As the school year draws to a close I am hearing many conversations about continued summer learning. Some people are planning to attend conferences, others are planning to keep learning by traveling, and still others are collecting titles for podcasts and other articles they want to read. Another popular topic has been doing some additional reading and learning about grading for learning. Here are seven ideas for growing your grading for learning mindset:
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As an adult learner and as an educator, I realize that none of my former teachers were trying to make me a passive learner, I just wasn’t motivated to be as active in my learning as I could have been.
I believe that as educators we want our students to do well in school but also be motivated and active in their learning. What follows are some things to consider as we try to motivate our students to become active learners rather than passive learners, moving them beyond traditional carrot and stick motivators.
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Adjusting for 21st-Century Learners
If you want a quick idea of what Pink is talks about in Drive, then watching his TED Talk: “The Puzzle of Motivation” is a great starting point:
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The Impact Homework (Doesn't) Have
One of the things teachers tend to struggle with is the homework we give and the reason we give it. According to Hattie, homework has an effect size of .29 (very low). We have had students who could do the homework and were motivated to get them all right (i.e. get a good grade) but then struggled when asked to explain why certain rules/procedures worked and why it didn’t. When asked to solve a problem another way, students usually groan and ask, "Why?". We have also had students who did the homework but didn’t really understand the material, as well as students who just didn’t do the homework at all. So clearly, just assigning homework was not a motivator for most students in class and tying it to grades make it even worse.
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Three Key Motivational Elements: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose
Making our classes relevant, interesting, and challenging to our students will help with their motivation. As Daniel Pink refers in his book Drive, if we make tasks in our classrooms fit into one or more of the three key categories--Autonomy, Mastery, or Purpose--our students will move from being compliant (grade driven) to engaged (seeing the value).
I know from my own experience that when I switched from being all about grades and more about the why and how, what I was learning became important. I became a totally different student. I also remember far more about what I was doing rather than just knowing I had learned it once upon a time. I know it isn’t always an easy transition: when we find things that work and that we are comfortable with, change can be hard. But, in knowing our students face different opportunities than we may have faced, it's time to try things a little differently.
A mere two minutes later, I head those dreadful words… “What now? We’re done.”
After multiple tweaks and failed attempts, I went to my Instructional Coach, Ellen Harford, looking for help with making these discussions work. She said to me, “I have this book that relates to your problem. Look at this...”
Enter: The Best Class You Never Taught by Alexis Wiggins.
I love trying new things; I’m usually up for anything. I read this book over winter break--it was fast and easy to read. I came back from break ready to plan out my implementation of Spider Web Discussions (SWD).
At this point, you may be wondering just what this "SWD" is. Here’s the gist: it is a whole class discussion guided only by the students with no input or direction from the teacher. The entire class gets the same grade (in the gradebook, but no count) based on pre-established criteria and post-discussion debriefing. What does the teacher do? Write all the students’ names on a paper and note where they are sitting, listen to the discussion, and draw lines from one speaker to the next.
I had two different sections doing the same discussion that day, and both can be described as…rough (to put it nicely). Both classes received an 'F'. They filled the 20 minutes, but did not meet almost any parts of the grading criteria.
Here’s why it was still incredible: we debriefed after. I took a picture of the diagramming I had done, put it up on the board, and let the kids take a look. It took a minute for the kids to understand what they were looking at, but when they did and they compared it to the criteria… light bulbs went off. They all had instant, individual feedback.
We did SWDs four more times for the book Night, plusI brought it into my writing class. We evaluated sample essays based on the essay rubric. The SWD had the same criteria and was graded every time. The kids flowed naturally into it in writing class because we’d had such consistent exposure to it in reading class while we were building the skills.
We just finished our final SWD for the year. The question? Who’s to blame for the death of both Romeo and Juliet? Both classes earned their first 'B' on the SWD and there were cheers by all.
SWDs have changed the landscape of my classroom. The students know what to do for each discussion now, they enjoy having so much time to talk and debate, and they get the academic speaking practice they need in an authentic way. I have never read a book about my teaching practice that I could literally implement the next day until The Best Class You Never Taught. If you think it can’t work because Javier never talks or Samira never stops talking, Wiggins problem-solves that with you and it works! If you think it can’t work because the kids might miss the big ideas, the group grade forces them to be prepared, which allows them to reach the big ideas.
I’m telling you, this will be one of the first strategies I implement next fall because we’re going to do it all year long.
Feel free to connect with Bordelon via email
Chip In and Let's Get Started!
