Theoretically, the student-centered curriculum sounds like an ideal situation for real learning to happen. How one goes about determining whether learning is happening is another aspect of the response-centered approach that I have examined for the implementation of my unit. In the realities of the public school system, teachers are under ever-increasing scrutiny of their methods and grading systems. They need specific evaluation techniques to support the grades listed in their grade books. These figures assure principles, department heads, and themselves that measurable progress is being made by the individual student.
In the category of grading, the researchers failed to supply the kind of system I need to handle the variety of evaluations I face with developmental ED/LD students. James Moffett suggests that grades should be based on the student’s writing folder. At the end of the marking period, the teacher sifts through the folder, arrives at a general appraisal of the student’s progress,and assigns an equivalent letter grade. This process is too vague for the developmental student to follow. I want the student to be an active participant in the developing grade. The student will want to know an approximate average at mid-marking period and the teacher will need an average to determine failure warnings.
I am using a point-based system which was developed for the target clusters as part of the original version of the Freshman Cluster System over ten years ago at Hillhouse. This point system is based on the reinforcement of positive actions by the student and was designed to highlight the following areas of student activities in evaluating growth and progress. To the right of each category is the maximum amount of points that can be accumulated during each marking period.
III. Evaluation (Quiz)
IV. Evaluation (Test)
V. Notebook (Organization)
The student is able to accumulate ten points per day for being prepared with a notebook, pen or pencil, and text or assignment. Another ten points can be added for the
of a homework or classwork assignment and the fact that it is in on time. A wall or table chart is used to keep track of the points. My classroom aides and student monitors are responsible for recording daily totals. Having the charts visible and accessible to students encourages their active participation in following their progress in various categories. Students are proud to have their attendance and grade lines filled in with points and show genuine concern over those students whose chart boxes are empty. In some cases, this positive form of peer pressure will be a deciding factor in a student’s attempt to turn over a new leaf or try to improve in a certain area. In other cases, a student becomes willing to face up to the realities of what his strengths and weaknesses are, and he is motivated to change the weak spots into strengths.
At the end of the marking period, I total the points and use the following chart to determine an equivalent letter grade for the student’s report card.
1350Ð1500 points = A
1200Ð1349 points = B
1050Ð1199 points = C
801Ð1049 points = D
below 801 points = F
I compute the grade with the student in a private conference where I present the grade breakdown and point totals in the various categories. The student can see where they have been successful and where they need to place more effort. The student then records the results of this conference in his notebook for future reference. This type of journal entry may be a fill-in form or a short paragraph describing the specific plan of attack for the next marking period.
Other meetings and resultant journal entries are built into the Cluster system. One period a day is reserved for the cluster teachers to meet and discuss attendance and behavior problems and specific student needs and progress. It is also a time for individual or small-group meetings concerning behavior or extra-help and make-up sessions.
Journal entries from these meetings may be a behavior contract between a student and a particular teacher or a memory writing of a problem-producing incident. Students may also write in academic progress reports or tips and suggestions for improvement. (See Lesson Plan #3 and #4)
If necessary, administrators, parents, counselors, and other professionals may be brought into these meetings to work one-on-one with a particular student. Due to the nature of the ED/LD student’s academic problem, additional diagnosis and testing may be necessary to determine how to best approach a remediation plan. Due to severe personal or emotional problems, the school social worker may schedule private sessions during the cluster meeting.
These meetings, along with the point system, are used in the student’s Social Studies and Physical Science classes. Thus, he or she hears the same goals and values in all their cluster classes and they all operate under a common system. The student comes to identify with the cluster group and to relate to and strive for the cluster values of respect, honesty, responsibility, effort, and courtesy. These values become the focus of some of the first journal writings and value clarification exercises of the first marking period.
Since the response-centered classroom breaks down into a series of small-group sessions, I have adapted William Glasser’s “classroom meeting” to my unit as the instructional setting. Glasser describes this method in
Schools Without Failure
which he bases on his theories of Reality Therapy (See Glasser,
). He discusses three types of classroom meetings: the social-problem-solving, the educational diagnostic, and the open-ended. I used these models to plan out the average week of activities for this unit.
The “social-problem-solving meeting” focuses on any problem which the students as a group or as individuals are having in school or related to school in their private lives. In this type of meeting, it is important for the teacher to continue to stress the positive. The purpose of the discussion is to
the problem and not to
, p. 143). The problems which I am focusing on in the unit meetings are the social and academic problems of developmental ninth graders as described earlier. Individual problems which threaten to become chronic will be isolated from the classroom meeting and referred to the cluster meeting described above.
The social-problem-solving meeting serves primarily as the setting for the discussion of personal and academic goals and the value clarification exercise. The students initial reactions to these will be recorded as journal entries which will highlight pre-writing skills. These sessions are scheduled for each Monday and Tuesday in this unit.
The “educational-diagnostic meeting” is always related to what the class is studying and how well the class and individual students are learning procedures and performing relative to their skill levels. The teacher looks for areas of weakness that will require additional instruction and assessment in the near future (p. 162).
In my unit, this meeting is used as a reading and composing session when students are working on extending their initial journal entries on values and goals into rough drafts of paragraphs, poems, or graphic responses. I am using classroom aides and Yale University volunteer tutors during these sessions to maximize the amount of individualized and small-group attention and remediation. At times a large group or class session will be used to address common problems with the values material, journal writings, or readings. At other times, students will complete performance skill exercises ( quizzes or tests) for an assessment of progress throughout the marking period. These meetings are scheduled for each Wednesday and Thursday in the week.
