Step Five: Starting the #StopGrading Conversation with Students

“Is Alfie Kohn right or is his argument total crap?”

So went the opening question for the Socratic seminar I planned for the first day of school Friday.

Rather than reviewing a syllabus with my seniors, rather than doing any long-winded introductions, rather than previewing what we’d be doing in class for the year, I planned instead to ask students to read a short text (one page front and back of excerpts from Alfie Kohn’s “Case Against Grades”), write some notes in the margin, and then join me for a Socratic seminar conversation.

The success of my entire lesson plan hinged on this moment. I hoped that when I posed that first opening question, I would actually have a few students brave enough to be sitting there with me in the middle of the classroom ready to talk out their ideas about Kohn’s argument against grades.

In my classroom, talking in a Socratic seminar conversation is always a choice. After I briefly review my Socratic seminar guidelines , I invite students to pull their desks into the middle to be part of the conversation or to stay right where they are to listen instead. Before some students will talk in this kind of conversation, they need to feel connected to the classroom community, trusting that it will be safe to voice their ideas, certain that the teacher won’t somehow wound them by taking away points if they don’t say the right thing.

On the first day of school, there had not yet been any time to establish any of this. It was certainly a risk.

But I was banking on the text, that it would be enough to inspire students to want enough to say something that they would pull their desk into a conversation in the middle of a new classroom with a new teacher on the first day of school.

And they did.

About ten students brought their desks in to talk about Kohn’s argument in my first class, and all but about seven of my students did in my second class. It was that third class that provided a few awkward moments–I was sitting out there all alone as the students looked back and forth at each other. Slowly, four brave students started scooting their desks into the middle of the room. And after the students talked for a bit, I paused the conversation and asked the class if anyone else wanted to join in now–four more students came to the center to widen the circle.

In all three conversations, there was more agreement with Kohn than not. Students who thought his argument didn’t work focused less on grades being an important motivator (though there was some of that) and more on how they couldn’t see any way to skirt grades in our system that revolves so centrally around them.

As students spoke to each other regarding their thoughts about Kohn’s argument, I very deliberately said nothing. I listened. I kept an eye on the clock. I had one more question I wanted them to chew on. With a few minutes remaining in class I asked, “Based on what we’ve done today, what do you expect from this class?”

A few beats of silence.

And then they began to say the things that made me very hopeful:

  • I think the focus will be on learning more than grades.
  • I hope I’ll look forward to coming to this class because I can just learn and not worry about losing points for stupid stuff.
  • I think we’ll have more conversations like this.
  • I think there will be choice for us to make the work meaningful for us.

A student in my third class turned to me and said, “what about you–do you agree with Kohn?”

The whole class looked at me–it seemed that they were hoping to discover at that moment whether or not I would use grades in class as they were used to having them.

“I’ll guess you’ll have to read my letter to find out the answer to that.” I was referring to my first assignment to them, to read a letter I’ve written about my classroom  and to write me back to tell me what I need to know about them as readers, writers, and human beings in order to be their teacher.

I walked out of my classroom energized and excited. I was so thrilled that they were willing to talk and listen to each other. My goals for the day were to show them that I would expect them to work (handed them a task the moment they walked in the door), that their ideas and voices mattered (central piece of the lesson was a Socratic seminar conversation where all I did was ask two questions–the conversation space was full of their thoughts and ideas), that everyone’s voice would be heard (the critique after the seminar conversation did this–I asked every student in the room to tell us briefly what they noticed about the seminar conversation). I hope they are curious about the class and happy to come back into the classroom tomorrow. My lesson plan was risky, and they answered that by taking risks themselves.

This is a good start.

The first day conversation didn’t lay out what would happen with grades in my class. All of those details will come to them over the next several weeks. But what did happen was the start of an important foundation. They read an argument against grades, responded to it, and discussed it with each other. The thoughts are rolling around in their heads. They are ready to hear more, to understand why I won’t put a grade on any individual assignment, to know why it’s important that they choose their own learning objectives, to be ready to work together as a class to construct an agreement that outlines what it would mean to get an A for the semester.

