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Grades gone wild…

The Keys @k.c.love

Cult of Pedagogy turned my attention to this fantastic post by Arthur Chiaravalli, “Teachers Going Gradeless.” 

Gratitude for my PLN for helping me stay fresh, excited and wise: things have been tricky at my school recently, and while we’re on spring break I am determined to relax, dangit. Refresh, Renew. All that good stuff. People are worried about me (turns out middle school girls and boys think I’m crying when I am having a hot flash–thanks, menopause). I was beginning to get a little worried about myself: have I taught them enough? Is testing going to be okay? Will the boy who won’t allow me to help him be a better reader be okay? Will that girl who has given up on herself understand that we won’t give up on her?

Perhaps this may be the simple answer to those complex, emotional questions: as we strive to allow for our students to be independent, the most obvious path is the timeless practice of self-assessment. Their emotional responses to learned helplessness and inner-dialogue of shame may be cooled by simply allowing them the space that they are in more control than they believe. 

Things on teachers’ minds must be washed and dried before break ends–otherwise, it’s not a break. So just in the nick of time here are some ideas about having students self-assess. Chiaravelli draws from the great minds of pedagogy:

Drawing on the research of Ruth Butler, Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, Daniel Pink, Carol Dweck, Alfie Kohn, Linda McNeil, Linda Mabry, Maja Wilson and countless others, we are teachers who are convinced that teaching and learning can be better when we grade less.

For some of us, the word gradeless means to grade less, that is, limiting the impact of grades within the context of current constraints. Some are just trying to get away from toxic assessment and grading practices, like assessments with no opportunity to redo or retake or zeroes on the mathematically disproportionate 100-point scale.

Okay, cool. I have always allowed for redos, and never marked things down for being late, etc. Okay. Instincts without research don’t mean anything – so he provides the research.

What my grading practices are now:
  1. Non-negotiable assignments:
    • Weekly Vocabulary worth 50 points
      • If they don’t turn it in, it goes in zero and missing in Skyward.
      • They have one to two weeks to turn it in and receive full points. I never mark down work simply for being late, and never have.
      • Positive: Once they see they are in control of their non-negotiables and have choice and flexibility,  they get in a routine of learning and diving into new words.
      • Negative: Students still don’t understand that the zero, which is horrible but the only way they and their parents pay attention or get a notification, can be easily remedied by doing the work. I will ask other students in the class who have turned things in late and subsequently turn them in, and their grade changes, to share that with the class. In addition, I still need to track students down.
  2. Grading every two weeks as required.
  3. Grading assessments (especially the Common Formative Assessments created by our ELA PLC 8th grade as ‘no count.’
How are they evolving:
  1. I created a unit/module in Canvas called “Top Ten Things” for ELA. Its intended purpose allows for student flexibility: if they are done with something, they can explore ten lessons in a ‘flipped’ way.
    • Positive: Students who seek them out enjoy doing them as “extra credit.”
    • Allows for self-exploration and questions– great opportunity for metacognition and independent work.
    • Negative: Students have been confused — understandable. These absolutely require my guidance, and that’s fine. Another issue is students requiring more guidance than time allows. After the break this is something I will address.
  2. Provided a ‘create your own rubric lesson’ in the fall: this is a concept I plan on bringing back this spring after the break.
  3. Allowing students to assess student work—now that there is student work to share based on current projects!
Next level:
  1. Paraphrasing and crafting metrics and rubrics based on CCSS, standardized assessments (from the OSPI/SBA)
  2. Crafting choice projects/burning questions metrics based on CCSS
  3. Crafting and self-assessing on both low stakes and high stakes assignments they create and produce.
  4. Continuing to provide curriculum maps to students — visible checklists to help guide them.
Clarifying goals:

The second finding comes from John Hattie (2012) whose synthesis of 800 meta-studies showed that student self-assessment/self-grading topped the list of educational interventions with the highest effect size. By teaching students how to accurately self-assess based on clear criteria, teachers empower them to become “self-regulated learners” able to monitor, regulate, and guide their own learning. The reason students never develop these traits is that our monopoly on assessment, feedback, and grading has trained students to adopt an attitude of total passivity in the learning process.

 

Let us all “grade less” so students can learn more. Just like in any creative pursuit, the linear qualities of rubrics do not have to constrain, but to guide.

PS Not sure where I found this:

This could be a good approach to student-created rubrics.
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The Work in Workshop…

Throwing this out there: I need a writing group. I need the accountability and presence of other ideas. I am wondering if my lack of writing with any regularity, except for this blog, is a result of no structure, the end of PSWP, and not finding another NWP. Writing Workshop works. It is an exceptional means to help students grow as readers and writers. I’ve tried to sell colleagues on it, and because they haven’t been to the mountaintop and met with gurus of enlightenment like my friends Holly Stein and Kim Norton, they don’t believe me.

