The words “Grading for Learning” resonated in my ears. My first reaction was, “Oh no, what is this?” to which my psychology teacher, Mr. Lunde, would point out was an example of classically conditioned resistance to new and unfamiliar things. But now I have applied “semantic meaning” to this grading and teaching concept, and I’m here to share that with you all!
First thing’s first, I will outline why I believe this concept is beneficial to students. Throughout my academic career, I have been involved in many social justice causes. One underlying theme of my involvement and advocacy is reaching equity for everyone, especially for marginalized populations. It is the responsibility of those in power to take action in reaching that said equity. I believe as an educated, able-bodied, U.S. born citizen, it is my responsibility to contribute to this fight for equity. I also believe that as educators, it is your job to do the same! And one step you can make to reaching that equity for everyone is adopting the concept of Grading for Learning into your classroom. The whole idea behind this new grading and teaching style is to make learning accessible and fair for each student. For so long there have been practices that have made it difficult for some students to succeed; before or after school make-up times, extra credit that involves access to transportation, homework that requires access to wifi or external support… you get my point, right? There may be a small population of students that this applies to, but I guarantee 9 times out of 10 that they are also facing other hardships. So why not make it easier on them? I am one of those students and I will tell you how this grading and teaching concept has changed my path of success.
Back in junior year is when I first experienced what Grading for Learning really is. I signed up for the rigorous AP Calculus BC. (In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best idea without having had Calculus AB, but the more you know!) I had no idea what to really expect because I hadn’t known anyone that had already taken the class—my usual method of gauging my success in a class! My fear and anxiety were elevated from the very idea of taking that class, but I was committed to the challenge of “all APs”—for students, specifically sophomores, reading this, don’t do this! (I’m warning you!) The first day of class rolls around and our teacher, Mr. Wagner, makes a surprising announcement to us: “There will be no graded homework assigned for the year.” My internal thoughts went from shock to confusion to pure excitement! No homework for the entire year? Sign me up! I hadn’t known the “why” at the time, but that didn’t change the positive effect that it had on me. In that class, I was able to truly learn without the fear of failing because our teacher allowed us to work and learn at our own pace. Yes, we learned lessons as a class, but he worked with each individual student to find out how he could best support them. We were able to retest and prove our knowledge of those monstrous standards, which personally did a lot for my self-esteem. That year was really tough for me; I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety due to outside forces, so his effort in supporting each and every student’s learning was greatly meaningful. The impact that Mr. Wagner had on me was immeasurable and I will forever be grateful for experiencing such an equitable and supportive model of grading and teaching. And I can guarantee your students will feel the same way as you ease your way into Grading for Learning!
This post brought to you by Kashanti Taylor, RPS Student, Class of 2020
Rochester Public Schools is no stranger to the term, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching, or CLRT. We’ve spent the last few years engaging with the work of Dr. Sharroky Hollie and the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. Many of us have been to trainings, have engaged in one-on-one coaching, and have poured over the pages of Dr. Hollie’s binder and book in order to become culturally responsive educators. This has been a very impactful learning experience, but we must also remember that Culturally Responsive teaching is but one facet of achieving educational equity. In this post, I want to share four overarching characteristics of culturally responsive teaching in an effort to paint a broader picture of culturally responsive teaching and how it fits the overall goal of educational equity at RPS.
Characteristic #1: Learning Within the Context of Culture
Many of our marginalized students’ home cultures and languages do not closely reflect the mainstream school culture. Students can feel pressure to assimilate and give up aspects of who they are, creating tensions that impact classroom relationships and student engagement. Luckily, much of our work with Dr. Hollie has focused on understanding the juxtaposition between common cultural archetypes and mainstream school expectations. He and his coaches have trained us to stop and recognize how behavior is cultural and how we can better validate and affirm cultural behaviors while building and bridging students to success in the mainstream school culture. We have learned how to recognize common cultural archetypes and plan instruction that honors the cultural behaviors that each student brings to our classroom so they can create deeper connections to the content and build up their intellective capacity (Hammond & Jackson, 2015).
Characteristic #2: Positive Perspectives on Parents and Families
Culture is the way we interpret the world. The culturally responsive teacher understands that each student comes to school with abundant knowledge that is rooted in their family’s culture. They also know that when instruction is rooted in these Funds of Knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, and González, 1992) we create more meaningful relationships with our students and they can make deeper, relevant connections to academic content.
Characteristic #3: Communication of High Expectations
The culturally responsive teacher creates a rigorous and relevant learning environment that is rooted in relationships. They are warm demanders (Kleinfeld, 1975), communicating outrageous love to their students, while pushing them to be excellent. As Zaretta Hammond (2015) puts it, “Personal warmth and authentic concern exhibited by the teacher earns [them] the right to demand engagement and effort” (p. 98). This is different from the authoritarian teacher who simply demands compliance or, at the other end of the spectrum, the permissive teacher who is often overly sympathetic, accommodating, and inconsistent.
Characteristic #4: Relevant Curriculum
The culturally responsive teacher creates integrated, cross curricular, rigorous, student centered learning experiences. Such curricula allows students to apply their skills to situations and problems that occur in the world beyond the classroom. It demands all students develop higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and provides students opportunities to be self-reflective and hone their communication skills. This is precisely what the RPS Graduate Profile is about! Culturally Responsive educators recognize that such a curriculum requires a learning environment that supports risk taking and assessment policies that allow for authentic growth. They also recognize the importance of diverse perspectives and provide materials that authentically reflect the cultures of their students.
So now what?
Take some time to reflect on these characteristics and how they may look in your classroom. You may be surprised to see how many ways you are already engaging in culturally responsive practices. Then, choose a couple more to try. If you aren’t sure where to start, reach out to your building’s instructional coaches and CLRT Teacher Leaders. Reach out to C & I and lean on your IAs. We are here for you! The journey toward educational equity is challenging and complex but also affirming and hopeful and we don’t need to walk the path alone.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Kleinfeld, J. (1975). Effective teachers of Eskimo and Indian students. School Review, 83, 301–344.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31, 132-141.
This post brought to you by Kimberly Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Teachers in Rochester Public Schools are engaging in a learning year around the Grading for Learning principles which will be implemented district-wide next year. So why shouldn’t we grade homework? Stef Whitney, Secondary Implementation Associate, compiled some data which helps explain the inequity involved in grading homework.
Why not grade homework?
1. Grading homework perpetuates Institutional Bias, which are procedures and practices that operate in ways that result in certain groups being advantaged or favored and other groups being disadvantaged or devalued.
2. Grading homework/daily work is rarely a motivator for many of our students.
a. Extrinsic motivation (grades, money, rewards, punishments) only work when the stakes are low and the task is simple.
b. Intrinsic motivation occurs most often when humans feel autonomy, purpose, and the potential for mastery
How do I get students to do homework or practice without grades?
We know that feedback and reflection are keys to high levels of learning. If you have additional examples to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
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