Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Homeschool grades - rewarding effort

It was the evening of my eighth grade graduation, and I was excited. School was out, I would be entering high school the next year, and I thought I might just win an extra award that evening. I had worked super hard in my science class and was one of the few kids in the class whose final was, "write down everything you learned this semester about science." I loved that.

I also thought I had done very well in English class. My papers hardly ever came back with red marks all over them, and I always received A's on my research papers, so I thought I had a good chance there as well.

But as the evening wore on, I saw my hopes rise and fall with each award. The Science Award was announced and then given to one of my friends. The same thing happened with the English Award. I even missed out on the Religion Award, which was a little surprising considering all of the banners I made and nursing home visits I did with my teacher, Sister Rose Sharon.

The last award to be given was the Math Award, and at that point I had pretty much closed my program and was thinking about the cake and visiting with my friends at the reception in the school basement. I didn't think I had any chance of getting any sort of Math awards. Sure my grades were good but that was only because I darkened the door of my math teacher just about every day after school, and then spent another hour or so at night struggling through pre-algebra with my poor grandmother. I even did the extra credit problems because I was just sure that my tests and homework weren't going to be enough to pass the class. It wasn't that I hated math, but I certainly had no understanding of it and the pre-algebra concepts at the time were simply over my head.

Then the unthinkable happened. My name WAS called and my math teacher stood at the podium beaming at me as she handed me that year's Math Award. I remember feeling shocked all evening about it! Then when the grades came out, I had indeed scored an A in 8th grade math - and I'm still not sure how I did it.

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This pattern repeated itself through high school.  Math was always my Achilles heal  - the one subject that took most of my time and energy through high school, sometimes to the point that I had to let other subjects that I enjoyed more, go a little, just so I could keep up in math. But with taking extra time with my teacher, a little tutoring and extra credit, I was mostly able to keep a good final grade in algebra and geometry.

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This lesson learned helped me a lot when I started to homeschool my students. My job as a home educator was to prepare them for life after school, whether that be the working world or college. I didn't want them to be discouraged or to hate learning, but I also wanted them to have incentive to do their best. This was a thin line to walk sometimes, for sure!

In the early elementary years, I didn't give grades at all. The kids did their work until I was satisfied with it and I felt that they understood whatever concept they had to learn so that we could move on. But just before middle school, most of my kids caught on to the idea that their peers were getting evaluated on their school work and then they wanted to get grades too. So I would tell them what they missed on their math time tests, or their daily math lessons or any other subjects that had an objective grade.  The big difference was that we went back over the wrong answers to figure out what went wrong and to correct those errors before we moved on.

Eventually in high school, they would start to get more consistent grades.  I based my grading on how diligently they did their daily work and on tests when I gave them. If I felt that their daily work was good every day, I didn't feel that I needed to give tests, except for practice purposes.  Unlike teachers in an institutional setting, I was sitting right with my student and I knew whether or not they knew the material.

In late high school, I give tests more as a way of documenting that we covered the subject. I felt that this system was especially more fair to my kids who had to struggle with their school work, just as I had with math in my school years. Putting in an effort needs to be rewarded. In the work world, that type of effort is noted, so why shouldn't it be in school grades? And I will always be grateful that my effort to grab concepts that were difficult to me were appreciated when I was in school - so that's the experience I tried to give to my kids.


Lee Binz, of The Homescholar, said in one of her Webinars that moms instinctively know what grade their kids should get. The kid that does his or her work every day without a lot of supervision, especially in the older years, who grasps the concepts or works hard to succeed, is working towards an A. A kid who is happy to have the lessons done, basically correct more or less, is a B student. The kid who does the bare minimum to get by- that's a C kid. None of the above is failing and requires more help and review before going on. I think Ms. Binz was right on about that and I once mentioned it to my mother, with 30 years of public school teaching, who concurred that that is also a valid way of evaluating a student for a grade.

Eventually my kids take standardized testing including California Achievement, and ACT tests. Having the experience of taking standardized tests is important in the 21st century and I did not want my kids to not have that experience and opportunity. My more academically minded students took CLEP and AP exams and I felt that those examinations all supported the grades I gave them on their official transcripts.

This is the first time I have had a student graduate who I felt went above and beyond in all of his subjects, and also mastered everything that was thrown at him. I am making sure his transcript shows his honor classes (backed-up by CLEP exam and AP) and his diploma is also an honors diploma. His ACT exam, shows that he had good mastery of the test subjects, particularly reading.

My other students got regular diplomas. Next year my daughter's transcripts and her diploma will be more career and work oriented because that best suits her abilities and her interests. When she finishes rehabbing the house with her dad and flipping it - that will be her final exam for that subject and it will definitely require a lot of her effort! Maybe even A+ effort!

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