Differentiated Grading: Fair Isn’t Always Equal

Grading. It’s a concept that has recently become a controversial issue within the classroom. Especially with the current focus on moving towards standardized testing, grading seems to be something that needs to be analyzed more closely. We need to move away from the traditional grading and look at what it really is doing for our students.

After being in the Middle Level program, I view grading differently. I was given a different definition of what grading meant, not just slapping a grade on the top of their assignment. This past weekend, I was very fortunate to sit on a session put on by Rick Wormeli, a former middle level teacher and author – basically celebrity material in the middle level world. His session solidified my beliefs towards grading solid and made me think about the concept more deeply.

He began with saying that the main purpose of grading a student’s work is to give us an idea if they understand the material, or if they do not. The grade must be “relevatory” or “reveals a story” of what a child knows and what the child does not know. It should display how well the student understands a concept. For example; if a child is being graded on how well they understand a math concept, they should not be graded on whether or not they brought in a calculator.

This ties into grades having to be strictly towards academics. Unless a standard is to see who can fill out a crossword puzzle/etc, you should not hand out a crossword puzzle or a coloring page and then give that student extra credit because they completed it. This is only giving a student false accreditation. For example; say you’re doing a unit on the Civil War. A student may earn a B because he/she completed all the extra credit of coloring pages or completing word searches, but he/she still does not understand the concepts of the Civil War and has not met any of the standards.

This is because “grades are not compensation, they are communication. Communication that is an accurate report of what happened”. You should not tell a student to do an extra assignment and you will give them an A or bonus points. This again, is false accreditation.

Extra credit is a concept that I do not believe in. Having extra credit says that there is a standard above the highest standard. “Meeting the standard should be a 4.0. If you meet the standard, you cannot go above and beyond because that is a different standard”. Extra credit was designed for students to get a second chance at making their grade better – which is great! However, like previously stated, grades are not compensation. If a student did badly on a test/quiz/assignment, they should be able to re-do that assignment in order to improve their grade.

Some teachers may think that this is is not holding students responsible to doing it right the first time. I’m sorry, but who the heck cares? As long as students understand the concept at the end, what does it matter how many times or how long it takes for that student to get there? “We mark a grade against the outcome, not how they got there”.

This ties into differentiated grading. If you have a bad test taker, why would you have that student show what he/she knows by taking a test? Have that student put on a skit, write a story, interview that student, anything that is able to show that the student knows/understands the material. When handing out tests to those who have test-taking anxiety, if you could read those students’ minds, you would hear, “I can’t take this test. Interview me or so something else because I know information! I just cannot show it in this way”. Once again, “We mark a grade against the outcome, not how they got there”.

Another thing a lot of teachers are doing is averaging a student’s grades with retakes, assignments, etc. to get an overall grade for that unit. If you think this is the way to go about things, picture this. 

All of these students to the right have one thing in common, they all average to be a 70% range. They all have different scores, but you would never know that because of their average rate or 70%. If every student was told they were a C- average student, they would never know what areas they struggled in or did well in. That grade of a 70% is a lie for all students except Student A. For example; Student C performed at an 85% level four times. The reason he/she got a zero on writing is an issue that must be addressed, but should not be averaged into his/her final score. Saying that these students have an average of 70% means nothing.

Another issue regarding grading is that “the grade a student receives shows more of the opinion of the grader”. An idea Rick used was he put an essay up on the screen. It was filled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, the topics were all over the place, there were not any transitions – what most would qualify as a bad paper. He said that this student who handed in this paper was an straight-A student. He/she was great at writing and deep down you knew that this student scribbled out this essay 15 minutes before class started. Well, what do you grade it? He asked the audience and many said “An F! This is barely trying. This student can do better!”.

He then changed the student’s story. He said that this student was homeless. This student lived on people’s couches and never knew where he/she would end up that night. This student is always hungry because the only meal he/she gets is the one the school provides. This student barely partakes in class, but actually made an effort this time around. You know deep down that this student worked four days on this essay and it is his/her best work. What do you grade this essay now?

