Some of you may have read one or more of my previous blog entries related to Grading for Learning (linked below). As evidenced in those past posts, and supported by anyone who has ever ventured into a conversation with me about grading, I certainly am not short on words when it comes to this topic. It is a passion of mine that I don’t hide very well!
For today’s post, I thought I would step outside of my comfort zone and go in the complete opposite direction: almost NO words!
Disclaimer: this blog entry and its contents are intended to be lighthearted; yet, on topic. I did my best to find relevant memes with a low likelihood of offending readers. If I have missed either target, I do apologize.
Why Grading for Learning is important
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #1: Homework, quizzes, and other daily tasks are formative practice and should not negatively impact a summative academic grade
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #2: Reassessment is allowed on all summative assessments
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #3: Nonacademic factors are not counted in the summative academic grade
Grading for Learning, Big Idea #4: Only evidence of student proficiency toward learning targets on summative assessments is used to reach a summative academic grade
If you’d like to read any of my previous blog entries focused on Grading for Learning (G4L), visit the hyperlinks below. (But do know, they’re much wordier than the post above!)
If you have any questions about Grading for Learning, please do not hesitate to connect with me.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
Lately, I have been thinking about my own education and how I, as a student, have changed over time. In my K-12 education, I was a successful student who was “good at school.” I did what the teachers and adults asked, I followed their examples of how to solve problems (I could follow any procedure in math when I knew the formula and worked through a few with the teacher), I followed their rules (no running, no swearing, etc.), and was always considered a “good kid.” Once I went to college to get my undergrad and later my master’s degree, I realized I wasn’t as "good at school" as I had once thought.
When I look back at why this shift occurred, I realize it was because as a K-12 student I wasn’t as interested in the learning and understanding of what I did, as I was with getting good grades (I was a passive learner), having teachers and classmates like me (the 'relator' in me) and being labeled as a "good student" and friend. Now, don’t get me wrong: I did learn a lot during my K-12 years of education and I had a lot of great teachers, I just didn’t always strive to know or better understand the “why” behind what I was learning. I simply wasn’t motivated to do so.
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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.
- Homework — I assigned homework almost every day without ever considering the value or purpose of the assignment, a destructive practice by itself. To compound that mistake, I checked for homework completion religiously, assigning students 2 points if the work was complete, 1 point if it was partially complete, and 0 points if it was missing. I now recognize that unless my students took it upon themselves to check their work for understanding, the work I was asking them to do was essentially meaningless.
- Extra Credit — I provided students with a menu of options for earning extra credit. Included on this list was bringing a box of tissues for the class. I now realize there were both instructional and equity issues with my practice. Instructionally I was detracting from the importance of the course curriculum and awarding credit for work that may or may not have been connected to what I truly wanted students to know and be able to do. From an equity standpoint I never stopped to consider the fact that some of my students’ families likely couldn’t afford tissues for their own home, let alone my classroom.
- Academic Dishonesty — I employed a policy related to cheating that was likely very common at the time. If a student was caught cheating on an assignment or assessment they relinquished all credit and were not afforded an opportunity to complete a make-up. I realize now that my tactics were punitive and made the behavior and consequence more important than the learning.
- Late Work — Similar to academic dishonesty, I subtracted credit from students who submitted assignments after the stated due date, sometime to the point of awarding no credit. This practice prioritized “when” my students were learning as opposed to “if” they were learning.
So what questions would I pose to my first-year-teacher self? There are four of them—simple in nature, but can be very difficult to answer:
- Why do I assign grades to student work?
- Ideally, what purpose should grades serve?
- What elements should I use in determining student grades?
- How can I best represent student learning in my grading?
These are the four questions that were posed to the Secondary Grading Committee when they created the Purpose and Beliefs document related to grading, as shown below:
In subsequent blog posts, I will be sharing some tips and tricks within some of these key grading and reporting areas. In the meantime, I encourage you to talk about grading and reporting with your colleagues and, if you don’t mind a good dose of passion, contact me and I'll join the conversation!
Shared here are the basics of Fishbowl Discussions, combined with many of the alterations I have had the pleasure of observing district-wide.
Setting up the 'Basic Bowl'
Such a description often varies depending on who you ask, but the basics remain the same:
- The inner circle, often consisting of 10 students or fewer, discusses or works through a question/set of questions, a shared text, or a problem
- The outer circle, often consisting the rest of the class, observes, takes notes, silently assists the inner circle, etc.
