Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to the Future

I so appreciate my friend, Ruby Justice, taking the time to read and comment on my writing here. In her last reply, she agreed with my concerns about the headlong embrace of technology in education and she ended her post with, I see a return of paper gradebooks in the future , too! ;-)

Winky face noted, I started to reply to that comment specifically, but then I realized that there was more to my thoughts than a sentence or two.

When I first started teaching 20 years ago, there were some computers in the school, mostly in labs, and mostly used for word processing, math practice, or social studies simulations. The internet as we know it was in its infancy-- it would be a couple years before I had a dial-up modem and an AOL account at home, and after that, I helped introduce such connectivity to my school by writing a grant for my classroom.

Still, it was several more years before they gave us all "teacher work stations," and for that time, my grade book was vinyl-covered and spiral bound. Each student's name was handwritten in the column on the far left, as was each assignment vertically across the top. Grades were entered in the light green grid before assignments were handed back, and in those days, it took hours with a pencil and a calculator to figure out quarterly grades for 90 kids. That chore alone put the "work" in teacher work day.

As such, I embraced the introduction of grade book software. In addition to the hours it saved at the end of the quarter, it was really productive to know how kids were doing as we went along, and printing progress reports with lists of missing assignments was a useful way to communicate with students and their parents. Sure, there could be some confusion, particularly between home and school-- not being present in the classroom meant, understandably, that parents did not always understand what was missing or why a particular grade was what it was. Most teachers were more than happy to explain, however, and the electronic grade book became an accepted tool. Personally, I used to say that these reports were like snapshots-- they were, by their nature, likely to change, or have changed already, over time as more assignments were completed and assessed.

Soon, we were sending home bi-weekly progress reports, in addition to our mid-quarter, quarterly, and annual grades, which was helpful for some students and their families, and therefore in my opinion worth the extra work. Two years ago, we implemented a system where we uploaded our grades every week, affording that much more access to any interested stakeholders.

Of course, we were aware then that many school districts had taken the next step-- making the teachers' grade books accessible, live, to students and parents, and instead of feeling inconvenienced by preparing weekly reports, most of my colleagues felt lucky that that was the extent of access to our records. I think there was a consensus that live access was a bad idea, not because we had anything to hide, but rather because any snapshot can be, at best, unflattering, or at worst, misconstrued.

This year we have a new web-based grade book, and it looks like it's going to allow live access. I'll let you know how it goes, but as of now? I'm in the market for something vinyl-bound, maybe with light green pages.

1 comment:

  1. So sorry. What's next, subcutaneous grade books? Don't let them vaccinate you, Trace!

    I would go further and say that children shouldn't be 'graded' at all until at least middle school. All these records and numbers and percentiles. I've seen so many little ones misjudged and miseducated based on those very fluid and unreliable numbers. I've even witnessed an 8-year-old having a nervous breakdown taking an SOLs test. What's the point, really?