Help EVERY Child to Find Success
I am a big Thomas Guskey fan. I first came across his research while a doctoral student (I dropped out.) My research focus was on “How can we make the gradebook more like World of Warcraft?” In my research on grading practices I frequently came across and cited Guskey.
Guskey’s article is short but has some really important reminders. It is the first two weeks of school that shadows the remainder of the school year.
That First Quiz
Students define themselves by their grades. As a math teacher it is a constant ringing of “I’m not a math person.” OF COURSE YOU ARE! What makes you think you are not? In the car my daughter one time pulled a worksheet from her backpack and said “This is the paper that proves I’m not good at math.” My heart broke. The paper absolutely did not prove that, the score at the top told her that. The paper showed she is a thinker, a student who tries. But for an inauthentic math question she got the incorrect answer on the answer key and that somehow defined her. The red ink at the top of the page defined her.
“When teachers assign grades to those first quizzes, the grades put students into categories. Getting out of a category is really difficult.” – Thomas Guskey @tguskey
This line really hit me in Guskey’s blog post. I am 100% guilty of doing this. After the first two weeks of school I sorted students grades and put them into groups based on this. As if this is who they are and who they will always be. Reading Jo Boaler’s book Mathematical Mindsets I was properly shamed that I should NOT be putting students into homogeneous groups, but rather heterogenous.
Success Builds Success
In my research I repeated found studies that showed that success builds success. Thomas Guskey points out that no research supports giving a student a low score. In fact the opposite, it leads them to quit and give up.
“This means that teachers must do everything they can to ensure students’ success during the first two weeks. ” – Thomas Guskey @tguskey
And another zinger from Guskey “success on something meaningful and challenging.” This was something I read while researching for my papers. Students know when you give them false praise. “You have nice handwriting.” They know to interpret that as their work is not good. Give them authentic praise and help them to find success.
Here is one assignment type I use to help students find success. In Google Classroom I ask students a critical thinking question and to answer in the Private Comments.
My favorite answer is IDK (I don’t know). That means “I don’t feel confident.” What is amazing about Private Comments in Google Classroom is that it is not a comment, but rather a conversation. I reply back to the student with a step they can be successful at. If I ask “Write a figurative language paragraph in the Private Comments” and they respond with IDK then I might just ask them to copy and paste the definition of figurative language. Then I ask them to in their best effort write a sentence that involves smell. A few more back and forths in the Private Comments and I may not end up with an awesome paragraph, BUT IT IS BETTER THAN NOTHING!!!
And for this, the student receives FULL CREDIT!
The assignment is to have a conversation with me and to respond to my feedback. That student showed GROWTH! If you take off one point the student takes it personally and says “see, I told you I can’t do it.” The focus is on the score rather than the achievement.
Think long term. You have ALL YEAR! The first 2 weeks I am looking for ANY thinking. Full credit. And through relationship building, feedback, and teaching I get that student to give me more one step at a time. I help them find success.