Below is a letter I have written regarding recent progress
reports for Dec 2012.
There seems to be an unusual amount of low grades as well as stress about the
grades, and I think I can help shed some light, especially since very few
students got their progress report.
Sorry this is so long, but please bare with me.
This is the first year for me to use the online grading for 100% of the class
grades. In my assessment, the online grading does not fit a project oriented
class very well. It is more suited for classes that have lots of daily grades,
etc. On the other hand, I appreciate and value how parents and students alike
can see exactly the grade at any given moment.
Previously, as far as the progress report grade, I would assess a student's
progress based on a personal assessment of the students work with grades
maintained in an Excel Spreadsheet, and then post that average grade online.
But, now, with the online system and PSS, the grade is literal. In other words,
I can't easily assign a progress grade to more realistically reflect how a
student is actually doing at the 3 week interim. With my previous system of
grading, it was normal for students to be working on projects during the course
of the 6 weeks, and get it all finished by the end of the 6 weeks.
Historically, I have a very large percentage of students with near perfect
grades by the end of the 6 weeks with more than 50% of my students ending the
semester with a 90 or better. Yet, at the midway point, it can look pretty
So, do not be overly concerned with a low grade at the 3 week interim, but
PLEASE do keep following up with your student. Many students keep asking what
their grade is right NOW without understanding the impact of a few number of
small grades by the middle of the 6 weeks. As the 6 weeks progresses, more
grades will minimize the impact of a zero on a small homework assignment like
the MSA or a
simple Rough Draft. However, the grades at the end of the 6 weeks, with projects
factored in, count more. So please help make sure the big projects are
adequately in progress. For example, if a student fails to do the homework
Magazine Selection Assignment, a 100 point assignment, prior to the 3 week
interim, it can result in a failing progress report grade. But, by the end of
the 6 weeks, it is only 100 of 1500 points. To help, two small grades are in the
first half of each 6 weeks to help make sure students are on track for the
larger final project grade at the end of the 6 weeks.
Currently, the grades appear to be lower than previous years despite no changes
to the curriculum other than a few refinements and better explanations and
tweaks to make things easier.
In other words, I have dropped and/or simplified requirements.
The only visible change is the way all of the assignments are being posted to
the grade book early in the 6 weeks so parents & students can see exactly what
assignments will be on the gradebook that may make it seem worse.
Parent Self Serve is essential for this to be effective.
But regardless of PSS access, a list of all assignments for any given 6 weeks
for the entire year is here:
. So, students and parents should be able to determine what is due based on the
assignment page. I have worked diligently ensuring that everybody has a complete
picture of their assignments BEFORE the 6 weeks even begins. Therefore, it is
NOT prudent, nor possible, to take class time to discuss grades individually
with a student. The question of what a student is missing is inappropriate when
the information is so readily available not to mention that a student should be
keeping up with what they should have turned in on-time.
The challenge many students face is that prior to this class, students are
engaged in much more immediate task orientated classes, with worksheets and
daily homework, etc.
In this vocational class, there is little homework as most of the work is done
in class. And most of the homework is early in each 6 weeks, like the Magazine
Selection Assignment, Rough Drafts for the computer projects for the 6 weeks as
well as proof of outside shooting for the print display project.
A few observations about this year in particular, and about the class in
The class is NOT a difficult class.
that we do that is difficult. It
different than the average class and with what students are familiar.
It does indeed require a fair amount of organization and time-management, both
highly valuable skills in any class and/or career.
We do stay very busy each class day, as we work bell-to-bell, as required by
the admin. I take my job responsibility serious, and work hard to provide a
rich and meaningful experience for the students. But, there is nothing that
should be outside the skill level of even an academically challenged student.
We do a LOT of fun things.
Despite what some parents may you hear from their student, LOTS and lots of
students enjoy the class. Some do not. Those unfortunate few are usually those
that struggle to keep up, donít like working with their hands, or are
challenged with being organized. There are many activities, including outside
meetings, field trips, and shooting days that are specifically designed to
give students the freedom to grow and learn in a fun, meaningful way. On the
average, the students are outside of the classroom or in the darkroom lab
approximately 50 days of the year. The material is new, such that students
will not have been working with the material every single year, like in core
classes. Most students have not taken an oatmeal can outside with photo
sensitive paper to make a picture. Most students have not printed their on
pictures, in any medium, let alone in a wetlab. Most students have not worked
with the leading industry image editing and graphic design program, Adobe
Photoshop. Most students have not used film SLRS, or even Digital SLRs. The
point is, there is a lot in the class that a student has little to no
experience. This doesnít mean it is difficult, but it is different and that
can be challenging. I tell my students, ďIf it was easy, it would be cheesyĒ.
