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Seeking "Gradeless" Sanity

This entry was originally published on my personal blog here.

It has been awhile since my last entry. Life and work got a little overwhelming, in retrospect. The midterm part of the semester contributed to that (you can read about it here) on top of having 3 straight days of PL/a conference to attend to and I was well behind where I would have liked to be in terms of giving feedback to student. Summative evaluations began to pile up, the essentials had to be prioritized and returned first. No matter what anybody tells you, 84 students is a lot.

But too often this number of students for a secondary educator is a normal reality. So we need to make this better. We need to find ways to meet student's needs, give them the feedback they need and deserve, and still come out sane on the other side. I wish I could tell you that this reflection was going to provide you with the magic answer. But...I don't have it...

Yet.

I am determined to find a way. I am determined to figure out how to be able to leverage students to become effective self- and peer-assessors, despite having a curriculum that is loaded so heavily with content. There must be a way. I have spent time reading (and even talking to) Starr Sackstein and reading books about descriptive feedback. I have spent time talking to other educators, in various subjects, who are on a journey to better feedback (many of whom are on a journey to "gradeless" - or at least "grading less"). And I am sold - I have "drank the kool-aid" (as many have put it). I believe that what I am trying to do is good for kids - that it leads to improved learning and skill building, better self-confidence, ownership of learning, and is more likely to lead to growth mindset of life-long learning. What I am not able to find, is anyone who can help me find solutions that work in a content-based subject/curriculum. I believe that what I see now would make for some amazing learning in language classes. But I am still struggling to wrap my head around how it is possible to meet with provincial policy (i.e. cover the expectations of my course) and still be sane at the end of the school year.

Here is what I know:

1. Overarching learning goals and my learning map provide:
  • Focus for my course
  • Direction for students
  • Clear, transparent assessment & evaluation that is rooted in curriculum & policy
  • A third point for conversation around evaluation and reporting
  • Something tangible for students to deconstruct and make meaning from
  • A way for students to engage in self- and peer-assessment (descriptive feedback)
  • A way for students to self-evaluate (know where they are)
2. Overarching learning goals and my learning map do NOT (yet?) provide:
  • A way to help students see that sometimes the skills are hindered by the content knowledge (i.e. why they are meeting expectations in this area when studying trigonometry, but may not be when studying quadratic relations)
  • the ability to "spiral" material in a course that has curriculum strands that are not related in any obvious ways (but this is also something I could see working on in the future)
  • A way for students to give themselves and others feedback around individual content criteria needed (and honestly, I would love to de-emphasize this in my head as I honestly believe that mathematical thinking skills are the most important part)
  • An effective way to record evidence of learning so I can track student progress (I am finding recording to be much more time-consuming than in the past)
3. Giving descriptive feedback helps:
  • Students focus on learning
  • Teachers focus on what is the most important at the time
  • Students to identify potential next steps
  • Students improve their learning
  • Show students what you really value
4. Giving descriptive feedback takes:
  • Time (giving "out of" marks is definitely faster, but I still very much believe has little real value)
  • Effort
  • Additional thought
  • You to an uncomfortable place (so much cognitive dissonance!)
5. No matter how many times I am kicked down, I love what I do. And I will bounce back. I will accept my short-falls in the past, set goals for the future, and keep coming back for more.

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This entry was originally published on my personal blog here.

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