So I just have to make sure it fits with my students, and keep proving it, time and again.

Our school is trying to do many things in a hurry to get students at grade level: PLC work is the big focus, and for math and ELA, the district provides rough ‘frameworks’ but at least for the ELA group, they’re never done, or if they are, there is a conflict or confusion between the PLC created Common Formative Assessments and the district created ones. These are not mutually exclusive, but nor does this jive with the spirit of a PLC, and that is to be agile and responsive to student needs in an intentional means. Assessments that might be best for students at one middle school in the district may not be what’s most needed for ours.

Along with the PLC work, the administration wants us to focus on our grading practices, and the discussion is open and collaborative. It has always been my personal policy not to mark things down for being ‘late.’ Convoluted systems and make-up work tangles up the process, so I make it simple: there is a due date, and the assignment will ‘close’ a week afterward. It’s marked zero and missing to affect grades because if it’s not, the student isn’t aware it’s missing. These are middle school kids, remember. Once it’s done, I give it full credit. If it’s an assignment that is rubric based, they have time to redo it for a better grade. Assessments for our PLC and district are scored accordingly, but marked as “no count.”

Recently Ethical ELA posted an article about flexibility and student learning:

Deadlines and “Late” Work: The Potential of the Provisional

http://www.ethicalela.com/deadlines/

The writer used my favorite quote that I use as my tagline, and this–this is a fantastic idea:

What will you do with your one precious life? They reflected on their values, dreamed about what, who, and where they wanted to be, took a career quiz, read biographies, explored opportunities in high school, looked into part-time jobs, explored colleges, searched apartments, created a budget, read about philanthropic options, developed mottos, wrote a speech to synthesize the research in the voice of their future self (see an example below), and created a slideshow with images to support the content (e.g., Slides, A Life as an Artist, also see below). I set up a schedule for three students to be “guest speakers” each Friday through January, February, and March.

I may start off with my ‘ambassador of the table’ and then move to the guest speaker idea.

Before the break, the well-laid plans included a quick version of Greek mythology, then onto Box of Destiny! Ah, well. Add three snow days, a studio teacher workshop for the ELA department, the ‘no immigrants’ protest day, things did not go as planned. Do they ever? So, instead of the full-blown BoD presentations, I asked them to focus on just the story of their character from first-person perspective. Developmentally, this shift is very difficult for some students, and that makes it all the more valuable. Many had their stories done, many had them started, and many couldn’t get out of the starting gate, with all the scaffolds available. We did a modified writing workshop protocol on Friday, and I took the papers home to write feedback for one and all. Between my hand-written and typed feedback in Canvas, I hope to see some growth for the next project.

Life is not linear, that’s for sure. Maybe that’s why whenever I watch a Marzano or other expert they always use a math example, not an ELA or social studies one, because reading, writing, and history are messy indeed. But that’s okay: I know other experts to draw from, including my own knowledge and experience. If you want to come to the mountaintop with me, I’ll take you there.

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Moving through summer…

I wish I could say this post is urgent, but alas, I know the truth: I’m avoiding ‘real’ summer work– the projects and ideas that are supposed to rejuvenate me and get back in touch with my ‘real’ self. So here’s a deal: I’ll write this post, and then go do something. Maybe take the dog for a walk. Maybe organize my jewelry box. Or go find some Pokemon. Who knows? The world is wide open. And gotta catch ’em all.

When the school year starts again, it’s closed, boxed, a hedge maze of navigating rules and schedules. And consistently over the years I’ve tried to shape and refine my teaching practices. Sometimes those practices come at the will of administration and changing district policies, but all in all, I know those are in alignment with my personal teaching values more than ever, and truth be told I am feeling a great confidence of agency. As long as I can honestly say what I’m doing is in the best interest of students as my litmus test, then every decision holds integrity and intention.

The “A” Word

One such is the notion that teachers grade everything. We’ve gotten in this feedback loop of complaining about when students aren’t motivated, even for grades, and then use too many sticks and run out of carrots. In this post about accountability, I should have said ‘punitive’ — but was trying to be too soft-edged, I suppose. I am really starting to dislike the word ‘accountable,’ and I know that bias is all mine. Accountability is an accountant, a bean-counter, a points-shiny-stars-gamificationated-hoop-jumping word. Please– any other word but ‘accountable.’ If, in my book club, the other ladies said, “we are going to hold you accountable for reading all the books” I’d be so out of there my wine glass would shatter from the squealing of tires. We read each other’s book choices because we get to discuss things with those of various points of view. And there are snacks.

The conversation became a bit derailed, but no matter. That's what we teachers do -- talk about it!
The conversation became a bit derailed, but no matter. That’s what we teachers do — talk about it!

The question became side-tracked, naturally. And that’s fine. Let me see if I can get this back on point: the 40 book challenge is meant to create readers. There are multiple ways for students to share what they’ve read.

