Back in April of 2016, I posted this blog entry about grading and specifically how my own classroom practice changed when I read Rick Wormelli's Fair Isn't Always Equal (a new edition is coming out soon).

I won't rehash that entry but I'm excited to share that two local districts recently had in Wormelli for an assessment institute and the teachers who volunteered to attend loved it. They were excited about idea and there was lots of talk about making some quick and simple changes: Allowing retakes (lots of them). Making homework and classwork practice and work very, very little. Keeping the focus on kids as developing learners, not as receptacles trying to hold all the knowledge poured out by the teacher.

These changes reverberated as I read a piece by Carol Ann Tomlinson in this month's Educational Leadership published by ASCD. She speaks about giving a low grade to a student on a writing assignment and the student's mom calling in and saying that she (Tomlinson) ruined her son's interest in writing. Her response:

Early in the conversation, [mom] asked [her son] to explain to me how he felt about the low grade. Apparently she had not discussed the issue with him in advance, and she was clearly surprised by his response. "It's OK," he said, "because it's the grade I earned. I didn't really try at all on the assignment, and Ms. T. did her best to encourage me to do good work."

She goes on to talk about building trust with parents; how to develop shared goals between teacher, student, and parent; and how she (Tomlinson), had "a depth of knowledge about the age group I taught that a parent is unlikely to achieve. On the other hand, parents had a depth of knowledge about their children that I couldn't piece together myself."

Many times, the grade in the (now mostly online) gradebook is the most frequent communication parents and guardians get from their teachers. That's why it's especially important to ensure grades reflect what we really want to say about a student. Hopefully your gradebook celebrates successes and promises parents that you're still working to help those who haven't met benchmarks yet.

A few other random thoughts or resources related to grading that have been on my mind:
  • What is your district policy on grades? On end of year rankings? Do they empower teachers to make reasonable changes in their classrooms to move towards standards-based grading or do they dictate a grading format? If it's the later, why? Does the board even know?
  • What about un-grading? Alfie Kohn's website is full of provocative articles but I find myself directing people to The Case Against Grades (2011) frequently. It makes great points about how standards-based grading isn't perfect and makes actual suggestions for alternatives like inviting students to talk with the teacher about assigning grades, using more comments.
  • Another great article in Education Leadership--this one by Dylan William called The Secret of Effective Feedback. "We say things like, 'You should be able to do this. You're in 5th grade'—which, when you think about it, is not helpful... We need to start from where the learner is, not where we would like the learner to be." How do we do this? Give tasks that "illuminate students' thinking". He lists a whole slew of great ideas including building students' capacity for self-assessment which clearly connects to Project CRISS' focus on reflection and metacognition.
  • A common question I get: How do I ensure students do their reflections? How do I grade them? My answer, you don't. If you don't like the depth of reflections you're getting provide templates (paragraph templates, sentence frames, sentence starters) or take the time to sit and talk with the student and help outline their response as you deeply listen. Pay attention to the responses and note when you see or hear a student doing something reflective. Have classroom conversations about how everyone is learning. Again, you're meeting students where they are at. Some students are very mindful. Some need practice. Let's move them all forward and view that as a success.

  • Have a great start to the school year!

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