This is why you must have standards. It limits biases of students who are our favorites, students who we feel sorry for, and students who make us pull out our hair. With standards, we know if a student has met them, or needs another chance to reach said standard.

All these practices are what I hope to incorporate in my future classroom. I believe that a standardized test does not tell me what my students know or do not know. Grades are being used more and more to sort kids, when that isn’t the point of education at all. School should be to learn, not to sort kids because the State says we should.


AMLE 2014

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the American Middle Level Association conference for the second time this year! It was held in Nashville, TN and was 3 days full of information that strengthened beliefs, tested my beliefs, and opened my ideas to practices I can use in the classroom. 10421128_10203380831896612_2278306813754250755_n

I absolutely love the atmosphere of AMLE. To be surrounded by hundreds of people that share the same, strong, passion for middle level education gives you a feeling that you are a part of something much bigger. This ‘something’ is something that will eventually change the view of middle level education.

Unfortunately, the kids in the middle level are often forgotten about. In many cases, they are treated as students who are in preparation for high school education. It is that awkward phase of learning between carpet times in elementary school to intense bell schedules of the high school. With many people having this mindset, the needs of young adolescents are often being forgotten about. It is somewhat a different “species” of students that are usually being taught by teachers who do not understand these needs, have little passion for this age group, and generally just want to be somewhere else and ended up being stuck there.

As for me, I love the middle level. I have said it multiple times before, but teaching this age group is something that I want to do with my life. I do not want to be stuck in the middle, I want to find myself in the middle. By being around people that share this idea with me gives me the push to continue on to teaching these wonderful kids.

I want to be a middle level teacher that changes the outlook of others when they look at young adolescents. I want middle level to be the age that EVERYONE wants to teach – because it should be. With going to these conferences, I can see my dream of being a middle level teacher – who reaches out to her kids, makes them want to come to class, makes learning interesting, and overall makes a difference – more of a reality.


Leadership Safari 2014

This past week I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of CMU’s Leadership Safari. This program is put on during the week before the fall semester starts for new students coming to CMU’s campus. Though the majority of these students are freshmen – I had the great pleasure in working with a group of transfer students. Throughout the week, students sit through an array of speakers, activities, and other undergo other experiences to better themselves as a leader and overall person. Along with this, they alsoare able to move to campus a week earlier than everyone else and get a more familiar grasp on Central as a whole.10514473_10202853370750413_1093436684468699746_n
My week was an amazing one. I had ten transfer students out of about 100. I made connections with everyone and saw them grow together as a group from the awkward first meeting to the emotional last meeting. Throughout the week, my students shared things they said they normally do not share with others. For example, one of my students said that her parents are recently divorced when her mom came out as a lesbian. She said that her mom now has a significant other and she was talking about how she has been affected because of it.

Another student of mine said that he is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and that he was not sure if Leadership Safari was the right program for him to partake in.

10355883_10202853369950393_3292025600691122277_nAfter saying this, he continued to explain that other people have told him he is “better off in his grave” because of his diagnosis. Hearing this, my heart broke. My other participants’ mouths dropped to the floor and could not believe the cruelty people could have in order to say these things. My participants told this student how brave he was to continue on and not let people bring him down. His face lit up and made my heart grow strong.

At the end of the week, I did an activity with my participants; The Touch Someone Activity. In this activity, I had my students sit down and close their eyes. When I tapped someone on the shoulder, they were to stand up and follow my instructions I say out loud; “touch someone that has inspired you”, “touch someone that you can see being friends with for a long time”, “touch someone that has changed your viewpoints on things”, etc. It was so amazing to be on the outside and look at everyone touch someone who has made their week an amazing one. Once someone was touched, they still had his/her eyes closed, but the way his/her face lit up was such a great thing to see.10351453_10202853371510432_4468720802463873071_n

I also did warm fuzzies with these students and after they handed them back to me, I was able to see what everyone wrote about everyone else and it was so fulfilling. Taking these students who did not know anything about CMU or the other people in this group to being excited about the upcoming semester and depending on the people in the group.

