Here’s a Thought….

I’ve been writing my student handbook for the chorus kids at West, trying to set up the next year well for my students and for my sanity.  This past week I focused on grading policy, and I had an awesome epiphany–one of those perspective-skewing thoughts that will make a huge difference in how I run the choirs this year.

Here’s how it came–I was setting up a typical grade weighting system for a high school chorus, much like what I had inherited at WHS and used last spring semester:

  • Performance Attendance:  20%
  • Class Participation:  50%
  • End-of-Course exam:  15%
  • Other exams:  15%

“Performance Attendance” amounts to a term paper in any other class, and any more directors have to weigh performance participation so heavily just to ensure that the kids will show up and sing for the term concert.

“Class Participation” is a subjective measure of the quality of a student’s effort during rehearsals.  It’s weighted so heavily because rehearsing is the nitty-gritty work of chorus or band.  Directors use this as a stick to enforce good rehearsal practices–not talking, being on time to class, maintaining good posture, having a pencil with you at all times, following the director’s instructions, etc.

It’s also weighted so heavily because chorus directors like rehearsing better than, well, school.  At least I do.

And here’s the epiphany–I had reduced the measurement of the students’ actual chorus competencies to a mere 30% of the grade, and had reserved 70% of the grade as a rule enforcement mechanism.  Got a slouching kid who won’t open his mouth and sing with the rest of the group?  My response was to cut his participation grade for the day and let it go, as if cutting his grade was going to show him a thing or two.

And don’t you dare miss the concert, because I’ll fail your sorry little…

The problem last spring was this–the kids who were consistently not complying with my classroom expectations of active participation, no gum, etc., were the kids who didn’t really give a rip about their grades.  Losing their 5 participation points for the day didn’t exactly phase them.

What I’m trying to do now is to parse out and separate the behavioral measurement / feedback issues from the performance measurement / feedback issues.  In other words, when a student does not actively, positively participate in the class, I want to treat it as a discipline problem, complete with a demerit system, calls home, and trips to the principal when necessary. Grades are a separate system measuring a separate reality-can the student sing and read music?

The new grade weighting will look like this:

  • End-of-Course Exam: 15%
  • Exams (Written and Singing):  50%
  • Performances (Qualitative):  25%
  • After/Before-School Rehearsal Participation:  10%

The biggest change this brings is that I’m going to have to ramp up my measuring system, adding in regular singing exams to assess student progress toward vocal goals.  It also means that I’m going to have to ramp up my discipline system.  But I’m most excited at the thought that my grading system no longer will have to bear the burden of also being my discipline system.

That’s good for both grades and discipline.

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