Recently at a professional development in California, we were doing a session on workload simplification and a colleague raised her hand and asked the following:
I get what you're saying about satisficing our email inboxes. But what happens to me at least once a week is a student or family member emailing me for a list of things the student can do to ‘get their grade up.' These emails often take me a lot of time — I have to look up the student in the gradebook, make a list of things that are still improvable for the student, and then make that list intelligible and actionable for the person who is emailing me. And then, they often result in very little change for the student — so, I spend a lot of time, but often times nothing happens with it. How would you satisfice this kind of situation?
I loved this question because it's something lots of us run into.
Here's what I told her.
The best thing we can do is meet
An adage we've all heard is, “You shouldn't work harder than your students.” Great in theory, very hard in practice. To bring the saying to life, you've got to deeply understand student motivation and how people learn, and you've got to regularly analyze your practice for repetitive inefficiencies.
One of those repetitive inefficiencies in my experience is what this teacher is describing. A ninth grader's grade is lower than a parent or guardian wants, and the parent or guardian begins placing pressure on the ninth grader to improve their grade (read: takes away the cell phone or the PlayStation), and the ninth grader and/or the parent send an email that essentially says,
“Hi. I'd like to get my grade up to a ____. What work am I missing? What work can I make up? What can I do?”
This is where I used to take the time to log into PowerSchool, look up the student, analyze their scoresheet for areas for improvement, and then try to explain these areas in a written communication.
And very frequently, I'd end up with the same result as the teacher in California: the work wouldn't happen.
Here's why I think emailed responses to grading inquiries don't work
- Email is supremely ignorable. Lots of us ignore lots of emails just because as finite creatures we have to. There's too much coming at us. Sometimes, it just comes down to ignore emails or ignore sleep. (I pick emails.)
- Too much of the work is on you. You're trading a 30-second “What can I do to improve my grade?” email for 10+ minutes of gradebook analysis, summarization, and advising. It's not that it's an unfair trade — your job is to know the gradebook and know the paths to improvement. It's just that it's an imbalanced one — they don't get to invest much into learning the path to improvement.
These things set the stage for low follow-through on the student's side.
Here's why I think a 15-minute meeting does so much more
Instead, I like to offer a 15-minute meeting, with the following slots in order of my preference:
- After school
- During lunch
- Before school
In the 15 minutes with the student, here's what I do:
- Sit next to the student and look at their gradebook for my class in PowerSchool. I want us together to see what the gradebook says, and then I want to quickly teach them what I'd do if I were them, in terms of getting up my grade.
- As we find action items, I grab an index card and write them down for the student. Once we find the three most promising avenues for improving their grade, I hand them the index card and ask them if they'd like to use the rest of their time with me getting started on the work.
That's really it. I've spent less effort analyzing their gradebook than I would have responding to the email, and they've gained a lot more than they would have had I emailed back a summary with advice.
I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments. This isn't some master plan of mine. It's just something that I find works better than what used to be my default approach to situations like these.
Best to you,
Karen Swortzel says
MIght I suggest a better repsonse.
First, at the beginning of the year/semester, I review grading with my students. This includes notes I make in PowerSchool: missing, absent, comments, etc… This way students know where to look and what it all means. I also let them know if they have questions about their grades, they should see me in person. Then I make a short video for students on how to check their grades on PowerSchool and reiterate what the notes I make are and what they mean. I then store that video on my Google Classroom. I have a Topic/Section in each classroom for Tech Videos. Now, I can refer students (and parents) to the video periodically throughout the term.
We are teachers; let’s teach students how to use the technologies instead of being ruled by the technology.
Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr) says
Karen, I am glad you’ve found this to be a better response in your practice 🙂 Your approach is a bit more involved than what I am after, but it does sound like another great way to do it 🙂
Sherri Wilcox says
Several years back, I started requiring that students come to a tutorial if they want to improve their grades. In the tutorial, I do something similar to what you outlined. As you said, I also find that if they aren’t even willing to come spend 15-30 minutes with me, the odds that they’ll do any work if I emailed it to the parent are pretty much zero. This helps weed out the kids who aren’t likely to follow through. If they complain about having to come in during their off time, I’m tactful but straightforward about how much time it takes for me to help a student catch up, as well as explaining how often students don’t follow through. So I don’t see it as unfair that if I’m going to give extra time, the student should be willing to so as well (especially if it’s the student’s lack of responsibility that got us here in the first place). There’s not much way for the parents and students to push back on that. (I need to create a personal poster for myself that reminds me to “satisfice.” I love that word so much! And I appreciate the multiple suggestions you’ve given us for ways to do it.) I appreciate the work you do on our behalf, Dave!
Dave Stuart Jr. says
Sherri, I am so grateful for your kindness. Thank you!
Dave, I’m retired now, but I still enjoy and appreciate your solutions. This is a great one that I wish I’d heard long ago.
Dave Stuart Jr. says
Hi Liane! I hope that retirement is treating you well there in TX 🙂
Caren Saunders says
You post today REALLY resonated with me. I have spent so much time doing exactly the kind of work described in this email — and I even took things one step further by adding in hyperlinks to individual assignments! With interims mailed home today, I know I will get the dreaded “What can I do to pull up my grade?” emails starting as early as tomorrow. As soon as I finished reading your post, I took a stab at drafting an email that will simply SIT in my “DRAFTS” folder until I need it. I would appreciate any feedback you can offer — could the reply be shorter? I’m curious as to the exact wording you use!
Enter student name here,
I’m glad you are reaching out for help. Your message tells me you are motivated to improve your grade, and I’d like to offer a 15-minute meeting to help you identify assignments that can be submitted or resubmitted.
Please let me know which of the following slots work for you and what day you’d like to meet:
1. After school (2:30-2:45, I have to open the school store at 2:20)
2. During your lunch shift
3. Before school (7:15-7:30)
During this time we’ll make a plan and get you started. I look forward to your follow-through!
Kelly Redmon says
Thank you Dave once again for something so practical. I actually just read this and used it today! Boom! Mic Drop – I LOVE IT!
AND Thank you Caren Saunders for the “template”! You just saved me some typing time!
Love it when we are all “in it” together!
Dave Stuart Jr. says
YES!!! Amazingness here — TY Kelly and Caren!
Breanna Hunt Halder says
Hi Mrs. S, thanks for the idea of keeping this response in the drafts folder. I’ll be doing that! Since you solicit feedback, here’s mine:
-my first impression is that you come across very positive, which is smart. You let the student know they’re not getting detention, instead you are giving them time and attention
-I call it a “study plan”
-you model professional academic language.