I’ve never known any trouble
that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.
--Charles De Secondat (1689 - 1755)

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In Search of the Perfect Grade

(This article was originally published September 9, 2012, edited July 21, 2018. Because of the move toward standards-based grading (yay!), the utility of the "averaging" methods listed here are now arguably nil, so though the time for this article's usefulness is past, some may find it interesting anyway.)

Before the current push toward standards-based grading, I had always had difficulty accepting the traditional 100 point grading scale. Poor performance resulting in "F" grades can severely affect averages, especially when the score is a "big F" (below 50%). I usually gave students at least 50% or 55% in a grading program so it would register as an "F" but would not kill their chances of ever getting out of the "F" range.

After discussing report card grading methods with colleagues at my school, I decided to investigate different methods of finding central tendencies of scores. I had no idea how many different ways there are to find central tendencies! I read, I computed, and now I comment.


Upside-Down Hundreds Chart?

UPDATE 9/20/2014: It appears the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) may actually (implicitly) support my call for a revision of the traditional hundreds chart. The CCSS calls for emphasis on building number sense. Students are expected to understand numbers and number relationship, not merely be proficient with manipulating them through externally taught (versus internally developed) algorithms. In fact, students are not expected to even be proficient with (addition and subtraction) algorithms until the end of 4th grade! In other words, number sense should be a solid foundation upon which we build our mathematics house; don't start building until the cement has cured! Hopefully, my idea for an "upside-down" number chart will help in building that foundation! (Maybe it can be the rebar lattice. See, what I did there, with the lattice, and the chart being like a vertical lattice?)


What Do (Don't) You Know?


Every day I ask my students to "show me what you know". It may be in the form of an answer on a dry-erase lapboard they hold over their head (we are low-tech/low-funds at our school, i.e. no cordless clickers). They may raise their hands and give an oral response. They may share with a neighbor and report orally afterward. About every 5-10 school days, they take an actual paper-pencil quiz or test. Each of these activities is a form of assessment that I use to inform and guide my instruction. In these days of high-stakes testing, I feel that the purpose of testing has been mutated. End of the year assessments have become less about guiding instruction and more about "accountability", which for many teachers carries sinister implications of unfair judgment. (There's a whole hugely important discussion about THAT for which we have no room here.) Recently, a 7 year old asked me a question about testing that gave me much pause.

Paragraph Tool

I like to use visual and color cues when teaching my students. A few years ago I created an online paragraph tool that allowed my students to see the connection between a "T-chart" outline and a written paragraph. I have updated this tool and I would like to share it with the teaching community.


Schools Kill Creativity

Even though I am frequently accused of being “left-brained” and “pragmatic”, I think I am very right-brained in my daily life. I play with music, make pottery, and teach dance, among other things. Creativity and the arts are very important to me; they surround me in my personal life, and I have even decorated my computer desktop and my Nook with a quotation from Einstein: ”Imagination is more important than knowledge.” So, it kills me that teachers are now required to spend so much time on language arts and mathematics that there is literally no time left in the school day to address the arts. I recently stumbled across a video of educator Sir Ken Robinson giving a talk, and I have to agree with him when he says that “schools kill creativity”!


Learning to Read... by Reading?!?!

I recently read an article that was lauding a Delaware high school honors chemistry class for being “innovative” and “different”. What amazing new approach to learning was being implemented? Put simply, the students were learning by doing. What insanity! You mean they were learning science by actually doing science?!? Duh! Well, if it works for science, then why don’t we apply it to reading instruction?


Reading Aloud by Proxy

I am a firm believer in the power of reading aloud to children (see Books That Changed My Life - Part 1). In fact, I read to my students every single morning before I even take attendance or say the flag salute. I want to build a love of reading for pleasure. I am convinced that reading aloud to children is the single most powerful practice adults can do for children learning to read. Unfortunately, not all parents read aloud to their children at home. What to do?


Number Sense Worksheets

When I started teaching nearly two decades ago, the big controversy was phonics versus whole language. I believe we have finally reached a compromise, understanding that "authentic language experiences" must also be grounded in a firm foundation of sound-letter correspondence (explicit phonics instruction). We realize that a strong grasp of phonics leads to more solid reading skills. Unfortunately, I do not see that same realization in mathematics instruction regarding number sense. Too many textbooks (and teachers) skip right over number sense development (or give it fleeting lip service) and go straight to skills using numerals, to the detriment of many students.