Teaching Students How to Fishbowl
- Share an explanatory handout with them ahead of time—let them have this with them during the Fishbowl (one such example can be found here)
- Have the basic expectations up on the screen/board for them to reference during the Fishbowl discussion—an example of what this might look like is shown here:
- Share a sample Fishbowl with students (i.e. create a video that you can show students, such as the Chemistry Fishbowl shown below, created by Maria Tan): when sharing a video, try taking time to analyze with students what participants in the video are doing well or could improve upon
Ideas for Insuring Students are Prepared
- After telling students the over-arching topic/problem and/or providing them with the reading that will be the focus of the Fishbowl discussion, give students Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs/sentence stems and have them prepare questions from all/some of the various levels. Then, on the day of the Fishbowl, consider doing one or more of the following:
- Expect students to ask at least one of their prepared questions
- Have students track which of their personally prepared questions are asked by different students as well as which ones they personally ask, and then have students reflect afterward on why unanswered questions were left unasked
- Suggest that students use the questions they prepared but do not require it (their preparation alone will raise the quality of the dialog)
- After telling students the over-arching topic/problem and/or providing them with the reading that will be the focus of the Fishbowl discussion, give students the questions/unique sub-topic/critical lens that their group will be answering/focusing on. Then, have students do outside research or find direct text-support for that answers/supports their provided questions/unique sub-topics/critical lenses
Ideas for Structuring the ‘Bowl’
- Give each group a different problem/sub-topic/question/lens from which to approach the same over-arching topic and/or text
- Give each group a different over-arching topic/text on which to focus and then expect the outside circle to learn from the inside circle’s conversations
- Have students choose which group they want to be a part of (may be based on topic, on day the group will discuss, etc.)
- As a teacher, divide students into groups based on their participation tendencies (i.e. if you need three groups, divide students into those who tend to be dominators, be balanced participants, and be reluctant speakers)
- As a teacher, divide students into groups that are balanced as far as how much preparation students are likely to have done
- As a teacher, divide students into groups based on skillsets/ability (i.e. if you have students who are strong in the area that this Fishbowl will focus on, give them harder questions, a more challenging area of focus, and/or a more complex text to read)
Creating a 'Fancy Aquarium'
- Once students are familiar with Fishbowling, have two Fishbowls going at once (consider having students take over whatever role you typically play as teacher so that you can float between each conversation)
Inner Circle Modifications
- Chipping: To help students be aware of the types of contributions they are making and/or to help ensure balanced voices, try giving each students a certain number of disks (such as tiddlywinks or poker chips) or cards (playing cards or cut pieces of paper): each time a student speaks, he/she tosses a disk/card into the center. Students can no longer speak once all out of disks/cards.*
- Color-Coding: Take the concept of Chipping and kick it up a notch by giving each color/suit a unique meaning. This way, students grow aware of not only how often they participate, but also of how well they contribute.**
Green = ‘Contributor+’ comments (give students a majority of these pieces)
Red = ‘Contributor’ comments
Yellow = ‘Supporter/Peacekeeper/Gatekeeper’ comments (give students 1-2 of these)
* Put a blanket down in the center of the circle to keep the disks from bouncing/making noise--
it also makes clean-up easier
** When coding by color/suit, the first few times students try it you may want to hold up the color coinciding with each comment made so they develop an understanding of differences
- Co-piloting: Create copilots where each outer circle person silently assists an inner circle person by writing a possible question/point/quote on a note card/ sticky note and passing to their assigned person in the ‘Bowl’—in most cases there may be two students assigned to each inner-circle participant
- Tapping-In: Create partnerships of 2-3 students. ‘Partner A’ begins in the inner circle—after she’s made at least 2 comments but no more than 5 comments ‘Partner B/C’ taps and takes her place: this rotation continues until the conversation is over (a variation of this is shown in the above two videos)
- Feedback Providers: Have students in the outer circle provide feedback to those in the inner circle. Two common methods:
- Give students the same tally sheet that the teacher might use and have them tally during the discussion: this often provides a great conversation starter, as many students will not have the same results and you can discuss the subjectivity and difficulty of scoring a discussion
- Have students analyze only one inner circle student. Provide the observers with a few areas to focus on and/or questions to answer, and then after the discussion is over he/she gives feedback to the speaker he/she observed (consider pairing stronger discussants with weaker discussants)
- Back-Channeling: Set outside participants up with a “back channel”—a digital conversation that runs concurrently with the face-to-face activity—that they can use to silently discuss the topic-at-hand while the inner circle discusses aloud...just be sure to set up parameters ahead of time.* (Should you wish to try this strategy, don't let the logistics be your stumbling block--reach out to one of our Instructional Technologists. )
Some common back-channels are:
* It’s often a good idea for the teacher to be one of the active participants in these discussions
You can see in this short Fishbowl Sample video that teacher Matt Baier has his students using a Back Channel .
Ideas for Providing Feedback
Inner Circle Feedback
- Teacher Checklist: Have a teacher checklist where the teacher tallies each student’s contributions by noting what type of contribution he/she is making.**
- Video Reflection: Videotape the discussion and then share it with students. Then, have each student analyze his/her own contributions to the discussion. (Students can use the same categories as on the teacher checklist and/or a simple 3-2-1 reflection.)**
- A Quick-Write: Ask students one question pertaining to each inner circle over-arching topic/problem and/or text—have them draft a short paragraph answering each question.
Outer & Inner Circle Feedback
- Personal Metacognition: Have students complete a quick questionnaire or 3-2-1 reflection after they complete their Fishbowl discussion.
Enjoy our Blog!
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