My Guest Post on Starr Sackstien’s Blog: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

Here is part one of my guest post on Starr Sackstein blog post. It is a post about my journey ongoing gradeless. Part one deals more with my beginnings and initial thoughts and part 2 will deal with my classroom and student samples. Hope you enjoy!

 

Jonathan So shares his experiences of going ‘gradeless’ and offers some insights into his process. Read on to see how he reflected and adjusted his learning to better help students reflect and grow as learners.

Source: Guest Post: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 1)

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Some more reflecting

Last week I asked my students to do a final reflection on Grade Six. I gave them a google form that asked four questions:

  1. Rate your year
  2. What is your favourite memory?
  3. What is one thing that you loved about the year?
  4. What is one thing that you would change?

It was amazing to hear their words and voice through the form. I loved the honesty and it really has me thinking.

The questions that I focused on was what did you love and what would you change. Here is the response to what I loved:

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What really struck me were two things:

  1. They loved the use of technology
  2. They loved their freedom

Technology struck me because you often assume that these children are growing up in a digital age, shouldn’t they be used to using technology? But that really isn’t the case. Sure they are digital consumers of things but they don’t really know how to use it. In addition, I know that we have the tech in the classrooms but it isn’t always being used. I know that it is more but many teachers are hesitant to use it because we ourselves have no idea what to do with it. But what this really shows me is that our students don’t really know what to do with it. It shows me that we still need to teach them proper digital skills to create and use technology for educational means. They need to learn and be taught how to harness the power of technology and not just use it in the classroom. The kids want to use it they just need to know how to apply it.

The last part really struck home. This year I have been experimenting more with allowing my grade sixes to have the freedom to choose the path that they want. I want them to be in charge of their learning. The more I teach the more I am getting tired of pushing curriculum and telling students how to learn. I want my students to learn because they want to learn. I want them to be in school because they want to be in school. I know that we have a curriculum to teach and that it was made with good solid research but I still want my students to feel empowered by it and not because I put on a song and dance. This year I have tried a variety of things from rearranging my classroom, passion projects, to doing badging and going gradeless. It is great to see my student are loving those changes, that they actually made an impact. It’s amazing to see when you turn things over to your students what and how they learn. They are amazing people.

I was also equally shocked by what my students said they wanted to change:

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A lot of it centered around working in groups for math. I think I need to do some more work around how to work in groups and why we work in groups. Though I also wonder if students need some time alone to think. It reminds me of the book “Quiet.” Do we as teachers sometimes forget about those quiet moments where we reflect or think on our own? I know that group collaboration is a skill but so is working on our own. Do we give our students enough balance? I also loved the line about more homework, had a chuckle with that one.

Overall, this year has been about showing my students that they have a voice and that they are in charge of their learning. I want them to be comfortable in who they are, and know what they need to do in order to learn. I did ask one more question and that was what is one piece of advice you would give next year’s Grade Six. I did smile a little when I saw the responses because it was exactly what I was telling them all year, “Be bold, Be Brave, Be confident!”

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What would your students say about their year?

 

Just want to say Thank you

 

Thank You

As many of you know school has not been the easiest thing for my daughter. She did once love the idea but since she started JK she has had a lot of social problems and developmental delays in this area. We have learned so much with her and to be honest having my child in school has made me a better teacher. However, this year has been different and I just wanted to share my thank you note with everyone.

Dear Izzy’s Teachers,

I want to first tell you that you have made a huge difference. From one educator to another, you are amazing. I hope you realize how much of a difference that you have made in Izzy’s life and our own. You didn’t look at her as a problem or as a label, you saw her. You saw the funny, caring and spontaneous kid that she is. You saw the smile, the laughter, and her capabilities. You saw all this even when she couldn’t. You brought the love of school back into the heart of a child. You made a difference.

