Bye Bye, Sick Days: A Response to State Senate Bill 229

Recently, the Pennsylvania State Senate sponsored a bill to eliminate the requirement that districts provide teachers with 10 sick days each year.  Senator Eichelberger commented that, “We’re talking about sick days for people who only work 8 ½ months. It’s ridiculous …”

For all those who may share his opinion, or for those who may wish to reach out to their state senators on this issue, I wanted to share some of the points I brought up in a recent email:

Senator Eichelberger,

I wanted to reach out to you regarding a comment you recently made regarding legislation that was recently passed. “We’re talking about sick days for people who only work 8 ½ months. It’s ridiculous …” — Sen. Eichelberger

As a teacher of six years, who has worked in both public, private, and charter schools, I would like to share a little bit about my experience. While school is in session from the end of August to the middle of June (9 1/2 months — not 8 1/2), teachers typically work more than the 40/hour workweek most Americans are accustomed to. We arrive at school early and stay at school late. This is because we teach the majority of our day. While at my school we have on block “free” — 1/2 of that time is taken completing a duty for the school (such as attendance duty, lunch duty, ISS supervision, study hall supervision, substituting in classes when necessary, etc.) The remaining 40 minutes of the day are ours to complete the work necessary to provide our students with a quality education.

What are those things we do during those 40 minutes? We plan complete curricular units — identifying learning targets and success criteria, seeking out engaging instructional resources and adapting them for our students, creating assessments based on what we have taught, and then evaluating all of those things to make sure your students really ARE learning. In addition to ALL of that, we complete additional paperwork for our schools, districts, and state — such as tracking progress on student IEPs (even a regular education teacher can expect 30-60 IEP students in their classes), evaluating students for additional services (called the Student Assistance Program in my district), completing additional work for the teacher evaluation system (called SLO/Student Learning Objectives in my district), and participating in optional extracurricular activities. For myself, this involves work with Allegheny College’s Creek Connections program, two grants we have received to create a “makerspace” and pollinator garden at my school, and the planning of a middle school STEM night to engage rising 8th graders and our own high school students. I hope you understand that 40 minutes is hardly enough to complete ALL of these tasks, so understandably these things fill up a teachers’ evening and weekend hours. Many of this work also is completed during the summer months, as teachers prepare their curriculum and classrooms for the following year.

While I have not yet addressed your sick day comment, I just wanted to be clear that teachers certainly put in a full year’s worth of work, even though we spend a chunk of our time working from home. This, however, is not unheard of – as many companies allow their employees to work remotely.

That established, I would like to address the comment on sick days. As an educated individual, I expect you realize that humans often have little control over health issues – including their immune response to pathogens. When a body is exposed to a bacteria or a virus, it does its best to fight it off. Sometimes and for some individuals, their bodies can fight off the pathogen quickly and easily. You may call this “getting a cold.” We feel a little under the weather, but most adults typically choose to work through it. Occasionally, these pathogens can overwhelm a body’s immune system, and it takes a little longer to get better. Typically, adults would experience more severe symptoms when this occurs, and they may decide to stay home from work. Considering the way pathogens are typically spread, this is actually the wiser decision, because it prevents the spread of disease.

You may have also noticed that most illnesses make their rounds during the winter months, when people are holed up in close quarters and many viruses tend to thrive. Interestingly, these are the same months that teachers spend working in their classrooms. Do you see where I am going with this? If not, let me explain more clearly: Teachers (like all humans) are more likely to get sick during those winter months when they are working “at the office” (as opposed to the months they work from home). Therefore, it does not seem to make sense to take away sick days that can be used during those winter months simply because we are not in the office during the summer months.

Let me add one more dimension: Many teachers are also parents. Children, like adults, tend to get sick during those winter months. Young children in daycare tend to get sick even more often, as their immune systems are exposed to new pathogens and easily overwhelmed. As a parent yourself, I am sure you are aware that sick children are not allowed to go to daycare or school. I would imagine you would also support that — since again, a sick child is likely going to spread that illness to the other children. When a child becomes sick, parents often have to use their sick days to care for that child. If you take away teachers’ sick days, what are we supposed to do with our sick children?