The third type of Glasser’s meetings is the “open-ended” which is used to discuss important intellectual, academic, and social issues relevant to the students. These should be student-selected issues. The teacher’s main objective is to stimulate the student’s thinking, writing, and verbal processes so that he will be able to communicate what he or she knows about the topic being discussed (p. 157).
My version of this meeting is a little different. Whereas Glasser suggests that students discuss any issue with which they are concerned, I am going to guide the discussion toward the paragraphs, poems, and graphics prepared from journals on the value process of a given week. Thus, Friday will be reserved for oral readings which have been prepared and discussions which summarize the students’ opinions or the knowledge gained from their week’s work.
I have also designated the open-ended meeting as a time when other related sources of information are presented to the student. These sources may be a visitor from the Hillhouse administration or guidance departments, or professional “outsiders.” They may also be a film strip or movie related to the values topic. At times, a video presentation will be used solely for entertainment as a reward or reinforcement of the class’s progress during the week.
(figure available in print fcrm)
The average week in the unit involves the student in three core activities (See chart below). This pattern is repeated throughout six of the eight weeks in the first marking period. This repetition provides the developmental student with a consistent pattern. Hopefully a sense of a continuum in their learning process will also emerge. It is very common for this type of student to come to class without any idea of what is going on. This happens even though I outline weekly activities in “assignment blocks” on the board which they have copied into their notebooks. I want students to realize that what they do for homework on a given day is a reflection of what went on in class and prepares them for the next day’s lesson. The optimum result I seek is for the student to realize the importance of consistent effort and attendance.
The core activities are centered around the valuing process being discussed and examined that week. The students are introduced to the process on Monday with a
exercise which is followed by a short journal entry that records the process, the exercise title, and the student’s reaction. I will close the exercise with a short discussion to begin the reaction process. The following chart provides the reader with a sequential breakdown of the strategies used in
as they relate to each valuing process and the weekly class structure of the unit.
The student has the responsibility of completing a follow-up homework assignment which zeros in on extending the student’s response in the initial journal entry. I will use brainstorming and pre-writing skills such as outlining, listing, and clustering as specific methods for the student’s use. An additional value clarification exercise, a short reading, a structured or free-form graphic reaction, or a short paragraph may be substituted for the pre-writing activity.
On Tuesday, I will run another value clarification exercise on the same valuing process or try to cater to a tangential issue raised on Monday. I will be using exercises from
Writing About People
. . .
as additional sources. The students will respond, again, with a brief journal entry which will be followed by a closing discussion. The student will try to stretch his response with pre-writing skills for homework and begin thinking about the formal writing due on Friday. These writings may be accompanied by any graphic or audio-visual arts project. These aids enable the student to develop personal symbols to relate to the value concept of each week. The graphics-oriented projects will lay important groundwork for the project which ends the marking period—the personal values coat-of-arms (See weeks #7and #8 on chart).
Wednesday and Thursday are work sessions for the rough draft process. The class breaks into small groups for further brainstorming, writing, reading, peer-evaluating, and individual remediation. The class and homework lessons for these two sessions center on completing the rough draft and peer-group revision of the selected formal journal entry. A specific peer-group process will be introduced to the small groups of from three to four students each (See Lesson Plans #5,#6, and #7).
Students then bring their revision of the rough draft to an aide, a volunteer, or myself for a quick assessment using a checklist to record comments and suggestions on structural and grammatical strengths and weaknesses. A holistic evaluation system will be used by the student and the assessor. Examples of the checklist and holistic scoring criteria are available to the reader in
Teaching and Evaluating Student Writing
by Mary Ann Trost (p. 28-335.
Thursday’s homework is the completion of the final draft rewrite process in order to meet Friday’s due date. It is important to determine the beginning of the period as the journal deadline for full credit. This insures that Friday’s meeting will be used for the oral readings, open discussion, visitors, or video presentations as described previously.
A two-week break is scheduled into the unit to allow the students and myself a chance to step back from the valuing process and evaluate student progress. During these ten class sessions, I will conduct private conferences which were described in the unit’s grading system.
The “break” also gives aides, volunteers, and selected student monitors a time to work on the remediation of the most prominent reading, writing, and verbal problems. A variety of textbook-oriented worksheets will provide quiet, work sessions when specific needs can be attended to in a tutorial atmosphere. Thus, the students are engaged in much needed lessons in word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, or spelling and vocabulary while I am beginning the process of oral grade evaluations.
The concluding two-week period gets the students back into the valuing process with the accent on action. The Values Coat-of-Arms Shield project challenges students to make choices on value issues that they have dealt with throughout the marking period and to select formal writings which represent these values. The student creates a visual statement of these values through the shield which helps to concertize the choice of and the commitment to them. Not only is this tangible evidence of their ideas, but also of the process they have learned of reaching down inside themselves and recording what they have found on paper. This fixing of certain ideas to physical images may change during the student’s life as one value supplants another. However, the fixing of the process of valuing, recognizing ideas, and expressing an opinion or writing a statement about them are things, once learned, that will become a constant in their lives.