Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Going "Grade Less": Bumps in the Road

This summer I am experimenting with reflective grading practices in my World History summer school class. It felt necessary to find a new approach to grading after months of reading and research and countless moments in my classroom where traditional grading systems just weren't cutting it. I was fed up with "how many points is this worth?" or "how many points do I need on this to just pass the class?" Many students weren't trying to learn, they often weren't trying to improve or achieve an academic goal, they were playing a game of points.

My first week of reflective grading still feels like a monumental success, students understand the process, students are listening to feedback and trying again on their work, and most students when asked how the process was going for them responded positively.

But a few students raised some excellent concerns in the first week that I'd like to share.

1) The 4 point rubric and the traditional online grade book my district uses to record grades don't work well together. 

When I put in the first two objectives that students reflected on into our district required digital grade books, things became terrifying for some students. Students who had earned 3's were confused and in a panic: they thought they had done well and only needed to improve a little bit but the grade book was showing they were only earning a 75% or a C in the class.

When planning, I had done the math a few times with a full set of grades in the grade book to see how a handful of low scores would impact a grade, I even had an example grade book up for students to see on the first day. But when real grades entered the grade book for the first time there were only a few scores in and it sent a shock through some students who are used to that 100 point scale.

But the digital grade book our district requires us to update every two weeks (every 3 days in summer school) only knows the 100 point scale and students who have traditionally had A's and B's only know a C as something negative. They don't see it as a starting point from which to improve. That was the message I had to work the hardest at selling the students, that number is temporary if you are willing to try again.

Students who brought up this point presented me with two challenges; developing that growth mindset culture in my classrooms and considering moving to a 5 point scale in the future in order to better fit the digital grade books calculations. If my goal is to give students a clear view of where they are at in my class, I need to ensure the few grades they do receive truly reflect where they are at.

2) "If you gave me a test I would pass it. I only pass this if YOU think I've explained myself well." 

This comment made me extremely grateful for the time that the Station Rotation model gave me to speak with this student (actually it gave me time to talk to each student) one on one. I had the chance to talk to this student about what will happen in the real world, will they spend their lives taking multiple-choice tests to prove what they know? Or will they need to be able to explain themselves thoughtfully and with evidence? This is another paradigm shift that some students will need to face with reflective grading. I also still give quizzes but they don't go in the grade book, instead students immediately see what the answers are so they know what they still need to learn.

When I went back to the standards and started writing clear learning objectives for students using "I can..." statements, I was a little shocked by how much of the historical content that we as history teachers so often test was missing from those standards. The standards rarely ask students to identify and almost always ask students to explain, summarize, or compare. Add that to the new CCSS Literacy Standards for History, and it's hard to defend building grades entirely around multiple choice tests in a history classroom.That being said, I know that in the traditional year having those tests as an option for students to use as evidence in their reflections will be a practice I use regularly.

Both of these concerns have led me to consider some changes for the school year when I attempt this grading system again. Overall, I still feel optimistic about this new approach to grading and it has me excited about planning, grading, and teaching like never before.

Have you tried a non-traditional grading method? Tell me about it in the comments!

-Mrs. Kathryn Byars

Friday, June 16, 2017

Going "Grade Less": Thoughts on Reflective Grading Week 1

I am one week into teaching a four-week long summer school course that I am grading using only students reflections on the learning objectives and right now my mind is racing. I started writing about why I decided to go "grade-less" last week and in five short days of summer school World History, I have a lot of thoughts and emotions to sort through. Everything is kind of messy, but the good kind, the kind that feels like progress. Here is a brief update on a few of my thoughts so far.

1) OMG I love Station Rotation
Dear Catlin Tucker, Thank you. Your blogs and tweets about Station Rotation in secondary school inspired me to try it and I get it now. It is the best way to find time to meet with students, to host interventions, to differentiate instruction, and to keep students engaged by keeping class moving with a variety of activities and assignments. This model of teaching allowed me to meet with students one-on-one in a way that was effective and meaningful. 

2) Learning Objectives Are Essential 
You know that thing we all did in our credential programs and that thing we still do when we have to submit a formal lesson plan? That thing where you sit down and write a clear objective and then make sure the lesson ties directly to it? Well, you can't do reflective grading without it. I have to be honest, while I was always looking at my standards while planning I wasn't always asking myself if the lesson, reading, or activity clearly met or supported a learning objective. The lessons always related to the standards but having a clear objective takes that it step further, it asks for more specificity in your planning, and it is a piece you can't skip with reflective grading. 

3) Feedback from students have been overwhelmingly positive. 
I send out surveys to my students all the time to see how things are going. This week one of their survey questions was "How is the reflective grading process going for you?" Here are some of my students responses: 
  • "It is very good because then I am able to look back at the things that are confusing to me."
  • "Good it's making me analyze the reading and my work more precisely than I usually would."
  • "The reflection is taking legitimate effort from myself, but it is fair and straightforward."
  • "I actually like it because it gives us a chance to prove what we actually learned."
  • "It's going okay. I like how the grading system is. It makes me feel like I can fix my grade easier if I make a mistake."

It's only week one and I still have a lot running through my mind about this process that I need to explore more. A few students have brought up some valid concerns (which I plan to explore in my next post) but so far things are going really well and honestly, I feel more excited about "grading" than ever before. 

What are your thoughts on Reflective Grading? 

- Mrs. Byars 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Summer Experiment: Going "Grade-Less"

It's Friday morning of my first week of summer and I am getting things together to take back to campus because I start summer school on Monday. I love summer school. Four short weeks of accelerated teaching, a crash course of content with students who all have a reason to be there, summer school is full of this energy and drive you don't get in the normal year. I also love summer because it is the perfect place to try something new.

This summer, I am changing my grading practices. I am changing my grading practices because I am frustrated by how often students copy and cheat, I am frustrated by how defeated students become from a zero, I am frustrated by the question "how many points do I need on this assignment to...?", I am frustrated that compliance is more important than learning, I am frustrated that the traditional system offers little room for growth mindset, I am frustrated that my traditional grading practices don't focus on learning at all.

So, I read as many books  (some found here and here) as I could manage on the subject and blogs and articles, until it was clear that I was getting the same message over and over and over again: there is a way to grade for learning but it is insane and crazy and student centered. You hand the reigns over to the students and in exchange you promise them clear, consistent, meaningful feedback.

This summer, I am trying a reflective grading approach that has students reflect and provide evidence of how they have met each learning objective. I am hoping to use OneNote ClassNotebook for students to write daily reflections on each learning objective we covered that day. They will explain if they have met the objective using a four point rubric, and then must include evidence on meeting that standard (assignments we've done, quizzes we've taken, etc). I know how I've set it up is probably not perfect, but the beauty of summer school is that it moves so quickly and you have to provide feedback (and update grades) so often that I'll know within the first day or two what's working and what needs to change.

So far, the planning has been a mountain of work but it is work that has me excited about what I am teaching. I can better articulate how each lesson or activity supports the objectives (because if I can't, how can I expect my students to be able to?) and because of this I've cut out the "busy work." I have had to be more clear about how and when to deliver feedback and I've built in more time to talk with each student every week using the secondary Station Rotation model.

Will it work? The research says it will, the books say it will, but I guess I am about to find out. I'll be sharing updates weekly on this so feel free to subscribe and follow along as I take my classroom in a whole new direction.

What are your thoughts on grading? (Big question, I know!) Share in the comments!

Happy Summer,

Mrs. Kathryn Byars


I tweeted a late night thought this week that I really didn't think anyone would notice. It's a tweet I almost deleted because I ...