Most agree, it is a rewarding class, especially by the end of the year.
Regardless, there is rarely a day I donít think about how to make the class
even more fun and even easier while keeping consistent with the curriculum and
Some students struggle with the fact that I enforce no texting, or give
detention for tardiness or gum chewing, etc.
Others get frustrated with the fact that I have a test, "in an elective" the
exclaim! Some don't understand that it is required by administration. I made
the test easier by making it a take home test. Yet, sometimes more than 50% of
a class will fail to bring back a piece of paper that is an easy A or lousy 0.
I donít know how to make a simple take home test any easier. I even now allow
two days to complete (although late after the first) before it is graded in
class giving students extra time. It helped a little, but
the number of students failing to turn in this simple assignment, or turning
it in late, is staggering.
Large number of 9th graders.
In a class that was once only open to 10th - 12th graders, this class is
easier for those with basic computer skills, and a general concept for taking
pictures of oneís life activities, neither of which may be common place for
the average 9th grader. On the other hand, some of my top students have
started with me as 9th graders, which gives greater opportunity to advance to
Photo 2, 3 and 4. Regardless, I would not be too quick to excuse a struggling
9th grader. The skills we are learning in this career and technology class
apply to just about every possible vocation in a personís future, and I have a
LARGE number of students who state many years later that it was this class of
any class at West Brook that they 1) remember the most and 2) learned the
Students coming to class with less computer skills than just a few years ago.
Indeed, a common trend is a transition from home computer to mobile phone. A
few years ago, more students were using home computers, if only for Instant
Messaging, MySpace and then FaceBook. Today, more students are less likely to
have a working computer and/or home internet connection, relying instead on
mobile phones and most recently tablets for communication and social
networking. The bottom line, especially for 9th graders, is less basic
computer skills and less access to computer resources outside of school hours.
Unfortunately, as much as I like my iPad and iPhone, etc., these devices do
NOT replace the usefulness of a full computer or at least a laptop.
Challenges when reading written instructions.
I attribute this in large part to text messaging. If something is more than
160 characters, MANY students get lost. It is not just the fact that there are
160 characters, but rather a general challenge with focusing without
distractions. There are many daily examples where I instruct the students to
read something, then expect them to follow the directions. In my professional
assessment, I have noticed a MARKED decrease in successful completion based on
written instructions. The challenge for me is that visual demonstrations are
meeting with a similar decrease in retention.
Despite a school wide effort to improve attendance, I struggle with a large
number of daily student absences, for both personal and school related
reasons. Regardless of the reason, the impact is the same, especially when a
student refuses to simply check the online focus with exactly what transpired
on the day of their absence. Unfortunately, when a student misses a class that
is nearly 100% participation based, they will have missed approx 50 minutes of
activity. Every day I go over at least a few minutes of specific verbal
instructions. I try to replicate EVERY SINGLE detail in writing on the
internet so it is available in and out of the classroom, but invariably,
students will walk in a day after an absence asking me what they missed,
having failed to review the written focus that I ask them to review before
returning to class so they know what they missed and what they need to do.
When I was in school, we were given phone directories, and were expected to
call our fellow students when were absent. It has been surprising the response
I get when I suggest the same today.
as we begin to wrap up the semester, I want to reiterate that it is important
that you are following up with your student on how they are doing on their big
projects. The biggest one is the
Home Shooting Print Display Project.
There are a lot of little details to the project, but if it is done right, the
rewards are great and quite possibly lifelong. Your student will need to print
8x10s at either Walgreenís (more convenient) or Samís (cheaper, better quality).
There are other places, but these are preferred. If a student has followed my
suggestions, they should have pictures from Sept 1st through Dec 31st and have
something worthy to be printed that they and/or the family will appreciate and
benefit from printing. Brief instructions have been given in class, and more
will be given next week to assist with the conclusion of this semester long
project. The culmination of this project is not only work that be brought home
and framed for life, but helpful for generating work for the
End of Year Display and Contest at Parkdale Mall.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in anyway.
West Brook HS Photography Dept