IT'S USEFUL AT TIMES TO HAVE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO “MAKE THE GRADE.” WITH THIS IN MIND WE HERE AT OUTLOOK-12 HAVE CREATED A SPECIAL COLUMN WHERE YOU, OUR READERS, CAN WRITE TO US WITH YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS AND GET PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHTS FROM OUR RESIDENT AWARD-WINNING EDUCATION VETERAN AND CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST GARY COOPER. AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN 45 YEARS, GARY HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS FROM NURSERY SCHOOL TO COLLEGE AND IS ALSO A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR.
Q: We are a group of our teachers that use your classroom management methods. Although we are meeting with considerable success, our principal does not want home-work graded. He claims homework is practice and should never receive a letter grade. Can you advise us?
A: I very much advocate that all home-work should be traditionally graded. My experience is that graded home-work is taken more seriously. Since homework reinforces what students learn in class, the better a student pays attention in class, the better chance they will have to successfully complete their homework assignments. With this in mind, a student’s classwork and homework will both improve if a student knows that they will receive a letter grade for their homework. In fact, the letter grade can help form a clear connection in the student’s mind between their classwork and their homework and on how one directly impacts the other. Usually almost all students comprehend the importance of classwork and homework and tend to flourish in this environment. However, if a child is struggling with this method, by all means abandon this practice and find a suitable replacement method. In general, tests should have a much greater weight than a homework assignment. However, my more than 40 years of experience has been that eventually all students benefit from these practices.
Q: The administration in my elementary school are not big fans of your methods. In particular, they feel that a student’s behavior should not impact report grades. A number of us use your prescribed practices but are meeting with administrators’ hostility. What should we do?
A: My whole philosophy is based on trying to reward students for their efforts and behavior. Never in my thoughts should students’ grades be lowered for poor decorum. In my eyes almost all children regardless of age enjoy receiving some benefits for doing the right thing. With regards to the report card grades, if done correctly, a student’s grade may only be elevated a small amount. Hypothetically, if a report grade is between B and C, I might consider elevating it to the higher grade of B based on effort and behavior. For the most part relatively few grades actually receive this treatment, but students’ work habits and behavior improve dramatically.
Q: I’m a kindergarten teacher, and I have a student that I am very certain has autism. I am the parent of an autistic child, so I know the signs very well. But when I approached this student’s parents, they became furious and lashed out at me, saying that their son doesn't deserve to be "wrongly labeled" because I'm a "lousy teacher." They've also threatened to involve my principal and the school board and even sue me personally if I don't drop this. The whole situation is getting out of control, and in the meantime, my student is not receiving the help that I believe he needs. What should I do now?
A: Kindergarten teachers are the first line of defense. It is their job to begin to identify learning and social issues that a child may be having. Often parents or guardians are unwilling to accept the possibility of potential problems with their child. If your school has a child study team, bring this concern to their attention. Give your principal a heads-up, if you haven’t already. In my opinion you have done your job, however, if you want to, you can also find information on the Internet about autism. A couple of good websites to start with are www.autism-society.org and www.autismspeaks.org. Politely offer the parents of this child a copy of this information and let the chips fall where they may. Good luck, and you are living proof why I consider the kindergarten teaching position one of the toughest in all of education.
If you would like to write to Gary for advice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org