Last year came to a rough close with large chunks of the yearbook incomplete; a team exhausted and frustrated, struggling to work together; and a lack of knowing how to institute work in a class with such a complex grading criteria.
When I asked staff members to complete a task, there was not much repercussion for doing a poor job other than a loss of points from their weekly goals and evaluation sheet. Therefore, there was no willingness or motivation to correct changes: the grade had already been received. The result was a multitude of mediocre captions, a sloppy index, and amateur errors that could have been easily prevented.
By the end of the year, a few dedicated members of the staff and I were left sorting through a mess trying to decide, with the little time we had left before deadline, what was worth taking a loss over and what absolutely had to be corrected to maintain credibility and reputation for our program.
During the last week of school in May, I found myself in the copy room, frustrated, annoyed, sleep-deprived and dreading the copious amount of work I would now have to pick up as the adviser because so much of the yearbook was not finished. Everyone else was excited for summer break, but I knew, at least until that yearbook deadline, I would be dedicating every day, all day to trying to finish this yearbook.
I was swearing to myself I would not let this happen ever again, but I did not know how to prevent it from happening. I was so frustrated in that moment I could not help but consider going to my principal and asking him if he could find someone else to be the yearbook adviser.
Oddly enough, it was like I was meant to walk into that copy room at that exact time because sitting on top of the copy machine was a rubric the band teacher had accidentally left behind. In band, students have the opportunity to letter, but certain requirements and expectations have to be met first. Before me was a list of a variety of tasks band members could do and how many points each task would give them as they moved towards the needed total for their band letter. It was an instantaneous alert for me: I could do something very similar in yearbook!
I ran another copy of the band service points sheet and raced back to my classroom. Then, I created a similar format with a similar goal in mind: service points. I’ve shared my rubric here.
Service points would be designed with the mission of generating student motivation and leadership, while instilling an evolving idea that there is always work to be done. This would drive home that working as a team was the only way we would really complete the yearbook, and that with each task completed we would keep the yearbook progressing forward towards the finish line.
The new system I developed operates under the requirement that students must earn 200 service points per semester. The 200 points can be easily obtained, but the assignment is large enough it will tremendously affect a staff member’s grade if they do not meet the service points requirements by the end of semester. The results are incredible!
Incorporating service points into my classroom completely changed the attitudes of my students. Rarely do I have to ask students to get on task because they are eager to complete their service points. They do not want to worry about them towards the end of the semester.
The common question in the classroom has become, “I just finished this, is there anything I can do for service points?”
This tactic has also helped the editors. They can create a running to-do list of tasks that needs to be completed. We can assign service points to them even if they are not already on the list, and it gives students more choices in the work they select to complete.
There is also no opportunity to slack off or complete a job half way because the points require my sign-off to obtain them: I do not sign off until I see the work is complete and of good quality. This approach has also lightened my grading load because most of the feedback I give can be given in a conference with the student during class, rather than trying to complete rubrics at a later time.
Will this system work for your staff? I think it could. I also feel this is not limited to the yearbook staff, but could be modified for other journalism programs such as newspaper or broadcast.