Last spring as my teaching world sort of collapsed around Covid, kids were sent home to participate in somewhat optional online learning (we won’t get into all those details) and we were forced to look at a grade generated by an average of scores rather than a true reflection of learning covered I pondered what I could possibly do better to address student learning and assessment. About this same time I was able to listen to a Podcast where Dr. Sarah Zerwin talked about her assessment approach in her book Point-less.
This was the answer I was looking for, I got the book and dove in reading and planning. I looked at my curriculum and the things I needed to cover and created learning goals that could encompass all of those objectives. I looked at how I might assess those learning goals, what classroom activities would be able to address multiple things for not only efficiency but also to make sure we had multiple touch points. I was excited and as the school year started back up again and I introduced the concept to the kids they too seemed excited, “You mean we get a say in our grade?” or “We get to decide what we focus on?” were common responses. Students selected their main goals, those they needed to reflect on more intently and I worried about the rest. This has been a journey and as I reflect at an end of a semester I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the good the not so good and the things I plan to change.
In talking to my students I asked them to reflect on this process and overwhelmingly I received comments about they felt less stressed when they saw a lot of feedback versus a low grade. They appreciated the feedback as it helped them improve. They were not worried about a grade they just felt we were focused on getting better and they all did. The grade conferences really helped them understand how they were doing. I was pleased to hear this as it was my biggest concern but it wasn’t all roses.
The Not So Good
One theme that came up was misunderstanding. Some felt that if they completed the feedback it should immediately mean they should have 100%. So I will need to be clearer on that front. Another student reflected that it would help to know what to tell their parents when asked “How are you doing?” because parents are still looking for a grade. I am thinking I might send a letter home helping parents to craft those questions so the response is more around how they are growing versus how they are doing.
Change is Coming
The biggest piece that I received from my kids today is they didn’t always think they had feedback that reported progress enough. What they meant was a grade. Because of report cards I have to have a grade at different points in the year. So the workaround is a reflective conversation where a grade is determined together. I had a few of my students who are moving on in the second semester share that a grade drove them to work harder and lacking that grade made it frustrating. I am taking that in and reflecting on how I might adjust. More feedback, more specific? Sharing a number more frequently? I worry that defeats the purpose.
So we grow and adjust. With my 8s we are are moving closer to round 2 of grade conferences. I am taking the words of my 10’s today and adjusting what that meeting looks like. More feedback is a quick change that we can make. Monthly meetings versus quarterly, these are things we will work with and adjust. What I know is students grew significantly from the start of the year to the end. Not just in their writing but in their ability to discuss their learning. In their ability to look at the messages in texts and share their thinking. I have loved not giving them a number on each assignment. I have loved seeing them grow. There are always bumps in a journey and as we see them we work to address them. Tomorrow that work begins.