Getting Around

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Frustration of Collaboration

Before I begin with my frustration, let me just say that I love working with others. I can never do as well by myself as I can with a cohort. I believe this. I know this. I wouldn't have become a teacher if I hadn't seen how collaboration was the new hotness, because in my previous career you just can't function alone and I couldn't imagine doing so.

But. How can I put this?

Unlike in other collaborative circumstances, I feel hampered rather than empowered. I'm starting to feel that it's because teachers take the latest new "thing" they have to do and assign arbitrary ridiculousness so that it becomes clear to everyone around them that the new "thing" just won't work. It's self-defeating. We don't get to try any new "thing" through to its conclusion because the next new "thing" is just waiting for us to feel slightly competent in the last one before it pounces. This is a fair response to an unfair situation. But my background is as the change enforcer in business situations, and I see that unless we jump in and try something whole-hog, we'll never know if it's any good.

An example will perhaps clarify.

Points. I hate assigning points on quizzes and tests. I would like to quiz more frequently, based on standards. I would like to assign a scale score that reflects the level of mastery a student has. I feel that I can do this with our collaboratively-written assessments to help my students learn what they need to learn. My mentor, who also teaches my course, says this is fine and that we should start taking baby steps in that direction. While I'd like to start tomorrow, he says since we're dragging other people into it we should shoot for the last grading period of the year to be full-on scale scoring. I can live with that.


There is another math teacher who not only loves his points, but creates quiz and test keys with the possible errors on them along with a point assignment for each kind of error. He passes these out to the rest of us. We're all supposed to use them. When mentor and I question their usefulness, he shoots back that if we don't grade our assessments all the same way, we can't collaboratively use the data. I get that. He has the support of the principal, who says we need to assess the same way and then look at comparable sets of test data. In fairness to her, we haven't brought up the scale method of grading. I don't think she'd care as long as we all did it the same way.

Mentor and I can't get through to anyone because the other middle schools in the district use points. Everyone uses points. It's tried-and-true. No one wants to hear another way, because we're snowed in by PLCs, common assessments, and all sorts of things we're supposed to be doing. They don't see scale grading as the logical extension of what we're doing, even though the elementary schools are doing it for both math and language arts this year.

I feel trapped by points. I don't feel assigning points helps my students. I did insist that we add a checkbox next to each problem for us to indicate if a wrong answer was a content or a calculation issue, but that's all I've been able to get so far. I'm the newbie, so I do have to tread lightly.

I need baby step ideas. It's going to be a long road.

p.s. I just thought of an idea. Assuming I have to keep the assessments intact, what if I added a sheet to the back of mine that listed the standards, which questions apply, and whether the student achieved mastery? Is that too much unnecessary work? Will it help me? Will it help the students?


  1. Man this sounds like a real drag. It's almost like the teacher version of office politics. I really don't like the idea of having such a strict key with possible errors on it and all of that because it seems like it would be too hard to change to anything else because of how much work was put into it. Because it's so concrete, it also seems like it would be difficult to work with if you wanted to make improvements. Hang in there!

  2. You would not believe the drama that went down this weekend over the test we're giving on Wednesday. It got so bad that someone dragged the principal into it. I think adults ought to be able to come to compromise without running to mom, but I'm kinda glad someone else threw in the towel and got her in the loop.

    Thanks for the support! I keep trying to remember how great most teachers are to work with so that one challenging individual doesn't ruin my day!