Books That Changed My (Teaching) Life - Part 1

During my second full year as an educator, a veteran teacher at my school came up to me and began talking about a book I "had to read". He showed me a copy of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook. He was very animated and insisted that we were missing a vital ingredient in teaching our students to read. He insisted that "reading aloud is the key". He kept saying that these kids were not reading aloud enough. Even though this teacher was incorrect in his assertion that the kids needed to read aloud more, he was dead on about the book being essential reading!

Being a naturally avid reader myself, and eager to improve my teaching skills (like most beginning teachers but not all veteran teachers), I immediately went out and bought my own copy. I read it quickly and thoroughly, dog-earing many pages and highlighting and underlining many passages. (This is why I always buy my own copies!) I was awed by Trelease's insight and suggestions. I knew this was going to change my approach to teaching reading! Within three days of the initial discussion, I had transformed my classroom.


Branching Trees

I experimented with a newly free program (I'm all about the free programs) for creating branching tree documents. No, it's not about nature! It's about using logic to lead a user through a series of questions. Each question displays possible answers, which allow the user to be led through the document based on his or her answers. It's those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, but much more powerful.


Learning Math Facts

Mathematics: the study of quantity, shape, arrangement, and change. This applies to all areas of mathematics. I think we are missing the boat when we teach our students to memorize math facts and algorithms without teaching them these underlying concepts. I am adamantly opposed to rote memorization. Without underlying understanding of the concepts and reasons for doing what we do in math, students will be unable to transfer or modify their skills and algorithms to solve higher complexity problems as they advance in their academic careers. However, I firmly believe that all students must memorize their addition and multiplication facts. Unfortunately, we are asking them to do it the wrong way!


It's The Message, Not The Method

A few weeks ago I read a series of "Cinderella" stories to my students (1st grade). Some were traditional stories from other cultures, others were original versions of the classic. Before reading, we talked about what might happen based on our knowledge of the other renditions. After listening to each one, we discussed its merits and identified the components common to these kinds of stories. We then charted these traits and compared them to each other. Throughout this activity, the students used prediction, critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation. And virtually no technology!


Seven Minutes at a Time

Remember the movie "Babe" about the cute pig that herds sheep? Imagine watching that movie for three or four minutes, pushing pause, then resuming it the next day for a few more minutes, then pushing pause, then resuming it the next day for a few more minutes, then ... That's what it felt like to me as I read Babe, The Gallant Pig during our Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) period in my Riverside (CA) first grade classroom.


Keyboarding for Kids

This week, my first graders each wrote a complete sentence. "Big deal," you say.

"Yes, it is a big deal!," says I. They wrote the sentence using a computer keyboard!


The Book vs. The Movie

After reading one of my childhood favorites, Stuart Little, to my first grade students, I showed them the 1999 feature movie adaptation. We watched about 25 minutes every day and discussed the similarities and differences at the end of each viewing. To organize our ideas and observations, I used FreeMind, an Open Source program that helps you create a mind map quickly and easily. Have you ever made a "word web" on the board while you and your students are brainstorming? Well, that's what a mind map is.


Hot Potatoes

I was kind of excited last year when I was told that I was going to be able to work as a reading specialist teacher, pulling out first and second graders in small groups throughout the day to help them improve their skills. I have so many ideas and tools, and I was going to really go to town with them. One of my resources is the website RAZ-kids.com, an online collection of "e-books" that kids can listen to and practice reading on their own. As I said, I was really looking forward to the 08-09 school year starting. Then two things happened.


Happiness and Heartbreak

Well, it's the end of the second quarter. Assessments are to be given, and we need to score them and tabulate the results. Today, I asked my first grade students to write a paragraph. Yes, they needed to copy a topic sentence ("My family is special for three reasons.") and write three complete sentences to support the topic. The average age in my Riverside, CA, classroom is 6 years 8 months.


Study Skills and Metacognition

I was in a Student Success Team meeting the other day. We were meeting with a student and her guardian to let her know that she had the potential to do better than she was currently doing but that she needed to "study more". Granted, the team had met with her previously, and she had improved in some areas, however she was still below grade level and so she was being told that she needed to study "harder". At some point, the school principal asked her teachers if they had taught her how to study. This, to me, was one of those OMG moments. (If you don't know what OMG is, you aren't keeping up with the 21st century!)


Reading My First Skippyjon Jones Book

This morning I read the book Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones to my first grade class. Every morning we start the day by listening to a story, even before we take attendance or pull out our homework. The reason I start every day that way is that I want my kids to love reading and books. This book definitely helped move us closer to that goal!


Loving My Job

Where has Mr. Flores been lately? This website hasn't been updated much lately. What gives?