I sent the parents of my seventh and eighth grade students this letter today. I am seriously so pumped up about this. Even though last year brought with it a new subject for me to teach, I still wasn't very excited. From the literature I've read, to what I observed in my own classes over the last few years, I knew something was missing. My students did not care about their learning; they only cared about their grades. I saw this just this morning when a parent emailed me to ask why the one grade I had put in so far was a 2.5 out of 3 and not a 3 itself. This was a participation grade based on a 3-point scale that I have gone over with my students and is hanging at the front of my classroom, but the student did not tell her mom this. I decided this summer that things had to change. I was going to make a real go at motivating my students to invest in their own learning. The letter linked to above describes what I have come up with.
Yesterday I went over in detail how we were going to do things in our class. As soon as I said I wasn't going to grade anything this year, mouths dropped open. But then confusion set in. I admit, it is confusing. I think it's going to take a lot of practice for all of us. But the rewards have the potential to be so beautiful! I cannot wait to have conversations with my students about their work and to see their pride when they realize how much they have learned.
I will go into a little more detail here, for anyone interested in trying this out on their own.
The Big Standards Sheet
I chose about 20 technology standards from the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (NJCCCS) and four Common Core standards related to Speaking & Listening and Writing. Those standards line up at the top and the activities will be listed on the left side. After I explained what we were going to do this year, as far grading, my students used the simple 3-point scale listed on the spreadsheet to rate their current status for each of the standards. In the future, they will use a scale like the one below to assess their progress on the standards covered in a given project.
How will work be evaluated?
Here, I have chosen four standards that align with the first project. They will rate themselves a 1, 2, or 3 based on where they feel they are now for each of the listed standards. Students will only assess themselves on four or so standards for each activity, and they will put their ratings on the Big Standards Spreadsheet shown above. The goal will be to ultimately show growth in each column of standards, not to come up with a score for each activity.
Following each activity, my students will answer four questions regarding their work and progress in a Google Form (like this one). We will use their responses when it is time for conferences.
Given the research done on motivation over the last thirty years, and how observational feedback should replace grades, I decided I would conference with my students twice per marking period, in the week before grades are due from teachers. My students will tell me what they think their grade should be, and they will have to justify their decision. For support, they can bring their projects (which will be in the Google Classroom and/or their student-created website, and their Big Standards Sheet. I will bring to the table their reflection responses, the results from the simple Form I made to track if they are paying attention to the Speaking and Listening standards, and any notes that I have taken during the marking period. Edutopia put out a really thoughtful list of reflection questions that I will definitely use. I don't want the questions themselves to be predictable and these will be very helpful.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this part. Instead of entering the project itself into the Assignment part of the online gradebook, I could enter the standards that we used during that time period. Here I could put the grade my students tell me to put, from a 1 to a 3, with 1/2 point increments possible. Or, students can tell me a single grade that I can enter. So, the only assignments parents will see are my bi-weekly participation entries (that are mandated) and the one grade reflective of their growth that marking period. I'm leaning towards the latter. If a student has not shown growth in a particular area, and maybe only has a 1.5, then their letter grade will be low, and parents will definitely have a hard time with that. I would love some input on this, Dear Reader. How have you fought the Gradebook beast and won?
If you did not click on my parent letter, which also details my rationale and goals for the year, please click here.
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.