Saturday, March 27, 2010

Midterms Are In

My school reports out on student progress 6 times a year. For each semester, we write a narrative at the midterm then, if necessary, we send out a not about ¾ of the way through to alert parents that their student is at risk for not earning credit for the course, and then the final report. The process of grading work before I write narratives takes about a week. The act of reviewing grades, writing narratives and entering everything into the system takes about 10 hours for most people. Not for me, though. I cheat.

Well, I don’t know that it’s cheating. I think of it more like using technology to be more efficient. I should explain.

Several years ago, I made the decision to keep all my grades in Excel. I know the program well. It’s easy for me to set up spreadsheets that allow me to keep track of all manner of student information: Grades (obviously), tardiness, volunteering, extra meetings, preparedness, homework submission rates, special project parts, and more. It doesn’t take as much time to enter them into my computer as you might think and, once it’s in there, I have a whole lot of data upon which to base a quality narrative.

This is where the efficiency comes in.

When it comes time to write the narratives, I go to a spreadsheet that takes all the different data I collect on my students, and organizes it into strengths and weaknesses. I can then see the trends of a student’s performance over time. For example, I can see that a student really works hard to get her homework in on time, but there are often things that need to be revised in her submissions. She is an active participant in the class, but never comes with a pencil. The information isn’t quite that detailed, actually, but my memory can fill in that part without being inappropriately subjective if I need to do that. On that same spreadsheet are a collection of sentences for each of the major categories, based on the strength of the category. For example:

… not only comes prepared to class, but helps others to be ready, as well.
… comes prepared and ready to go every day.
… sometimes forgets to bring things to class.
… often forgets to bring what she needs to participate in the class
… relies on others to provide her with basic materials

You get the picture.

I built a small set of formulas that put all the individual sentences get together automatically (with conjunctions and punctuation, no less), so that they read like a narrative paragraph, and I built a macro to copy and paste them into my word processor, with the student’s name attached. An example is below:

”Wayfarer has lost some ground this semester. He is having a worrisome amount of trouble with practice work, and his exams this term are demonstrating only a weak understanding of the material. His participation in class remains good and he engages in the class appropriately, though I still need to prod him to stay focused. He also seems to struggle to make effective use of independent study time, which suggests strongly that he isn’t spending enough time with the material outside of class. It will be important for him to reestablish a habit of daily practice if he is to stay on top of his upcoming coursework obligations, and he will need to start taking steps to review past material so he can revise or retake his exams.”

Et voilĂ ! The process of creating, reviewing and adjusting these automatically generated narratives takes about 3 hours. Add to that another hour for entering them into the system, and I’ve saved six hours of my life--four times a year--over what I’d have to give to do grades. That’s a full day every year!

Tomorrow, I'll use some of that time to help Karla put up a bookcase. I also intend to go for a nice, long run. And a nap. Of course.


Spencer with a Fedora said...

Wow Brian. I never knew how much time you put into being a teacher. *Spencer's respect for Brian goes up about three notches*

Diane Echlin said...

You are my hero.

"I go to a spreadsheet that takes all the different data I collect on my students, and organizes it into strengths and weaknesses. I can then see the trends of a student’s performance over time. "

Would you please teach me how to do this? I know most of the basic stuff in excel, including basic formulas.

I, too, am a data geek!

Wayfarer said...

Spencer: Thank you for honoring what goes on behind the scenes. You are remarkable for your appreciation of the effort that quality requires.

Diane: I'd be happy to! Truly, I find the extra bit of effort it takes to document the little things really pays off in the long run. So much of what I developed for my own use is raw -- it works for me because I made it, but it's not polished at all. Perhaps over time I can put something together to share how it all works.