Just another WordPress.com site

Month: August, 2013

General HS Syllabus: Grading, missed work and class rules

Below is my new general syllabus for the school year. This is for all my high-school science classes in an alternative program within a regional high school. I would love feedback on grading practices, class rules and especially on making up missed work. At the end of last year I felt I had enabled my students a bit so am trying to tighten up the requirements while not shutting down the opportunity for learning and starting fresh.



The goal of assessment and the grades that result is to provide feedback for students, me the teacher and your parents on your evidence of understanding of the learning objectives.  This feedback can be used to help guide adjustments needed to your learning.  Each quarter the grade breakdown will be slightly different depending upon the number and types of assignments.  I interpret numerical grades to reflect the following:


  • 0-59: Assignment not attempted or no understanding of objectives shown

  • 60-69: Assignment attempted and little understanding of objectives shown

  • 70-79: Assignment completed and some understanding of objectives shown

  • 80-89: Assignment completed and expectations met

  • 90-100: Assignment completed and expectations met and exceeded


During a given quarter you will have multiple chances and contexts to show evidence of understanding for each objectives.  Types of assignments will be:

  • Classwork

  • Projects

  • Tests

  • Labs

  • Homework (see note below)


All collected and scored assignment will be given a percentage out of 100 that aligns with the definitions provided above.  For each assignment you will know the expectations, point breakdown related to expectations and matching objectives.  At the end of the quarter your grade will be a simple average of the amount of points you have earned versus the maximum points possible.




I give homework to help reinforce and extend concepts covered in class.  Evidence suggests that completion of homework in high school is directly correlated to academic achievement; “The average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement was substantial for secondary school students” (Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006).  Knowing this I assign and encourage homework completion.  However since your grade is a reflection on your evidence of understanding and through the course there are multiple other methods of showing evidence for your understanding homework will only be scored if completed.  This means that homework can only help your score each quarter since you will add 100 points to your total possible points each time a homework is completed.  



  • 20% Per quarter x 4 quarters = 80%

  • 10% for Midterm and 10% for Final = 20%



Class participation is key to student success.  A student is participating when he or she comes prepared for class, maintains work in an organized and efficient way, speaks voluntarily, pays attention, listens actively, and works on daily assignments as directed in class.   With the grading system described above class participation is necessary for success in class work, projects and labs so a separate class participation grade is not given.  




The goal of this class is for everyone to have mastery over the topics listed and a chance to explore their own interests related to these topics.  To accomplish this everyone is expected to be able to abide by the golden classroom rule:  


We share a common learning space.  Your words and actions should support your own learning and the learning of your peers.


This rule covers a lot of the classroom expectations that will be discussed in more detail the first days of school but some basic expectations are:


  1. Be in the classroom starting your “do now” when the bell rings.  Any student not physically in the room when the bell rings will be considered tardy.

  2. Try new things and put out your best effort.  Participate in class discussions and completing your classwork and homework.  If you struggle then go to #3.

  3. Be an advocate for your own learning.  Ask for help of your teacher or your classmates you need it.  Develop strategies that work for you and share with your teacher the ones that work or do not work so I can make the classroom experience better for you.  

  4. Plan ahead and anticipate times you will not be able to complete work so we can make an alternate plan.  If something unanticipated is going on so you cannot complete your work let me know so we can make another plan.  


Late work Attendance and Make Up Policy


If you are absent you will be missing important learning activities and will not be able to contribute to the class.  You can always make up worksheets and assignments but you can not replicate classroom discussion and activities.  If you are late or absent (unexcused) your attendance grade will suffer. School rules dictate that students that have more than 3 unexcused absences in a quarter will automatically fail that quarter!  It is the responsibility of the students to make a plan with Ms. Cotton to make-up work due to absences.


All work is to be turned in on time. Any assignments turned in late for reasons other than an excused absence will be lowered for each school day late. Students will have advanced notice of when the summative (final) assessment will be given for a particular topic.  All corresponding class work, projects, labs and homework for that topic can be made up BEFORE that assessment but will not be accepted after the summative assessment.  All quizzes, tests and assignments can be made up but should be timed in conjunction with corresponding class work, projects, labs, homework and summative assessments.  


Challenges change you

At the CrossFit gym the trainers have t-shirt that say “If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.” I like these shirts from a vanity perspective since when a workout is kicking my butt I can imagine the impact it will have on my waist size. I started doing CrossFit this spring. With the encouragement of a colleague I did a Tough Mudder race with the CrossFit team before I really went to the “box” much. Originally I signed up for the race to keep myself motivated to work out and it worked. I worked out regularly (though I still would have liked to do more), stayed in pretty good shape and ran longer than I usually do. Come race week I was petrified. I had not done any sort of competition for at least a few years since I had my son and wasn’t riding horses anymore. There was a pit in my stomach and I realized I was not sure I could do it.

I did it, slowly, very slowly but I did it. At the tunnel with water where you couldn’t see the end I paused and needed a teammate to help me overcome my claustrophobia and crawl through. I finished muddy, with blisters, sore and tired and felt like I could take on the world. I signed up for a half marathon I will be running this fall before the high wore off.

Its funny that I did not make a connection to the Tough Mudder and my new love for CrossFit with my change in jobs until just now. After 6 years in a very lovely job as a 5th and 6th grade math and science teacher at a small, progressive Charter School, I too a new job as an alternative education science teacher at a Regional non-charter public high school. It was scary to leave my comfort zone, my colleagues, my friends, my students and all I had built but I knew it was a valuable move. I was not feeling challenged anymore in my old job and was not continuing to evolve and improve as a teacher. There was too much whining and complaining about things I couldn’t change. I was focused heavily on math and missed my time on science, my original focus in education.

About to return to my 2nd year I could not be happier I made the move. It was very hard and a lot of work to start all over again. Many times I worried I was not smart enough, not clear enough with my students, not organized enough, not good enough; it challenged me and it changed me. My teaching is better, my planning is better, my grading is better, my projects are better and I think my classes will be better this year. It is not a coincidence that this change coincided with my exploration of Twitter as a tool for professional development. I have a professional account now and tons of resources and information from amazing educators and professionals in all areas of education from around the world. That Professional Learning Network (PLN) continues to challenge me and hopefully change me for the better. So I guess it reminds me as I start a new year to keep challenging myself and keep changing. I would hope all educators ask themselves once in awhile, when was the last time I felt challenged? Hopefully it wasn’t too long ago.