How class begins can set the tone for the rest of the class period. There are different strategies that can help get students into a focused mindset and allow for high productivity. Last year, I began the adventure of flexible seating. We’ve added short stools, tall stools, office chairs, bean bags, crates, floor pillows, benches, a work nook, and several other working areas. The goals of flexible seating were to:
- Maximize student productivity
- Inspire creativity
- Support and encourage personal responsibility
Maximize Student Productivity & Inspire Creativity
Maximizing student productivity and inspiring creativity go hand-in-hand. As a teacher of writing, I know that it’s not a favorite or strong subject of many students. When I personally need to accomplish something (especially something that takes more sustained effort), I do not choose to sit in hard blue chairs. With this in mind, I set out to create options for students to select a seat that would allow them to be productive each day. When students feel comfortable, they often feel more inspired and creative. I’ve witnessed this first hand and been reaffirmed through student feedback.
Support and Encourage Personal Responsibility
As a middle school teacher (really the goal of any teacher), we want our students to become independent and personally responsible. Selecting a seat is a big responsibility. Students know that they have goals to accomplish, and their seat should help them achieve those learning goals. Choosing different seats each day is encouraged as opportunities to explore what works and what doesn’t work. Students can always discretely move during class if a spot isn’t working. If a student’s seat is not working, they know I always have the right to move them for the sake of their learning. They may hear me quietly ask, “Is your seat working, or would you like to try another one?” If students are moved, we try again the next day where they take personal responsibility to pick their own seat. In the end, we want students to have the life skill of making choices, reflecting on their choices, and adjusting to achieve success.
One challenge that came up with flexible seating and up to seven classes of students each day was how to take attendance. It was a laborious process to search the room for students or call off names to do attendance each day. What a waste of time! I set off to find a way to quickly take attendance which led to… Chip In!
What began as a way to take attendance has morphed into so much more.
There are two response options, one in each bucket. This is a very quick procedure that can serve multiple purposes:
- It is a quick way to take attendance especially if you do not have assigned seats. (exp. Flexible seating)
- It gives students a connection to a prior lesson.
- It gives students focus for today’s lesson or work time.
- It drums up curiosity for what they will be learning.
- It can introduce new vocabulary/concepts.
- It can be a quick formative assessment and check in as well as inform future instruction.
I am ready for today’s assessment. OR I will keep a positive attitude and work hard.
- Goals achieved: Self-reflect, focus, growth mindset
- This response gives students focus that we will be taking an assessment (that we’ve been preparing for… no surprises!) It encourages students to embrace a growth mindset and keep a positive attitude even when they don’t feel prepared. This can also give me feedback for example if the majority of students don’t feel prepared, I may be asking them questions to reflect on what I’ve done (or not done) to help them be prepared.
If I had time to learn about or do anything, I know what I would do. OR I will ponder that.
- Goals achieved: Hook curiosity, regard for student perspective, focus, build vocabulary
- This prompt was an introduction to our research passion project where students ultimately got to select anything they wanted to learn about while using the research process. It got students thinking about their passions, interests, and wonders. We had instant engagement when they asked, “Anything?” “At school?” This also introduced the vocabulary word “ponder” in context for many that had not heard it prior.
After students chip in and sit down, they have a bell ringer that is often connected to the chip in responses. This again gives focus and a really quick, meaningful formative assessment to guide future instruction, intervention, and enrichment. The Chip In! strategy works for ALL grades and ALL subject areas. Get some chips, a bucket, and create responses that fit for your class!
The practice I am talking about is the powerful practice of developing and giving a common formative assessment, and then analyzing the collected data in Professional Learning Communities.
A Snapshot of How This Might Look in Practice:
My PLC teammate and I meet to discuss what we will be teaching and assessing coming up. We agree to focus on the Prioritized Learning related to creating a strong argument with text evidence.
We agree on a formative way to assess this skill: we’ll both use an outline format called a fishbone analysis. We decide how we're going to score it using the Proficiency Scale that aligns with the Prioritized Learning.
Individually, we both teach the lesson, give the assessment, and score our students' work.
Individually, we look for trends (areas of student success, student struggle, pockets of students who have excelled, pockets of students who seem to have really struggled, etc). Then, we each collect a high, medium. and low example of student work to bring to a future PLC meeting.
Together, we bring our student work to the table and analyze collective trends using our Proficiency Scale.
- What do our students who were partially able to demonstrate the skill have in common? What kind of reteaching and additional practice do they need?
- What characteristics do our high samples share?