I hope you can see why I feel your comment was uninformed and unreasonable. On top of the illogic of it, I would also like to point out that teachers are professionals who attended years of school and training to work a very difficult (although for many, myself included, very satisfying) job. Like any professional, we want to be treated as we deserve, and we will seek out opportunities based on that perception. Offhand, I cannot think of a professional career that does not provide sick or vacation days to its employees, so I’m not sure why you would expect teachers to accept any less? Should “benefits” like sick days be removed, I would imagine Pennsylvania will find itself with a growing teacher shortage as qualified individuals seek careers with more lucrative and livable conditions. Considering education is fundamental to the welfare of any 21st century society, I fear this would not bode well for our Commonwealth.

Please consider these issues as you move forward with legislation, knowing that teachers are important and politically active actors in our state and nation at large.

Invasive Species: Integrating Science and Art with iMovie

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I need your help! Please consider donating to my classroom on DonorsChoose.org —  To read more about my class, my students, and their project, check out the information below:

My students need 5 iPads with the iMovie app to research local invasive plant species and create engaging documentary movies to increase public awareness.

My Students

Science instruction in today’s schools should connect students with the scientific community and natural world beyond the classroom walls. Unfortunately, with limited access to technology both in school and at home, my students are missing out on how science is done in the real world.

I work in a low-income, urban school where 99.9% of the population is eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Despite these hardships, my students value their education and their classroom experiences. They are engaged by hands-on learning and are fascinated by the outdoors — students were amazed by all the creek critters we found when we had the opportunity to work with a local college doing macroinvertebrate sampling in a nearby stream. They want to do well in school and gain the skills they will need to succeed in today’s world, and they are incredibly motivated by opportunities to interact with technology and scientific tools. Despite their limited opportunities to access many of these tools, they are tech savvy and learn new applications quickly. Additional access to classroom technology would provide motivation and engagement for my students.

My Project

My students will be working with PA Sea Grant and the Weed Warriors program to investigate invasive plant species using the iPads. They will develop proposals to check the spread of these species and present these proposals to the community through our local EnvironmentErie organization – reaching out to other environmental organizations and our state park managers. Then, they will use iMovie to create educational documentaries/public service announcements about these invasive species and what we can do to address the problem. This project integrates science, technology, and art – engaging students with a broad variety of interests and requiring the use of critical thinking and 21st century skills.

The addition of iPads to my classroom would allow my students to become knowledge seekers.

They could search for and evaluate their own sources of information, instead of simply using the resources and texts I provide them. They would develop greater critical thinking and analysis skills, and they could then use the iPads to communicate their own findings and ideas. This technology would connect them to the most recent research and ideas and bring their classroom learning to the real world.

2015 Classroom Set Up: Posters, Signs, & Management Strategies

This year, I moved from my position as a fifth/sixth grade science teacher at a small private school to a ninth grade Earth Space Science position at a local, urban high school.  As I was getting ready for the new year in this new school, I did a lot of revamping to my classroom management techniques and decorations.  In light of that, I’ve created a number of new mini-posters, printables, and organizational signs.  Many of these were inspired by THE Classroom Management Book by Harry K. Wong et. al.  He is the writer of The First Days of School, as well, which is also a great read! The primary difference between the two books, as I see it, is that THE Classroom Management Book’s focus is on implementing the procedures touched on in The First Days of School.  It has a lot of really great examples from real classrooms and provides specific strategies to teach and implement pretty much every procedure you could possibly need.  Sooo many great ideas, and I highly recommend it! It seriously made my transition this year SO MUCH EASIER!

Great read for both new and veteran teachers!

First, I’ve created printables to post student instructions for several different procedures.  I have included detailed descriptions of these processes in my syllabus, and I taught and practiced these with my students during the first few classes.  That said, I also posted these around the classroom, so that students have a visual reminder of my expectations, and I can refer to these when correcting students who may have forgotten (or chosen to ignore) the proper procedures.  There is a printable procedure poster for Beginning Class, Dismissing Class, Group Work Rules, Notebook Headings, Absences, and Classroom Language Use (Profanity Free Zone). You can pick and choose what you’d like to use! 🙂

You can click on the image to visit my TeachersPayTeachers store, where you can download the PDF file for free!

Getting Students Attention

I also created a way for students to get my attention – again inspired by THE Classroom Management Book. Instead of students interrupting class by announcing their needs, simple hand gestures can indicate student requests.  I have created the Finger Cues posters below.  I simplified the ones suggested in the book to just three — one finger means “Help!” Two fingers means “Bathroom?” and a pencil held in the air means they need to exchange pencils or use the sharpener.  You can download these at my TeachersPayTeachers store for free as well!