This experience has shown me just how important creating a community among people is crucial. You need to set standards, create connections, and create that respect. I am positive this group of individuals will be able to rely on one another even though Safari has ended – which makes me a very proud Safari Guide.

Check “Present at a State Conference” Off of My List!

This past weekend the Michigan Association of Middle School Educators conference was held in Walled Lake, MI. I had the great opportunity of presenting a session on Team Building Activities you can use in the classroom. ImageI teamed up with three of my other middle level educator peers and gave a 60 minute presentation for teachers, administrative, principals, and other middle-level faculty. We presented our research on what were the best activities to build up classes and get everyone working together.

Our session was held in the very first time slot and was up against many interesting topics about middle level education. We were a little weary about this and were nervous that no one would choose a presentation held by college kids about activities. We were wrong! 15+ attendees joined us at our session to learn more about team building in the class.


We jumped right in with our activities that included; putting giant puzzle together by giving everyone each a piece and not being able to talk, getting a ping-pong ball across the room by only using paper towel and toilet paper rolls.


Overall, the session went very well. Not only did we feel great about it, but the attendees did as well. We were complimented with comments of how composed we were and how exciting we made the session.

2014 MAMSE was not only a great opportunity to present knowledge, but broaden my own as well. So many great sessions that made me develop professionally and become more fired up about being a future middle-level teacher!


AMLE Conference

This past weekend I had the phenomenal opportunity to attend the national conference of the Association of Middle Level Education in Minneapolis, MN. I went with a group of my fellow pre-service middle level educators. These pre-service educators are in the Collegiate Middle Level Association I am proud to be a part of.


This national conference reaffirmed my decision to teach at the middle level. I was able to professionally develop with learning more on formative assessment, differentiated instruction, more strategies on classroom management, and other great things that I can carry with me to when I am in my own classroom.

Being at a national middle level conference made me able to meet principals, teachers, and other faculty of middle level education. I was able to bounce ideas of off many teachers that were in the field or had retired. Many times, I was mistaken for a veteran teacher that had many years of experience in my back pocket. That alone made me feel confident in that I do know what I am talking about when addressing my personal values and beliefs of middle level education and/or education in general.

I am very fortunate to have had this experience in order to make connections and network with different people among the field. It was a great way to gain more knowledge about middle level education that many may not receive by just sitting in a classroom at CMU. I am looking forward to the next AMLE conference in Nashville, TN next November!


LTTT Conference

The Learn Today, Teach Tomorrow Conference was held this past Saturday, April 6, on CMU’s campus. It was smaller than the MAMSE conference I attended in early March, but still had valuable information all the same!

I attended two sessions by presenter, Heath Nestle. He is a middle school teacher at Shepard Middle School. He spoke about inspiring students and motivating them to be engaged in their learning. It was a great insight in how to reach out to students that just don’t want to be in the classroom and school setting.

I also attended a session about obtaining a teaching position. I went into this session thinking that it would give my valuable information on what was to come – which it did. I did not realize how quickly my future teaching career is sneaking up on me. I have 4 more semesters at CMU until my student teaching and that scares me! Although I am so excited to be in my own classroom with my own students, the thought of it is super nerve racking.

The last session I attended was how to keep students engaged in Social Studies. This was interesting and I came away with many ideas in how to implement interesting lessons and “props” in my social studies classroom. Being a history major, I am super excited for this 🙂

Overall, I think the conference went great! I do not understand why teachers complain about having to go to these conferences in their continuing education because I have enjoyed them. I am excited about going into teaching and I think that teachers nowadays loose site of the excitement they once had. For me, I will always keep that close to me.