- What do the low student work samples have in common? Which skills need to be retaught?
We create a reteaching and reassessment plan, as well as decide how we're going to continue to challenge those students who have already found success.
We repeat the process. Focusing on the plan created in 'Step F', we loop back to 'Step G.' Eventually. we bring student work back together again and look for new trends, improvements that still need to be made, or additional needs that have arose. The cycle continues until the whole class has mastered this Prioritized Learning and/or until the course comes to a close at the end of the year (or semester, in some cases).
Using and analyzing common formative assessments in this way is a research-affirmed practice. PLCs who engage in this practice consistently see higher student achievement and less of an achievement gap in their classes.
If your PLC is beginning this journey or deepening your practice and would like support, please reach out to any member of the secondary Curriculum and Instruction team. We’d love to help support your work!
For me, it was typically second quarter where I started to feel more like a chicken with no head than an actual teacher. The Thanksgiving and winter break made it hard to pace my lessons, my personal calendar was full with family dinners and social events, yet the assignments kept pouring in. Keeping up with my life and with the papers I had to grade often seemed impossible. When faced with a stack of 160 tests/essays/projects to mark, it’s frankly overwhelming. This is why I would commonly give such stacks rides home at night and back to work the next morning without ever tackling a single paper. It is also why I was always on the lookout for new ways to grade smarter, faster, and better.
Images by Heather Lyke
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Don’t ‘Grade’ Everything
Most things we do in our classroom are designed to be formative, so why put such tasks in the gradebook? Sure, you’ll want to track students’ progress, but does all the progress you monitor have to be accounted for in Skyward? Does it have to be every assignment? What I’m seeing in a lot of classrooms in the district are students who are working just as hard, if not harder, for a comment in the margin or a verbal “great thinking in this paragraph.” So, if our students work harder for feedback that never goes into the gradebook, then why kill ourselves grading everything and then account for all of it in Skyward?
Want to explore this idea more? Consider reading the first two parts of our Grading for Learning series by Brandon Macrafic:
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Provide Feedback Verbally
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- In class one-on-ones — Teachers meet with each student individually (either at his/her desk or by popping by each student’s desk) to talk over a particular task that’s already been completed, work through a problem together, or discuss the student’s thinking.
- Small group — Teachers pull students back in groups of 2-4, often pairing them with others who share similar struggles/successes. Together the students explain their thinking on a shared task, work through a problem that all of them are struggling with, or brainstorm solutions to ensure future academic successes.
- Scheduled one-on-ones — Schedule meetings with each of your students to have them discuss their learning while minimizing the distractions that come from having a classroom full of other students. These can be sessions for all students focused on their accumulated learning/skills, or make-up sessions for students who missed an in-class verbal feedback day or for those needing a bit of extra help. In fact, some of our high schools have weekly Academic Seminars which is a great time to ask students to come in for a verbal feedback session. (Don’t have Academic Seminar? I’ve also seen teachers opt to use their lunch period, Target hour, prep period, and/or before/after school for this same purpose.)
- Make the most of your time together by having talking points sketched out in advance.
- Let students know ahead of time the general area(s) that will be discussed. This limits anxiousness that can sometimes turn into poor behavior choices while students wait their turn.
- Ensure that students, when not being conferenced with, are engaged fully in the day’s activity before starting to pull individuals/groups back for verbal conferences. This often means a culture of engaged learning has been established earlier in the semester, prior to the introduction of verbal feedback conferences.
- Keep conferences short and focused on the topic at hand. It’s easy to let other concerns and agendas squeeze in, but then there’s a risk of students not understanding the purpose of such conferences as well as you potentially not getting to all students in a sufficient timeframe.
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Have Students Assess Each Other
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Homework feedback — Rather than collecting and scoring what student did the day before, have them get together with a partner or a small group and go over the problems or questions you’ve assigned. Have them identify what answers they agreed on and then what answers they disagreed on. Have them compare how they came to their answers—whether they be the same or different. Then, facilitate a full class discussion on the elements that the duo/group struggled with.
- Essay editing — Whether you have partners swap, do paper rotations with no names attached, or have students get together in struggle-alike groups, this is a great way for students to learn from each other while simultaneously being exposed to others’ writings, helping them broaden their own personal understanding.
- Lab report evaluation — Lab groups commonly follow differing procedures, arrive at different results, and/or have varying degrees of details in their notes. Giving students opportunities to see other groups’ lab reports allows them to see their own gaps, struggles, and errors (along with their own successes).
