I’m a firm believer in teaching students how to help themselves. You know, that whole – give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll never go hungry – thing? So many students have a learned helplessness that is reinforced every day (mostly unintentionally). One time that this became very evident to me was when I was talking with my students about their GPAs. Report cards had just come out and I told them they could ask me any questions they wanted about them. I got lots of questions about how quarter grades related to exam grades and how quarter and exam grades related to semester grades. I also got a lot of questions about GPAs and how they are calculated. It certainly didn’t surprise me that the majority of my students didn’t know how to calculate their GPAs or figure out potential semester grades given a current quarter grade.
I had so many students that would give up on a class (usually mine) because of a poor first (or third) quarter grade. They thought that because they had messed up and gotten a D or even an F, that their entire year (or at least semester) was over. I realized that if I educated them on how semester grades and GPAs work, they might be more motivated during that subsequent quarter.
So I started my grading tutorials. I took an entire day – each class period – going over how semester grades were calculated and how GPAs were calculated. Then I had students set goals for themselves. I was lucky enough to have a document provided by the district (really designed for teachers, but it should have been a tool for students, as well) that laid out all the possibilities for final semester grades based on both quarter grades and the exam grade. For example, a student got a B 1st quarter, and then he could look at the chart and see all the possible combinations of semester grades based on what his 2nd quarter and exam grade might be. The visible relief I saw on my students’ faces was enough to know that I was doing the right thing by giving up a day of content instruction to teach them this. Students who I could tell were ready to chuck it all and do nothing the entire 2nd quarter because they had failed 1st quarter changed their attitudes immediately. When they realized they could still earn a C (or better, in some cases) for the semester – for that transcript grade – it was like night and day. It also helped my over-achievers who were devastated because they got a B. When they realized that with dedication and hard work that they could still earn an A for the semester, the wailing and gnashing of teeth ceased.
This had unforeseen consequences as well. I had so many students come back and tell me they used my lesson to calculate grades of their other classes. I had students thank me profusely because they knew what they had to do to get the semester grades they wanted. I never dreamed my 1-day tutorial would be so successful. It blew their minds even more that their English teacher had done this for them. They might have expected it from their math teacher, but an English teacher showing them GPA calculations totally surprised them.
Think about teaching your students about this important topic. It might give them the motivation they need to stay on track for the remainder of the semester.
[Side note: I did this with my high school students. I did not do this with my middle school students because their grades were not a semester-based system. This may vary in your school district. You also have to know your district’s policy on how much exams count for in the final semester grade. You might have to do a little leg work up front to get the information you need, but it’s worth it.]
My documents for helping students set semester grade goals can be found here.