Friday, January 12, 2018

Going "Gradeless": Planning for Second Semester

In summer, using reflective standards based grading was amazing. Students were engaged and learning, they felt confident about what they had learned and what they needed to learn next, and I felt like I had hit a high point in my teaching.

The first step to effective reflections is ensuring students understand the goals they are working towards. Here are their learning goals for our unit on World War I. 

Then I took that experience and tried to make it work for the regular school year. I thought about how the regular school year gave me more time so students could go into more depth and so there was a lot of time between reflections (in summer school students reflected every day.) This caused problems for me, it felt like every time we stopped to reflect I had to teach the process over again to more and more students. I realized that summer had been so successful because of the culture of reflection I had developed, I needed that culture to become a part of every day in my classroom during the regular year as well.

I've also spent a lot of time reading about lesson design, specifically the C3 Framework for history. What was missing from so many of my lessons was a clear "why" for the students. I had read of a history teacher who added the "why" to his learning objectives but when I tried that during first semester, it felt like I was often adding the same statement over and over again "we are learning this to try and prevent future world conflict." That "why" wasn't enough to engage students, it seemed detached from them and the reality of how they saw themselves as part of the world society.

Then I read the book "Essential Questions: Opening the Door to Student Understanding" and suddenly the inquiry component of the C3 Framework and my need to give my students a "why" found their answer in the development of compelling and enduring essential questions.

These are the compelling questions that will guide the same unit you see above (World War I).
I love these questions. I love that they can transcend the unit and allow students to make connections to today, other parts of history, or their own understanding of the world. I am excited to try these questions with my students and have designed all of my lessons around the learning goals listed above and these compelling questions. I've built in time for discussion of these questions as we learn content that connects with each one. And most importantly, I've built in time for daily reflections.

I believe part of what made summer school such a successful experiment in reflective grading was that students engaged in reflections every single day. When I started the first semester of the regular school year, I knew I'd have more time to go in more depth on some learning objectives and because of that I thought it would be okay to spread out the reflections.

I had built a culture of reflection in summer school, for many of those students I was the only teacher they saw 3 hours a day so that culture I created was all they knew. In the regular school year, I see my students every other day, and they have 5 other teachers they see, most of whom still use traditional grading practices. I was fighting an uphill battle.

But, I still see immense value in reflective grading: my teaching was still the strongest it had ever been, my students were still learning and engaged, and those who understood the reflection process found it to be beneficial. For second semester, I need to focus on creating a culture of reflection and creating a culture of inquiry.

Having reflected on all of this, I plan to make the following changes: students will reflect daily, even if we are not done exploring an objective or learning goal, they will take time to reflect on what they understand so far. And to show my students how important reflections are to their learning, when they reflect, I will reflect.

This new blog will be updated daily by me and my students as we reflect on the daily learning objectives and compelling questions. 
When I give my students 20 minutes at the end of each class to reflect on the learning for the day, I will open this blog and project it on the screen so they can see me reflect as well. I have 3-4 reflection questions for my students daily (what did you learn, how did you learn it, how does it connect to the learning objective, and then a compelling question will be asked) and so I plan to have 3-4 questions for myself as well.

I see so much value in students being able to articulate a learning goal, explain how they met that learning goal, and explain the importance of learning that information. I am hopeful that these changes will help build that culture in my classroom.

Are you trying non-traditional grading in your classroom? I'd love to hear about your experience! Share in the comments!

- Mrs. Byars


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