The post I linked above says many things, but mainly this:

An unfamiliar parent emailed me to complain. She tracked me down on the Internet after asking her son’s teacher about the “outrageous requirement” that students read 40 books and complete 40 book reports this school year. Her son’s teacher said the assignment was based on my work, and this upset mom wanted me to know that I was hurting her son. I responded that while I expect my students to read 40 books, I don’t tie any assignments or grades to this expectation.

Consider this: when doing something like a 40-book challenge, weave in the next two concepts about technology and grading policies. Consider carefully what the goal is. It takes students some getting used to doing something because it’s amazing. Maybe I can do a mash-up between books and Pokemon? Wait, what am I saying?!

Technology:

If you want to know exactly how to best use technology for any student, underserved or not, read this article by Molly B. Zielezinski @mollybullock. What a Decade of Education Research Tells Us About Technology in the Hands of Underserved StudentsThe article provides clear constructs for how to use technology in the classroom. 

Grading Policies

Hope. It’s all about hope. 

Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Policies by Andrew Miller. Our new admin had their plates full last year; I wonder if a discussion about grading policies will hit the meetings this year? I hope so. As a staff, learning new ways to grade and assess effectively and meaningfully would sure go a long way to help our students we serve. I had a great conservation about grading policies in Twitter at #edchat the other day. It’s on everyone’s minds, and something that the current grading software programs we use don’t provide much in terms of true reflection of growth or stagnation, for that matter. I am going to integrate Miller’s ideas in with my syllabus for this year, along with some of the grading policies and explanations for parents.

Tardy Slips

This is one of those issues I didn’t think was a big deal until I encountered an interpretation I had never considered before. If a student is talking to another teacher, and receives a late pass, but another teacher still marks them down tardy as his/her only means of showing that the student missed instruction, what is the point of this? If a teacher’s class runs over a few minutes, and then asks that those students are not marked tardy, why wouldn’t people honor that? Perhaps, like the word accountable, there needs to be different shades of meaning: if a student is clearly hanging out in the bathroom avoiding class, then yes, tardy. But for those times where students need to confer with a teacher for a few minutes, but another teacher needs to show that they missed the entry task, perhaps a ‘conference’ demarkation would be a good idea? That way they’re not punished or disciplined in any way, and it shows that the student was attempting to get clarification on something, and allows for flexibility for the entire staff.

Rethinking Everything

Many teachers are going to have a hard time with some of the new Washington State guidelines regarding discipline and suspensions. 

Good.

If we truly want this school-to-prison pipeline to be shut down, it’s time.

And now to go read more Nikki Giovanni poetry.
And now to go read more Nikki Giovanni poetry.

Well, I made a deal. This post is done. Time to honor summer again. I felt as if I haven’t gotten anything done, or accomplished, but that’s not true. I made this, and others are going to share it. I hope you will, too.

 

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Test day.

studentsToday is our third quarter reading assessment day. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Many of you don’t know what a “text box” is. (And I need to think why this is important to your future.)

2. Many of you are still struggling with using the vocabulary in context clues (you have at least six different pathways). (And now I need to think why this is important to you, too, in this age of digital dictionaries and spell check.)

3. Many of you do not know how to “draw a conclusion.” (And I am reflecting on why you need to know this, too.)

I know and respect many great educational minds whose opinions include abolishing all grading, assessment, and testing. They make very strong cases for their viewpoints. And maybe I’m just un-evolved, but I’m not quite there yet, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be.

The reason is this: I don’t know what you know until you show me. And if you can’t show me, you probably can’t do it. So, I can teach it to you!

Your mastery of disguise and ability to use ‘smoke and mirrors’ to hide some of your academic shortcomings is amazing. And I’m not being sarcastic – many of you have learned the coping skills to get through the ‘system’ with nary a glance from your teachers. And most times, I would be complacent, too; it is only those times that I sit and conference with you individually do I learn how much you don’t know. You will say that you understood it, but when we break it down, you don’t.

So, back to my original questions:

1. Why do you need to know what a text box is? Text features help you find material quickly and easily. In this world of vast amounts of information, access to knowledge is just as important as the speed in which you can access it.

2. Vocabulary: the more you know, the more you know. Use logic, make educated guesses, too. Consider a strong vocabulary like a word “bank.” The more that’s in your bank, the more you can make mental withdrawls.

3. Drawing Conclusions: this, most of all,  is really important. This is your ability to show that you don’t take everything at face value. That you don’t believe everything you read or hear. That you can take a lot of facts and opinions, and develop your own opinion about it, that you can back up.

So, you took a test. And the results show these are your weakest areas. But it also shows where I need to support the framework, and strengthen my instruction. It’s for me, too. The test is a broad-stroke approach, and it has its faults and flaws. But at least now we know.