Should behaviors be included a grade? Why or Why not?

This post is the fourth in a series of reflection posts from last week’s #mschat on Twitter. When the fourth question came up in #mschat, I immediately rushed to the conclusion that the ‘behaviors’ in question were negative ones. Behaviors such as yelling, disruption of other students’ work, falling asleep, defiance, aggression and/or anger towards me or other students. After reflecting on this topic for a few days I’m starting to realize that I didn’t look at the whole picture. When I thought of the term behavior and how it is applied in a class I couldn’t help but this about the behaviors that I had to combat on a daily basis. I didn’t think to include what I do for positive behaviors noticed in class.

My perspective and answer to this question was that these behaviors should NEVER be counted towards a grade. My response:

“A4 #mschat NOOOOO!!! Behaviors are constructs of a Ss life outside school and express themselves depending on the experience of the S.”

Just as @garnet_hillman mentioned that behaviors should be reported separately, and that getting meaningful, accurate information about a student’s process should be separate from grading the product of work. When you think about it, there is just too much that we, as teachers, do not know about the lives of our students. My comment was meant to express that much of what is happening behind the scenes (outside of school) is the real cause and influence on a student to act out in class. There are compelling reasons why a student might not have a pencil for class and that grading a student for compliance as @nyrangerfan42 says, “is ridiculous”.

Some of the reasons students often exhibit contrary behaviors that were mentioned in the chat were::

  • The child’s family might be going through a divorce
  • A parent may have recently (or not so recently) passed away
  • A child may be suffering from depression
  • A child may be in a abusive home
  • A child may be fleeing an abusive home and currently living in a shelter
  • A child may be living in poverty where s/he is constantly hungry

All of these issues are possible antecedents for students to act out in class or at school with behaviors that break school rules and norms. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there are kids that are just assholes and should be held accountable for their actions and behaviors. But by creating a school wide system for including behaviors in the grading process, schools run the risk of painting with too large a brush and ignoring the unique situations of each and every students outside of the walls of school. This is why administrations, parents, and school boards need to trust teachers to use their judgement, training, and expertise.

Is effort a behavior?

The chat has gotten me to think about grading for effort. I have always included a separate tally column in my gradebook for positive moments of effort that I notice in class (sometimes I will make a note if I notice a student showing positive behaviors/effort in the hallways or even at the supermarket). I put these moments in a separate column to note how often I see the students working, or helping other students work, through problems. It does cause me grief and problems, too. My issue is that it is completely subjective. I have no standard to measure how one student’s effort is better or in some way more complete than another. It is my cumulative years of expertise and judgement that so I can take the time to understand a student over the course of the year and adjust his/her grade accordingly. One of the reasons why I only note the number of times I see it is that trying to qualify it against other students is meaningless.

One more thing that a chat participant mentioned (@RainyJohnson) was that grading behavior does not assess student learning, only their compliance or work ethic. To me this sums up the argument fairly succinctly. Compliance with class norms (behavior) and effort to achieving goals (work ethic) are separate from the grade a student earns for completing a task or reaching certain benchmarks of understanding. @blocht574 also mentioned that behaviors are not learning standards so they shouldn’t be in our grades.

Sounds like a plan to me. After reading through the comments, most (if not all) were more or less on the same page as this. Personally, I would like to see a conversation (maybe on Twitter in an #edchat or #mschat) about how to qualify student effort in a meaningful way that could be celebrated at the end of the term. Right now I use use my tally column and subjectively assess each student on an individual basis but I realize it is a flawed system. It requires a tremendous amount of personal investment  every term to see it through for each student. I do it but I dream of a better way.

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