I wasn’t sure how the high schoolers would take this, but the majority have actually gone with it, and it has made some interruptions easier — such as pencil-sharpening during notes and bathroom requests during direct instruction (although they SHOULD know that my answer at that time is always “not yet,” sometimes they still ask).

When students choose not to follow the above procedures, there are obviously going to be consequences.  As recommended in the book, I have set a clear order of consequences. While I have included this list in my syllabus, and we will discuss it early in the year, I have also decided to post it in my classroom in order to refer students to the list when necessary.  Below, you can find the link to download the free printable at my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Consequences Printable

As you can see, my Level 2 intervention is an “Infraction Slip.” This has been very effective at documenting student behavior and enforcing a consequence within my classroom.  Unless behaviors escalate or infraction slips accumulate, they simply stay in my files.  They do not go to parents or administrators.  In a way, they are just a tangible warning.  After I’ve given an official verbal warning, this is the next step.

My impressions so far is that it seems to help with redirecting negative behaviors.  I generally write it out and deliver it to the student privately.  I try to choose my timing carefully — if it seems like the student is very volatile and it would only worsen the situation, I generally wait until they have calmed down to talk to them about it.  If however I feel it would be helpful to address the behavior immediately, I take the time to do that.  I also try to document if behavior improved afterward, and I make sure to show students that I also recorded that.  I want them to know that these things are not set in stone, and while I will call out their poor choices, I also recognize when they are making good decisions.

The other day, I had problems with a student who would just not stop talking. He was yakking the entire class – during instruction, during independent work, etc.  I filled out the infraction slip, reminded him again that this is just a classroom document and the NEXT step would be a parent phone call, and asked him to sign it. I tell them that if they choose not to, that’s fine too – I will just document they refused to sign it.  He decided to read what I had written, and as he was reading, he was nodding, “Yah, that’s true. Yah, I did that.”  He then wrote, “The student will… stop talking and do work.”  And that was the end of it.  He signed it, and the last twenty-five minutes of class, he did a pretty decent job keeping his chatter under control.

The thing is – it only works if you use it.  I was having a similar problem in another class with two students, and for whatever reason, it did not occur to me to pull out the infraction slips.  Instead, it felt like I battled with them all class, trying to keep them on-task.  Next class, if the same problems arise, I intend to give them the official verbal warning immediately and then go right to the infraction slip. Hopefully it will have the same effect as it did with the young man I discussed above!

Anyway, you can also download my Infraction Slip at my TeachersPayTeachers store for free!

infraction slip

I have also created a few posters with quotes that have a good message.  These are available for $1.00 at my TeachersPayTeachers store. You can click on the images to take you there!

Mini-Unit: Nutrition

Interspersed throughout our science units, I teach health topics to address the health standards in my curriculum.  It is a strategy that works excellently around breaks, because most of my health lessons take just a day or two.  Instead of starting something right before a long weekend or a holiday break, we do health lessons!

My students keep their work in Health Portfolios that stay in the classroom, and they keep track of their grades on an Assignment Record like the one pictured to the left.  (PS – It’s available HERE for free at my TeachersPayTeachers site!) They receive one grade for health during the fourth quarter based on the work they have done intermittently all year.

Anyhoo, so lately we have been working on a nutrition unit.  I found a great resource at ChooseMyPlate.gov — In addition to tons of information, the USDA has also put together curriculum units for several grade levels.

There are lesson plans for high school students, kids age 6-11, and even preschoolers!

Serving Up My Plate is a curriculum unit broken down by grades — Level One 1-2, Level Two 3-4, and Level Three 5-6. My students used Level Three.

First, I had my students use our classroom’s iPads, as well as printed infographs from the USDA site, to complete a graphic organizer about the five food groups.  They visited our class website, where I placed links to each food group. (You can check out our class site here!)  We used the MyPlate graphic to do this to maintain consistency across the unit.

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On the backside of this graphic organizer are a number of questions about students’ favorite meals and the food groups represented in those meals. The whole activity is available here.  After doing this activity, we played a review game using the questions in the “You Are What You Eat” lesson from the Serving Up My Plate curriculum. We use white boards, and students work on teams to answer my questions.  I also had them make up a few questions, trying to “stump” the other teams. It was a fun activity!

But then, of course, we had to determine what they learned…

Now,we have moved on to vitamins and nutrients.  Students are using the “Nutrient Knowledge” handout from the Serving Up My Plate curriculum to fill in another graphic organizer. You can see the format of the organizers below, and my TpT file also includes an answer key.