I know that it wasn’t the easiest year. As her parents, we know that she struggles with learning and expressing herself in positive ways. We know that she can be stubborn, willful and hard to deal with. We know that she is not a perfect child but we also know that she is amazing individual and you saw that too.

I don’t think words can express what you have done for Izzy and us but I wanted you to know. Izzy comes home and wants to talk about school, she wants to go to school in the morning and she wants to stay when I pick her up. She comes home ready to write and read anything that you have given her and we have started to see that spark that she had in preschool. You have made that difference for her.

You have dedicated your time to help her learn, to cope with her anxieties and learn how to handle social situations. You have taught her that she is special, that she matters. And we are very grateful for your time and effort this year.

Your passion, your dedication and your love of children shine in every interaction you have with Izzy and ourselves. You are an amazing teacher.

From the bottom of our hearts,

Jennifer and Jonathan

I share this note because being a parent has taught me a lot about being a teacher. I hope that all teachers look at each student and see who they truly are. I know it is very tough sometimes. I know that especially at the end of the year they can get on our nerves and I also know that many of us are ready for the end of June. But all I can keep thinking about is my daughter. She is and can be very trying at times but there is a reason; there always is a reason. We have to see the why’s behind our children’s behaviours can problems. All kids want and will behave if they knew how. All kids want to be good. We have been very fortunate this year to have four amazing educators in Izzy’s life and I know we all are educators because we love kids, just keep thinking about that.

Using coding to teach mathematics

I have been a proponent of coding for quite some time. I feel that it will be a skill that students need in the future. I know that this may cause some stir in many of you but here is my reasons:

1) Though I do agree with who knows what the future may hold, I do believe that this is a skill all kids will need. At one point in time no one knew how to read. In fact it was only geared to the clergy because they had to read the bible. Now that skill is in every classroom. We may not be there yet but I think we are very close. Coding is a part of everything that we do and our everyday. I think that it is important to know how things operate. Yes that does mean changing our oil and fixing our cars. We may not have the time but I think as adults these are important skills. Students now should learn about how their electronics work. How do we make them do what we want to do? I am not saying that all of them will become computer programers but we should understand the basics.

2) Coding does more then just teach programming skills. Students learn critical thinking, problem solving, and being creative. As students try and code they learn to research, ask questions and work through till they get a solution

3) Most kids if not all, love to code. Now I say this with a side note. I do find that when the task is meaningless then some kids are not as engaged with coding but if they are creating something and the right differentiation is in place then they are all in. To be honest you can say this with most ideas but it does apply here.

4) Coding teaches logical order and research skills. I don’t have numbers yet but the more that I have done coding the more that I have noticed my students critical thinking and sequencing skills improve. I have noticed my students improve in making connections and seeing how all the big ideas link together. Again I cannot say this is all coding but I believe that this is a major reason. 

For me coding fits naturally with mathematics. I mean the main idea of spatial sense is right in our curriculum. However, that is not the only area you can use it for.

Today I thought of turning a quite boring lesson of order of operations into a coding exercise.  It was really cool to see the students take a foundational lesson and a very procedural lesson and apply some creative and problem solving skills.

The challenge was to create an app that can test students understanding of order of operations. Students had to also have their users think about misconceptions and possible errors.

Here is what the code looked like for most:

The students still need more time but here is the sample that we have been working on, link. 

//scratch.mit.edu/projects/embed/104333621/?autostart=false

Throughout this process the main purpose was not to teach coding but to understand the basic idea around order of operation. Sure I could have just told them the answer but they have now started to work through the procedure and how students can make mistakes. I hope that when we debrief they will forever have an understanding of order of operation.

This is just one example of how coding can fit into our everyday math lessons. The main focus should always be the concept and idea of math and then the tool. By teaching this way I have allowed my students to explore order of operation and to critically think about the concept.

I encourage you to try coding in your math classroom

5 Best Things that I have done this Year

This year I started a new grade and even a new division, grade 6. On top of this I have decided to do a lot of things differently. I have thrown out grades completely, I have no desks, I have gone 95% digital with my classroom, collaborative problem solving and I wanted to turn my grade 6 middle school classroom into a place of inquiry and learning. As the year has progressed I have gained more and more confidence in my decisions.  I am close to my 200 limit here but let me briefly share with you what those decisions have looked like.

1) Throwing out grades: 
In the past I have done this for the most part but this year I have not given one grade to a child. Instead, I have written monthly reports or updates about students strengths and weaknesses. Students have then written down what they think their strengths and weaknesses are and next steps for improvement. This goes home to parents (well actual in their drive). Students are more engaged, they ask questions not about marks but what they can do better. I have students who are now conferencing with me without my prompts. It has been great.

2) I have no desks: 
As part of making my space inquiry driven and “play-based” I have no desks, just work stations. Kids choose where they want to sit. The carpet, desks, under desk, wherever they feel comfortable to work. This has given me more freedom to worry about the learning. Kids have also become more independent as they have learned to move where they will be getting work accomplished not just with their friends.

3) Going Digital: 
I honestly keep forgetting the photocopy code. But having google drive it has allowed me to open the classroom walls and share every file with my students. They want a note or homework taken up its there. Want to share a video with parents, its there. No more paper, no more mess all online.

4) Collaborative Problem Solving: 

I have been blogging about this for quite some time and I am in no way an expert but this has single handily been the best thing that I have done this year. For those that are unfamiliar with CPS, it is basically working together to get our difficult kids to not be difficult. I started it because my daughter is one of those difficult kids. It is not because she wants to be or because we have really bad parenting but because she doesn’t know how and needs help to learn it. This year I have done it with certain kids and the whole class and I really don’t have problems in the classroom. I don’t have to be the mean, strict, yelling teacher but one that can talk to my kids and work through a solution. Just a fair warning CPS like any method is not a immediate fix. It will take time but it is time well worth it.

5) Inquiry in a Middle School

Some may think this isn’t possible but again another great moment. My kids are driven to work on projects because they care. I have gotten some of the best writing and learning from them all because of inquiry and allowing them to invest in a big idea versus checking off curriculum. The funny part, all curriculum is done.  Now if you have been reading my blog I absolutely love inquiry but I have often heard that it is hard to do in middle school. I would like to challenge that notion as it has been amazing.
Take a look at these writing samples (please remember that my kids are all ELL): https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_euA7pkOAyXeERZTnMyNjd3ZU0&usp=sharing 
What has been some of your best things that you have done this year?

Can we truly have a student led lesson?

My students hard at work on a class project. Focus: Why do people Come to Canada?

I have heard these terms (student led and Student choice) being used and it has started to make me do some thinking. My biggest problem that I am having is if we as teachers are making detailed and thoughtful lessons, can we truly have student led lessons?

Now I know I may be questioning or going with the flow but, hear me out. I understand that as teachers we need to have the voice and ideas of the students at heart of our lessons. Teaching is no longer about the wise old sage on the stage giving all of their knowledge to their students. but should be more about facilitating the learning that is happening. If that is what you mean by student led then I am all for that. However, let me push some thinking more here.

In the last three years I have been highly influenced by Stein et al. article titled: Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions: Five practices for helping teachers move beyond show and tell.  In this article they showcase five practises that all teachers should be doing.

11: Anticipation (P.322)

The first thing is for the teacher to look and see how students might mathematically solve these types of problems.  In addition, teachers should also solve them for themselves.  Anticipating students’ work involves not only what students may do, but what they may not do.  Teachers must be prepared for incorrect responses as well.

2: Monitoring students’ work (P. 326)
While the students are working, it is the responsibility of the teacher to pay close attention to the mathematical thinking that is happening in the classroom.  The goal of monitoring is to identify the mathematical potential of particular strategies and figure out what big ideas are happening in the classroom.  As the teacher is monitoring the students work, they are also selecting who is to present based on the observations that are unfolding in the classroom.

3: Selecting student work (P.327-328)
            Having monitored the students, it is now the role of the teacher to pick strategies that will benefit the class as a whole.  This process is not any different than what most teachers do; however, the emphasis is not on the sharing, but on what the mathematics is that is happening in the strategies that were chosen. 
4: Purposefully sequencing them in discussion (P. 329)
With  the students chosen, it is now up to the teacher to pick the sequence in which the students will present.  What big ideas are unfolding, and how can you sequence them for all to understand?  This sequencing can happen in a couple of ways: 1) most common strategy, 2) stage 1 of a big idea towards a more complex version or 3) contrasting ideas and strategies.

5: Helping students make mathematical sense (P.330-331)
As the students share their strategies, it is the role of the teacher to question and help  them draw connections between the mathematical processes and ideas that are reflected in those strategies.  Stein et. al. suggest that teachers can help students make judgments about the consequences of different approaches. They can also help students see how the strategies are the same even if they are represented differently.  Overall, it is the role of the teacher to bridge the gap between presentations so that students do not see them as separate strategies, but rather as working towards a common understanding or goal of the teacher.

If we follow these practise as teachers we are thinking about good contexts that will create huge discussion in our classrooms. We are anticipating results and answers so that we as teachers can ask the right questions at the right time. We are planning and sequencing work so that the end results end up close to the Big Ideas that we were hoping to accomplish and we as teachers are prodding, questioning and revoicing so that the Big ideas are brought to the students attention. Finally, we then create similar problems so that students have the opportunities to try these ideas out again.

Now I know that this article is a math article but these practises can be and should be for all subjects. So if we follow this line of thinking, who is really leading the lessons? Is it the students? or is it the teacher? If we as teachers are putting in this much thinking and planning do we truly have student led or based lessons? or is it because we have put all of this planning into our lessons that students feel that the lesson is student based and that is really all that matters?

Love to hear your thoughts.

No grades no problems

I had to laugh a little when I heard the news this morning on my way to work, “there may be no formal report card for public elementary students this year!”

“Oh, no! The world is coming to an end.”  I don’t mean to make fun of anyone who feels this way but at the same time it feels a little “sky is falling mentaility.”

For me the final report card is a labour – some task that many only see the letter grades and not the helpful comments that go with it. They are often a cause for smiles on kids faces as they beam with pride or hidden because the child doesn’t want to disappoint or face the eye of failure.

However, I want you to think about a couple of things:

1) should the final report be the first time you hear success or failure? 

       If not then how important is this report card? Why is it so honoured the without it the world is done?

2) are your elementary marks or any grades for that matter, tell how successful you will be in the future?

     Don’t get me wrong they are good indicators but are they everything?

     If no then again why are they so important?

Is it an accountability piece? If so then I can give you every mark and note I have ever done on any student at any time. Why because that is my job as a teacher.

For me assessment is about learning and  learning is not shown in a final letter grade but in growth and reflection. I can’t speak for every classroom in Ontario but in my classroom, all students have access to the class coconstructed rubrics, success criteria and their own reflections. We are always talking about their performance and they all know what their strengths, and weaknesses are. All assignments come with formative feedback based on our rubrics the have comments on how they did and what they can do better next time.  We have constant conferences with parents and students and all work is posted in their portfolios.

Kids have private class YouTube channel that they vlogg, blog and tape their thinking.  Assessment is truly an open door policy.

So in closing I ask you two more questions:

What is more important, a formal document with my EDU speak and grades or a child telling you how they are doing and what they can do next to improve?

                          Or   

What is more important a document that comes to you three times a year or ongoing formative refections and assessment that comes every assignment?

For me it’s the ladder of the two and why I find the discussion of no report cards quite hilarious we need to relax and ask our children or their teacher.

If you ever want to know how they are doing, just ask.

Love to hear your thoughts.