- Project evaluations — Putting students into like-topic or project-type-alike groups and having them provide feedback often gives students a chance to see what they personally missed.
- Students don’t often know intrinsically what good feedback looks like, so first model what these conversations should sound like and consist of.
- Consider norming their expectations by having them look at a “high,” “medium,” and “low” example (specifically when doing peer editing or having peers provide feedback on labs/projects) and having them provide feedback as a whole class, then you can guide them into what feedback is helpful, on pointe, and constructive before they go it alone.
- Provide a guide, such as a rubric or a checklist, to help them stay focused on the learning at hand.
- Commonly teachers have students do this before they turn in the final, often graded, assignment/essay/lab report/project. Adding in this step helps students see what to change before turning in the final version—helping them achieve a better outcome on the final version AND making that final version easier for you to provide feedback on (since work done well is often faster to mark).
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Have Students Assess Themselves
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Self-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, give them some possible correct answers or some specific questions to help them decide if they went down a path that’s viable. Then, have them reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Peer-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, have them join a partner or small group. Then, have them collectively decide on what answers are correct/viable. Once they’ve worked with peers, provide them with a key or detailed rubric, have them score their own work, and then reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Metacognition on processes followed/learning gained — Have students reflect on their score/answers/feedback after you’ve returned a marked homework task, quiz/test, essay, or project. Go over what parameters you used to score them and then have students agree/disagree with this score using the parameters you shared (debate—making an argument that’s supported with detailed explanations—also has a high effect size).
- The trick here is to not simply have students score themselves using an answer key, checklist, or simple rubric, but rather to have them really look at how the decisions they made, the thinking they followed, etc. lead to the outcome. So, while an answer key, checklist, or rubric may be the first step, it’s important to then have students identify areas of struggle, answer questions about how they studied, and plan for how their learning today will impact their actions tomorrow.
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Embrace the Google Suite
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Quick individualized feedback— In Google Forms, when you turn it into a ‘quiz’, you can provide individual feedback. Students receive the feedback almost instantly this way. Plus, for many of us, typing feedback is faster than handwriting it. (Likewise, for many of us, reading typed responses from students is easier than reading their handwriting.)
- Quick rubric feedback — Especially with writing, timely feedback can be difficult. However, in 2017 many of us are collecting our essays online. If you’re not already, consider having students write their papers in Google Docs and then turn their papers in via Google Classroom. If you do this, then you can utilize the Google Add-ons of Doctopus and Goobric. When used together, this makes returning feedback via a teacher-created rubric quick, simple, and paperless.
- Unless you’re super tech-savy, avoid tackling both of these at once.
- Providing individual feedback via Google Forms is the simpler of the two ideas listed above. Want to start simple? Try starting there.
Ideally, some of these tools can help ensure that you have a holiday break free of stacks of tests to grade and/or papers to mark.
When you return from break, hopefully refreshed and ready for the new year, let your instructional coach(es) or one of us from the secondary C&I team know if you’d like to explore any of these ideas together. We’d love to help you save some time.
Grading for Learning (Part II)
Why do I assign grades to student work?
What purpose should student grades serve?
What elements should I use in determining student grades?
How can I best represent student learning in my grading?
As you may remember from the first post of this blog series, I used to assign homework to my German students based upon what workbook pages were linked to the textbook pages we had covered that day in class. Seemed simple and purposeful enough at the time, which it very well could have been for some of my students. Had I stopped for even a minute to think about the differing levels of understanding amongst my students I would have realized that some of my students were not ready to complete those assignments on their own, at home, and/or with a parent/guardian who likely didn’t speak or read German. I also had students who were advanced enough in their learning that the work I was assigning was a simple compliance task and took time away from learning that was likely more important for them at the time. Additionally, the feedback I provided was simply nonexistent. I was more concerned about if students completed their homework and paid little attention to their demonstrated learning or to identifying gaps in my own instruction.
So what would I suggest to teachers questioning the validity of their homework assignments? I think there are a handful of things you can do and you might even select more than one of these ideas to implement:
- Customize homework assignments to student proficiency levels. In addition to your traditional “on-pace” homework assignments, identify practice work that would be ideal for a student who is already proficient in the task at hand, working in application and extension. At the same time identify practice work that supports students who have not yet demonstrated proficiency. This will instantly make homework more meaningful for your students and will provide you with more accurate feedback on all students.
- Limit homework assignments to only those that have direct purpose and impact on student learning. If the assignment is not likely to provide you or the student with meaningful feedback, let it go.
