Monday, January 19, 2015

Throwing Grades to the Curb

Photo Credit: Lord Jim via Compfight cc

Assessment and grades have been on my mind a lot lately.  The last couple of years, I've been morphing into a teacher that I don't really recognize in myself. When it comes to grades, I've done it all. I've averaged percents, awarded points, given out zeroes, penalized for late work, used rubrics, given self-assessments, assigned group projects where all students received the same grade, and every other kind of grading practice that teachers still do or have done in the past.

Maya Angelou said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now I know better, I do better."

Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about standards-based grading. I 'm learning- questioning how it all works when I'm required to assign traditional grades to my students. I've been reading and listening to the experts in the field. It makes sense to me, but then I ask myself all kinds of questions about how to implement a whole grading practice that is foreign to me. 

So I'm blogging (which is also a foreign practice to me) to help me sort out my thinking. I'm thinking out loud and trying to make sense of all of the thoughts spinning in my head. 

This is what I know so far:

1.  My students and their learning are my top priority.  We are a community of learners. We've worked hard this year to establish trusting relationships where there are nearly thirty teachers in the room helping each other to understand and master the standards.  I value them and their insights about our classroom. They have a voice and I am listening to their perspective about grades, assessments, and assignments. Students, even 5th graders, have opinions about what helps them to learn.

2.  Timely, specific, descriptive feedback helps them to learn. It also helps when I conference with my students during the learning process about how they can improve rather than at the end of a unit of study or project. I'm learning more about the type of feedback that actually helps learners progress. I like the phrase, "I a result....". Personally, I like to tell my students something positive that they accomplished, something specific about what's missing, and encouragement of how to get help in order to redo and fix the mistake. This is very similar to the SE2R model suggested by Mark Barnes. This type of feedback doesn't always need to be written.  In the past, I've spent hours and hours writing specific feedback for students only to see them not even read my comments. They just wanted to see the grade. Now that I'm getting rid of grades, students care more about the feedback. But, I need to work on not giving advice based on an great article that I read tonight. Seven Keys to Effective Feedback It's a process.

3.  Grading practices like zeroes, penalties for late work, averaging scores, and no opportunity to redo or retake assessments are gone. I'm comfortable with throwing those out and have actually been in the process of eliminating those grading practices for some time. I've always allowed students to redo a math assignment. I'm not sure why I wasn't consistent with other subjects. I'm still trying to figure out how to manage the retakes of tests. I think the easiest way is to give the student a different kind of assessment like a written or oral response vs a completely different written test. I also know that I can quickly give a quick quiz on Edmodo. It's also important to me for the student to show some kind of effort towards learning the information that they missed on the initial assessment. I'm not exactly sure how to manage that though. I'm encouraging re-dos and retakes but I haven't made them a requirement. I struggle a little bit with my elementary students having the responsibility to decide. Basically, they don't want to redo anything--which is why teaching revision in the writing process is so painful.

4.  Academic grades will not be mixed with student behavior.  In the past, I've docked students' grades for turning in late work or poor classroom behavior. I know better now. 

5.  Giving students assignments for the whole week via Edmodo is a positive. Most everything we do is done in class. I do ask them to read each night and encourage them to practice some skills online with the game-based programs that they love. They can choose when and where to complete their practice according to their personal schedules and available class time.  (I'm not quite to the point of no homework at all.)

My students also like having frequent five problem math quizzes (knowing that they can retake them if necessary) to show that they've mastered a standard.  It really is an opportunity to celebrate growth. They like the in-class flipping that we're doing. It's easy for them to get help from me, their peers, or to re-watch a video of instruction. They appreciate not having math homework and having the opportunity to learn from and with their peers.

I'm giving formative assessments constantly throughout the day and providing many choices for my students to show their learning.  But, I don't use them for "grades". Formative assessments are for practice.

Students are taking more ownership of their learning through reflection and tracking their own progress.

Overall, I'm on the right path as I try to make my classroom more student-centered. I have a lot to learn! I still need to find answers to my many questions. But, I'm feeling more confident about defending my grading choices. As teachers we need to move past "This is what we've always done..." mindset and question our grading practices. 

Are we out "to get" our students or are we truly looking to find better ways of helping our students learn?  I would love to know your thoughts.

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