Lately I have been reading Alfie Kohn's pieces on grading & homework in an attempt to create a classroom where students are more concerned, less concerned with what letter will appear next to their name.
My current practice is to use "Work Packets". During each unit I list everything we do on a portion of the board, with each assignment (notes, readings, writing, homework, essays) and each assignment is numbered. The students are responsible for numbering their work, keeping track of what they have, what is missing and what needs to be completed. I don't check their packets during the unit and if homework is assigned it isn't checked either. The expectation I have tried to created in the classroom is that I assign homework when needed to help a student explore, understand or expand upon what we did in class.
With freshman there is of course a learning curve and adjustment period. They often try to turn in assignments to me each day in the first few weeks of the year until they realize that I don't take their work each day. I chose this method five years ago for two reasons:
1. If a student did not complete an assignment on night A, there is incentive to complete it on night B (C or D...) if they know ahead of time they won't be punished for not doing the work. I wanted to create incentive for my students to learn.
2. Not checking homework every night allows me time to be more creative, to search for new materials, to never rely on the textbook and make sure the time they spend in class is meaningful and engaging.
At the end of the unit (usually about two-three weeks) students should have a completed "work packet". Now that the content has been gathered, discussed, shared and analyzed, students are expected to create something to demonstrate their understanding, growth and learning.
I set a goal this year to not give any style of standardized test. Instead, I wanted students to create something each unit to demonstrate their understanding, abilities, creativity, unique thoughts and growth. We just finished the first term, and so far I am pleased with the results. Every one of my freshman has been involved in creating a movie or podcast (which have been published on Youtube or Itunes). They have also engaged in lively debates and reenactments. They appear to be engaged. They tell me they enjoy my class and I have seen them collaborate together, challenge one another and truly demonstrate a desire to learn.
Ultimately, at the end of a unit, a student in my class receives two grades.
1. Work Packet
2. Unit Creation (movie, podcast, essay, script, comic book, play...)
I give a point value to the unit creation that is double the work packet. My thought being that the more important aspect of the course is the demonstration of learning, growth, creativity and understanding. For each unit creation, I don't hand out a rubric. My instructions are the same:
1. Be creative
2. Demonstrate your understanding
3. Be persuasive
4. Work collaboratively
I don't know if this system is right. But over the past five years, I have found that it works. It works for my students (they are engaged, creative and thoughtful in class) and it works for me (I have time to be creative, reflect and improve).
I have been considering writing this post for sometime. I finally chose to because I would like feedback, thoughts and comments on the structure of my class. Does anyone do something similar?