- Reduce the quantity/length of assignments students are asked to complete. A student doesn’t need 40 long division problems to demonstrate that they either have or have not reached a level of proficiency…5 should be sufficient.
- Don’t grade it! This is becoming increasingly more common in classrooms around our district and other districts. Homework is practice and should not come with a consequence, either positive or negative, that affects an academic grade. If you are concerned about students not completing their homework if it isn’t graded, simply make practice work required in order for students to take a summative assessment.
- Don’t assign it! Specifically prior to grade 9 there is no definitive research that shows that homework increases student achievement. Additionally there is no research that shows it teaches responsibility and/or accountability. If used as pure practice and if it results in meaningful feedback for the student it certainly has its place in the classroom. If not, it is imperative that we revisit the why.
- Random – This type of extra credit includes additional projects or tasks that students can complete outside of the regular classroom instruction or assessment. This would include awarding academic credit for bringing a box of tissues to class, attending a cultural event or performance and writing a report on the experience, etc.
- Add-ons – This type of extra credit includes enrichment or expansion added to already existing formative or summative assessments. An optional challenge question on a test would be a good example of add-on extra credit.
My suggestion for extra credit if far more straightforward than for homework. I believe that if the content and/or learning is important and purposeful it should be a part of your required formative or summative assessment. If not, then we shouldn’t be awarding academic credit for it.
As always, I am more than happy to discuss these and other topics related to grading and reporting with anyone interested in the topic. Please look for Part III of the 'Grading for Learning' blog series, which will be posted in late February: I'll be discussing academic dishonesty and late work!
Here is an example of a lesson that I learned a lot from:
For the first ten minutes of our math block, my co-teacher and I introduced polygons to our students. Ten minutes into the lesson, it occurred to me that we, the teachers, had been doing all the talking. We decided to have students do a quick Turn and Talk.
I told the students, “Tell your elbow partner the characteristics of polygons.”
Things started to go awry immediately. Immediately, we had students asking to go to the bathroom, some were looking at their iPads, other partner sets said one or two words to each other and then nothing more, while other students didn’t say anything at all but instead just looked at each other. My first thought was, I guess we need to keep teaching about polygons because they don’t seem to understand polygons yet. Instead, I should have thought, Did I teach our students how to Turn and Talk? That's where I went wrong: I had assumed our students knew how to speak in an academic manner to each other. I was very wrong!
So, here are some eight steps to help you not make the same mistake by instead creating an environment that teaches students how to build the skills needed to interact with one another and to use academic language (Echevarría and Short).
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Teach students how to listen to each other.
If we want students to talk, we need to teach them also how to listen. What does listening to each other look like? Model for students what active listening looks like. Have students practice listening skills using social conversations first (i.e. tell each other about their favorite TV show) and then move into more content-rich conversations.
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What types of respectful words or phrases do you hear (I agree with you because…, I don't know that I can agree with you, and here's why...)? Provide sentence frames and model how to use them. Hang them up or write them on the board for students as a reference or to keep in a journal.
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Make sure students know the goal of the lesson. That way they know if their academic conversations are on-topic or on-target. If they are not on-topic, remind them of the target or objective to help get them back on track.
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If you want students to increase their academic language, then make sure questions lend themselves to higher-order thinking skills. Questions should make students think, clarify, predict, or explain. A question such as “Tell your partner one fact about the Gettysburg Address” could be changed to “What do you think the reaction of the crowd was after President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address and why would he have reacted that way?”
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Students often need to be taught how to keep a conversation going. Put question and sentence frames around the room that expand discussions, such as Tell me more about …, Why do you think… I heard you say…, That made me think of …, Do you think that …, or That idea connects to the story by …. These frames allow students to build on each other’s thoughts and create engaging conversations.
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Academic speaking and listening are deeply tied to reading and writing. Student discussions that are linked to text bring forth deeper academic discussions.
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Think about how long it will take students to talk to each other. Don’t let a turn and talk that lasts 1-2 minutes turn into 10 minutes. This creates wasted academic time and often leads to off-task behavior.
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Let students know that you are listening to them. Walk around and listen to what they are saying. Have a clipboard and write down what students say. Them, when the class is brought back together, talk about the great conversations you heard. Provide examples and discuss why these conversations were so powerful. This will motivate students moving forward because they know you are listening and sharing out their examples and ideas.
And, of course, feel free to connect with me directly. I would love to help you increase the academic talk in your classroom.
- Echevarría , Jana and Deborah Short. Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: the SIOP Model, fourth ed., 2017.
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Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Grading For Learning
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective