part of God’s household here in Daytona.
To this end, I have enlisted help in assigning parent
ambassadors to our new families. The
ambassadors should have made contact by now to help our new families with
questions they may have about our school.
There is a lot of information to take in when you move to a new school,
and the ambassadors can help our new members sort it all out.
I enjoyed seeing some of our new families at the Back to
School Pizza Party last Saturday. We ate
well and were entertained by an amazing group of singers. The idea was to get people together to create
bonds in our community.
Finally, stay in touch by looking frequently at our website,
www.lourdesacademy.net. There, you will find all kinds of helpful
information. If you don’t see something
there, and you think it would be helpful, just let me know.
We have all felt like visitors in a foreign land, my hope is
that Lourdes Academy will soon feel like home to you. Blessings…