Last year, I absolutely hated teaching health, but I have really enjoyed working through this Serving Up My Plate curriculum. I would highly recommend it for a nutrition unit! My students have enjoyed it as well, and the incorporation of the technology (via the iPads) has really spiked their interest.  The USDA’s ChooseYourPlate.gov site has a bunch of other resources as well! Students can plug in information about themselves (weight, height, age, activity level, etc.) to determine their individual food and exercise goals, and there are a variety of games and other interactive activities there as well. The info graphs are wonderful too – and are a great way to incorporate some of those Common Core literacy skills!

(Auto)Biography Project

In addition to my full-time job teaching science, I recently started teaching Adult Basic Education and GED classes.  While I am not new to adult education, it has definitely been a lesson in juggling, for lack of any better word. I only have eleven students, but keeping track of their individual needs and goals has certainly kept me busy.  In addition to making sure I have planned the right stuff for them, enough of the right stuff, and then backup plans, I also start the class with a group lesson.  This in itself is a bit of a challenge, since they are all at different levels.  I have a few that will potentially pass the GED in a few months time (assuming they persist) side by side with students who are reading and writing at a 3rd grade level — plus throw in a recent ESL (English as a Second Language) “graduate” and another LEP (Limited English Proficiency) student.  AND don’t forget about the five new students testing in the other room, getting ready to start class tomorrow! Holy cow!

One thing that most of my students need to work on is “language,” which is not just verbs, capitalization, punctuation, etc. but also sentence structure, paragraph development, and writing conventions.  I have always heard that the best way to learn the details of grammar is through writing, so the first “group lesson” series is writing an (auto)biography.  While we started off by reading a few leveled “biographies” (they were essentially short articles), I have asked students to write about themselves as we go forward.  My reasoning for this is first, most people enjoy talking about themselves, and second, they know themselves better than they know anything else… Plus this way we don’t have to spend any time researching.  All they have to dig through is their mind!

Anyway, as I said, we started out reading a few articles that told stories about the lives of historical figures.  Unlike the traditional textbook stories of revolutionaries, presidents, and war heroes, the stories from these books were about individuals you don’t always hear about — Coretta Scott King, Josephine Baker, and Dorothea Lange.  I matched students by reading level, and they worked together to read through the biographies.  Then, they were asked to find the main idea of each paragraph — this was also just good practice for them — and then combine those main ideas into a summary of each individual.

To look for patterns in the article structure, we shared our summaries by recording them side by side on the board.  We discussed how each article started with an overview of who the person was and “previewed” to an extent the life the article was about to describe.  In the very first paragraph, the reader finds out that Josephine Baker “lived more in a day than others might in their whole lives,” while Coretta Scott King’s biography opens with a description of the woman as a Civil Rights activist in her own right — not just the wife of one.  The stories then tread through the early life of the individual, emphasizing how that early life set them on the path to the achievements of their adulthood.  Finally, at the end of each article, the biographies focused on the lasting impacts of the individual and what they are remembered (or should be remembered) for.

These two activities took place over the course of two days.  On the first day, they read and summarized.  On the second day, we discussed similarities and differences.  After these group lessons, students broke up to begin their individual work.

On the third day, we then whittled our summary down to a single sentence. I asked, What ONE THING does the author want you to know about this person?  Some of the answers were really impressive! One student wrote:

“Dorothea Lange became famous from her skills and the way she captured the human spirit in her pictures during the Great Depression and WWII.”

While there is a tiny bit of tweaking with the preposition use, all in all that was a pretty awesome way to summarize her life and impact.

At this point, it was time to start talking about ourselves.  I explained that we were going to write our own biography (or autobiography, actually).  To start the writing process, we needed to take some time to brainstorm.  I showed them how to make a concept map, placing ourselves in the middle.  Then, we branched off from that center circle with the following topics: characteristics/personality, values/beliefs/morals, achievements/goals, significant events. When they looked at me kind of confused, I ended up using my own life as an example.

And then came the hard part… drawing conclusions.  The tough thing about teaching students to draw conclusions is that it really is up to them.  You can show them connections, you can give examples, you can ask the right questions — but ultimately, what goes on in their brains is up to their brains. Sometimes it gets to a point where it just clicks – and other times, it just doesn’t.  Practice can help, for sure, but it is a tough concept nonetheless.

