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Questions Coming from "Going Gradeless" in Secondary Math

This post was originally posted on my personal blog here.

Going "gradeless" (using feedback-focused assessment) has brought about some great things with students, but often leads to more question than answers about my assessment practices. If you are reading this and have any ideas or suggestions I would love to hear from you!

Overarching Learning Goals & Learning Maps

I have started my year in grade 10 math with a set of learning goals and an incomplete learning map. I went into this process with an understanding that these documents will always be working documents. Changes will be needed depending on the group of students and changing needs of the course/society/etc. I am only 6 weeks into the semester and already envisioning the need for changes just based on pedagogy and assessment policy. Some of the reasons for this will be become more evidence in the topic below.

My learning map only has descriptors for level 3, which is partly by design.
1) I couldn't figure out how to describe the learning for 4 levels since I had not even tried using these goals for standards-based grading
2) I want student language to be used on the map so really need their voice to complete it
Hopefully I can get to a point soon where I have enough student evidence to show them that they can help me with that.

The Achievement Chart

I am grappling with the achievement chart in math - I am a fan of ensuring that we are assessing using all 4 categories (for those of you outside of Ontario those are Knowledge & Understanding, Application, Communication and Thinking) but I am struggling with the "descriptors" that Ontario uses to split them into 4 levels and even more grappling with what it means to have knowledge & understanding at a level 4 (exceeding expectations) when removed from thinking. I cannot get away from the idea that to show level 4 K&U you must also be showing T.

Manageable Feedback

This is the biggest question for me in out TLLP. How do I give students the feedback in math that they need and deserve in a manageable way? If I were to do all of what I think is beneficial I would literally not sleep. When everything is in place I will try to find ways to do it a bit more electronically so there is less hand writing to do, but the idea still baffles me in such a skill-based course (with the sheer volume of skills/understanding they need).

If anyone has any idea I would love to hear them. There is only so much that they can accomplish through self- and peer-feedback.

Managing Conferencing

I love doing interviews with kids about math. It is always an eye-opening look into what they actually understand (sometimes things they have not been able to articulate on paper and sometimes finding out just how much they are memorizing and not understanding). When I was teaching senior courses I usually found the time I needed to have these conferences, but I am having more trouble doing so with junior courses. It is a to harder to get them to be automonous for 3 days so that I can have the time needed.

Any ideas are welcome!


  1. Hi Heather,
    I am in the same boat as you for the 'learning map;' similarly, my learning goals are currently 'I can' statements that I have written (I'd prefer it to be student language), and each one indicates something that students should be able to demonstrate. I think of them as 'level 3' indicators and my goal is for all students to demonstrate each one by the end of the learning cycle. I think you and I are having similar struggles defining what 'level 4' looks like if we're aiming for mastery in a standards-based model. I have similar issues with the achievement chart; I have never been able to 'uncouple' knowledge from the higher order thinking skills students need to use to achieve level 4. This is less of an issue for me this semester because I have chosen to not record grades by achievement chart category. The achievement chart categories are known by students (and I keep track of them so that I know my assessments are balanced) but I can have a question that is 'K and T' without worrying about over-analyzing things.
    Regarding feedback, I have one idea to share that I have been enjoying. In the last couple of weeks I have been using exit tickets in a different way than I used to. (Forgive me if it's not new to you, but I have found it helps me help students get focused feedback in a short timeframe.) After class I quickly categorize student responses (group them based on similar errors) and record a level (formative) for that skill. (I do not write on the tickets at all, just categorize them by using a marker to put a same-coloured dot on their paper or putting the same sticker on them.) The next day students get together in groups at the start of class based on the type of error. As a group, students work to determine their next steps based on their mistake/misconception. (I scattered students with correct responses throughout the other groups as a source of information and support.) Each group, by the end of their ~5-10 minutes together, must record (on the board or whiteboard) an example of the error made within their group and the next steps required to fix it. It's a great way for all students to see the common errors. Finally, while this is happening I meet in a small group with the students who had the most difficulty on the task so that I can give them each more detailed feedback/support. I have come to really value this small group instruction time.
    Finally, regarding student conferences, I have had similar difficulties in my grade 9 class vs. my grade 12 class in finding time to meet with students one on one. I don't have a solution to this problem - yet. :) Maybe someone else will have some ideas?
    Thanks for sharing,


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