Just before the winter break I got my hands on probably two of the greatest books I have ever read. The books were titled: Teaching students to self Assess and Hacking the Classroom: 10 ways to go Gradeless in a Traditional Classroom by Starr Sackstien
You can find both books: Amazon.ca
These book were revolutionary because it validated what I was already starting to do in the classroom. For a long time I have felt that the way I was assessing students wasn’t working. When I first started teaching I like many just followed what has been in place for centuries. We taught, we had students review and then we tested. We got data from these test but to be honest was it accurate or reflective of what that student can do?
These were the questions that I asked for numerous years before I sat in my classroom watching my students taking a test. Some of my students started to ask their friends some questions. I was about to tell them to be quiet when I sat there a decided to listen. The types of questions I was hearing was basically what I already knew about these students based on my observations. Then as I was marking I kept nodding as I already knew why those particular kids got the marks they got.
This is when it dawned on me that I already knew more about my students than any test was going to give me. Based on my interviews, observations and comments I made throughout the problem solving process, I already had a better picture of my students needs, next steps and achievements. This was the moment that I gave up formal testing. However, reflecting back I was still missing something.
I had these amazing comments and observations I would share them with students but kids didn’t read them (well most kids that is). This took me a long time to reflect on this, which is why I was led to this amazing book.
So what was I doing wrong? I was giving marks with my comments. I know this may seem like a simple thing but basically my students only honoured the mark and not the grade.
If you think back to your own learning what have you always wanted, that lovely A. School has never been about the learning but always about the grades. This is true for our parents too. I come from a fairly traditional household and even when I came home with a 95% the reply back was where is the other 5%. It has been ingrained in our society to think about the letter and not what we need to achieve the letter grade.
So what have I done this year to address this:
After reading the books I rapidly changed my practice. I started thinking about how I can make my students better at reflecting and honouring the learning process. We first started with looking at our Curriculum. Yes I actually read the curriculum document with my kids. Before each unit of study we sit down and reflect on what standards we need to learn based on what the curriculum says. I have the students tell me in their own words what they have to do to achieve the standards of their grade level. now I do teach grade 6 but I think this can be done at any grade you just may have to think about the amount of expectations that you want them to focus on.
We also created a google form for their reflecting purposes. This is still a work in progress. This form gives me a quick look into my students thinking about what they thought they achieved and did on the assignment. Once these are submitted we have a conference about their learning where I either agree with their assessment or disagree. We also discuss next steps and my observations of their work. These conversations are about five minutes in length.
I also turned to having students do a final reflection on what they think their term 1 report cards are going to look like. This took a while and I am going to try and shorten this process but I also got very rich and amazing discussions from it.
Now you may think that grades are important but I have seen more growth this year in my students then ever before.
On a recent reflection about their writing here is what some students said:
I think I got 3 as my final mark. Maybe even 2.8. That is because my tone; it felt like I was shouting. I also plagiarized so that would cut out some marks. I would work on my tone and remember not to plagiarize in the future. I think I was stressing my point a bit to much and the person who I wrote this letter to already knew about this topic. It felt to him, even me, that I basically screaming through the letter. Next time, I should consider my audience. My goal is to get a level 4 in my next writing piece. ~ Raghav
I think I would get a 3 because in the comments you wrote “This the work I expect from you all the time” and I followed most of the guidelines given. ~ Manpreet
Now this was their first attempt at reflecting and is still a work in progress. In fact after some short reflections on our reflection this is what students said during their final report for term 1:
I think I deserve this mark because I can do and understand basic math, but I need more practise on justifying my work and answer. I need to work on think more deep and more logically. Math has a big part of logic which I need to practise on because I am very used to the algorithm and what we have been taught in primary grades. I need to focus more on understanding the numbers. ~ Pavneet
– in the Surface Area Assignment he used math terms to write an answer to the question he was given – In the None To Many assignment Manchit used math concepts to do math calculations to find the mean and the median – should try to understand what is happening when you do the math equation
It is funny because these comments was what I wrote on their reports even before I read their responses. I have found that the more students reflect and conference with you the more that they become in charge of their learning.
Now this does take time. It is not something that can be done on the side; you must put the effort into making it a part of your practise and taking the time to reflect but the more that you do this the better students will get at it. I often hear that we need to prepare our students for what lies ahead but the reality is in life grades don’t matter. They mean nothing except for university and even the grades they look at are the last years. What we need to do is train our children to know how to get the grades they want. To set goals and learn what it takes to meet them. We are training our students for today because in doing so we train them for tomorrow.
So I encourage you to a) read the books and b) jump in going gradeless. You have nothing to loose and all to gain.