My strategy to get them through this point was both to ask questions and give examples.  I told them to look at their maps.  We were going to try to come up with that one sentence, that one main idea, that could structure our autobiography.  The goal was to find a way to connect two ideas on our map.  For example, how did events in your life shape your personality? How did your personality shape the events in your life? How have your values impacted your achievements? How have events impacted your values? How has _______ affected ________?

And then we looked at my map.  Branching off of characteristics,  I listed both enthusiastic and impulsive. Beside achievements, I listed my degrees, my teaching position, and one of the awards I won.  Next to significant events, I included a few relationships, moves, and beginning and completing schools.  With the gist of my public life on display (and a little bit of the personal side), I very quickly came up with my autobiography’s thesis:

Impulsive decisions I made as a young adult set me on the path to a career in education that I had never expected to pursue but have come to love.

While this is not an idea that is new to me, and I have shared it with others on occasion, I had not planned to tell it to a room of relative strangers. But then again, after all, I was potentially asking them to write about some pretty personal things, so why shouldn’t I have to do so too?

Hah.

Next, we made an outline.

I. I am impulsive.

a. example one

b. example two

II. I made impulsive decisions in college that set my feet on this path.

a. specifics

b. specifics

III. I began a career as a teacher.

a. details

b. details

IV. I love where I have landed.

a. wonderful things

b. wonderful things

So far, I have students working on autobiographies about the impacts of moving cross-country, coming to the United States, and losing a parent. One student came up with the thesis, “All of my bad decisions have led me to believe in nobody but myself.”  And then she said she didn’t think it would be a good idea to write this essay.  I think she is going to write about a celebrity instead…

So that’s where we are at. While I hadn’t planned to take out my “English Teacher Shoes” since settling into my Science Teacher career, I think I can still pull it off. So far, at least.

For some similar activities, check out the following assignments in my TeachersPayTeachers store:

 

Animal Adaptations Web Quest & Research Assignment

Following up a unit on Ecology, my middle school students are currently working on a unit I designed to touch on the Next Generation Science Standards related to Growth, Development, and Reproduction, as well as Natural Selection and Adaptations.  Students are trying to answer the question:

“How does the biological diversity on Earth reflect the wide range of environmental conditions that exist on our planet?”

This unit is sandwiched in my curriculum between a “big view” of ecology and a “teeny-tiny view” of cells.  My goal is to move students from understanding…

1. how everything (living and nonliving) is interrelated

2. to how those living and nonliving things have impacted individual organisms (i.e. the environment has impacted living organisms as they have come to adapt to it)

3. to all of the stuff going on inside those individual organisms.

For that reason, I’ve focused not on the mechanisms of natural selection (genes, heredity, etc.), but simply on how an organism’s structural and behavioral adaptations enable survival (and therefore, eventually, reproduction).  As we “zoom” in closer at the stuff going on inside organisms in the next unit, we will come back to that heredity – answering the question, “How do living organisms pass traits from one generation to the next?”

While many textbooks do this all backwards — they start Life Science looking at cells and then eventually move on to ecology — this structure makes sense for me and my classroom.  For one, my sixth grade students work with two community organizations (Allegheny College’s Creek Connections and PA Sea Grant) to develop and carry out long-term, independently designed investigations that examine our local watershed.  Students are much better prepared to begin work on this project after spending the beginning portion of the year learning about ecology and the interactions in a watershed.  That background knowledge is crucial to developing research projects with depth and relevancy.

The second reason I like to start with ecology is (and yes, this is my personal opinion buuuuut) I think the broad view of ecology is of more interest to students, and it is certainly easier for them to find the connections between the content in their science books (or articles, internet, labs, etc.) and the real world.  Despite the fact that I am now a science teacher (and I love it and I never want to do anything else), I was never “into” science during my K through 12 years.  I mean, I probably liked “moments” here and there in my science education, but I never thought of myself as a “science” person.  It wasn’t until I took Intro to Environmental Science that I realized how fascinating the subject is — and I think it’s because through that class, I learned how connected everything is, and how IMPORTANT science is to our world, and — whether you’re in a science field or not — science is literally everything! Why is it raining? Oh, science. Why do people get sick? Oh, science. Why shouldn’t I put fertilizer on my garden? Oh, science.  Why are raspberries so freakin expensive? Oh, science.  (Obviously, there are many fields of relevance when seeking an answer to these questions, but science is without a doubt one of them!!)

So working from my own experience, my goal is to “catch” them early in the year with the big cool concepts and ideas – the trips to the creek, the water-quality tests, frogs and lizards and fish tank science… and then once I have lured them in,

SNAP.

Let’s talk about cells.

Anyhoo, I apologize for that rabbit trail!! Back to business: Adaptations.

After spending a day or two talking about the different environmental conditions we can find on earth (via a lesson on biomes), we start to focus on how animals (and coming soon, plants) have adapted to survive in these environments.  We focus on structural adaptations first.  We do some hands on activities like “Bird Beak Buffet” (working on that write-up — I’ll post when complete), watch Bill Nye’s Locomotion, do a little book-work from our Life Science Daybook, so on and so forth… Then, we start talking about behavioral adaptations.  Once my students are familiar with the two definitions, I set them free to investigate various adaptations via an Animal Adaptations Web Quest.

I have divided adaptations into four categories – environmental, defensive, locomotion, and feeding. Because we discussed locomotion and feeding prior to completing our web quest, I only have my students do the Environmental Adaptations and Defensive Adaptations pages.  That said, I still included in the document the Locomotion and Feeding pages to give all you readers more options.

Animal Adaptations WebQuest_Page_03

Basically, students use our school’s iPads to define each adaptation and identify an animal that uses that adaptation to survive.  They also are asked to identify whether the adaptation is structural or behavioral (for the environmental and defensive adaptations).  For the locomotion and feeding adaptations, students have to explain what structural adaptations enable that type of movement or diet.  I direct my student’s to BBC’s Nature page on wildlife adaptations because it has great summaries and examples for each, but you could probably do this activity with a good book about adaptations – or a collection of books about various animals. You could even use these pages simply as graphic organizers and present the notes yourself. I do include an “answer key” with information about each adaptation in the PDF file.

Animal Adaptations WebQuest_Page_10

Overall, the activity is designed to touch on the following NGSS standards:

·      an organism’s growth is affected by environmental factors (LS1.B)

·      animals engage in behaviors, like being part of a group, that increase the odds of survival and reproduction (LS1.B & LS1.D)

·      animals use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions (LS1.D)

I follow up this activity with an individual research assignment where students take a closer look at one specific adaptation.  Then, they share their research with the class via a SHORT presentation.

Animal Adaptation Research 2_Page_1

Animal Adaptation Research 2_Page_2

This drawing is probably my favorite:

Animal Adaptation Research 3

So now that we have wrapped up our study of animal adaptations, we are moving on to plants! Stay tuned…

Rubrics and What Not

This year, I have been busy refining the 5th and 6th grade curriculum I teach and “standardizing” elements.  While last year I interpreted my school’s standards to mean I had to teach each area of science to both grades — which I found difficult to do without just skimming over the content areas — this year I divided up those standards so that 5th graders learn physical science and earth science, and the 6th graders focus solely on life science.  In developing activities I plan to use again and again, I have  been busy creating tons of rubrics for all of these activities.  While it has been a bit of a pain this year creating them all, it will be WONDERFUL next year when I can just print and copy!

Without a doubt, rubrics are key.  At a school like mine where parents are VERY active in their children’s schoolwork, providing students with the rubrics in advance and grading based on those rubrics has eliminated a lot of issues and conflicts that may otherwise develop. Additionally, grading is much more time efficient with a rubric! Instead of trying to compare student work or arbitrarily assign letters, I can very quickly evaluate a paper, presentation, or project by simply highlighting the box in which the student falls.  That said, I rarely highlight just one box.  Sometimes students fall somewhere in between, or their work is missing an element I would expect in top-mark work.  I generally highlight where students fall and then determine grades — usually by creating a falling scale.

For example, on a 16 point rubric (four criteria at four levels), a full 16 points would score 100%, while a student who earns 12 points (the second level down) would end up with 90% in my class.  I’m not simply taking 12 divided by 16, which would leave students with a 75%, as some teachers do.  I design my rubrics so that Level 3 is “B quality” work — the percentage students are assigned needs to fall in that range as well. I pretty much do this with all my grading, and it has worked really well. I think it reflects student understanding better than doing a flat “points to percentage” type thing. I can hold my students to high standards (and keep those full 16 points a bit elusive!) without killing students grades for work that is still of good quality.

Anyway, here are some of the rubrics I have been working with this year.  They are all available at my TpT store if you’d like to check them out!