Those pieces will come. For now, here’s a sampling of the things they wrote in the margins of Kohn’s argument–you can see that our conversation will be ongoing; lots to talk about here:

  • I’ve lost so much interest in LA over the last three years. My friends have too. I felt unsafe taking a risk, so I wasn’t growing.
  • I think a lot more about grades than learning in general.
  • I can’t really remember a lot of the things that I have been tested on.
  • How much does a learning-oriented class (rather than a grading-oriented class) improve students’ intelligence?
  • Some people are driven to learn with grades. There is a sense of satisfaction when getting back a good grade.
  • Grades take out creativity in a subject.
  • But the grades system makes sure students are learning.
  • Last minute essay writing–just throw words down to get a grade.
  • Cheat to get good grade means learning taken away.
  • Grades are a reward but at a horrible cost.
  • Grades are different to others. All students should have an independent scale.
  • Grades don’t mean you aren’t smart.
  • Grades bring stress and reduce learning.
  • Don’t like grades. They DON’T help.
  • We strive for an “A,” not for an education.
  • When given a goal to shoot for, there is little motivation to go above and beyond.
  • Pressure drives students to partake in dishonest actions.
  • I stop caring about grades if I like the class.
  • Teacher doesn’t like you = fail then.
  • Grades make me want to do well but not learn and remember.
  • Grades force you into becoming a pawn.
  • How are we supposed to know if we’re doing well without grades?
  • Students are more focused on what the teacher wants rather than their own ideas.
  • Causes students to prefer the easy way and not work for it.
  • Students don’t get the full potential out of books. Instead they skim text and don’t learn.
  • We would rather do well on something we already know than take chances and risk getting a bad grade.
  • We’re like robots who have one mindset.
  • No fun in grades. Just sloppy work just to do well. You learn more when having fun.
  • Grades are simply a number on a scale. They don’t define you.
  • I do wonder why this teacher is being like this?
  • Grades can possibly be used as a mile marker, giving students something to improve upon.

This is the sixth post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.

You can read other posts in the series here.  Start with the first post, “The English Teacher’s Holy Grail: #StopGrading” to read about how this series came to be.

This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.

Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.

Check out this folder if you’d like to share your gradeless classroom resources with each other (and with me!) and/or enter into more conversation by joining the Google Group a reader set up. 

And I’d love to hear from you to help me craft this series. Either leave me a comment below or fill out this quick form.

 

Posted in #StopGrading, assessment, blog series, fall 2016 blog series, grading, making change, not grading, student feedback, teaching | 6 Comments

Step Four: Get Admin Behind Your Efforts to #StopGrading

It was fortunate that the moment I decided to stop grading, my assistant principal was sitting right next to me listening to Alfie Kohn make his case against grades in a conference presentation at NCTE in Boston in November of 2013. I turned to her and told her that I was done–no more grades–and she knew exactly why and where the decision had come from. Since then it has been an ongoing conversation.

This is not the way it typically goes down for teachers. More typically a teacher wants to move away from traditional grading and hasn’t yet had the conversation with the administrator and might be pretty anxious about it. One of the most frequent questions I’ve been getting from readers is about how to get administration on board in supporting efforts to back off on grading in your classroom.

It’s important to remember that we are not the only users of our gradebook data.

Our administrators need our gradebook data for reasons beyond our classrooms. They need it for 6-week or 9-week progress reports. They need it for weekly athletic/activity eligibility. They need it for the reports they run to figure out which pockets of our students are struggling and need more support. They have expectations for our gradebooks based on the data they need for many different reasons. It’s important for us to understand those needs.

My school’s data needs are the reason why I make sure my gradebook spits out a number throughout the semester. I make it a number that communications something meaningful that is not a grade–a completion percentage that lets all interested parties know whether or not students are keeping up with their work (read more about this here). This has worked in my context. You’ll have to figure out what will work in yours.

The key is communication. Schedule a meeting with your administrator. Ask what your school’s needs are for your gradebook data and listen carefully. Share your hopes for deflecting your students’ gaze from their grades, the ideas you have for getting there, and research that helps to support your reasons for making the shift. Ask your administrator to help you figure out how to realize those goals while still producing the number data your school needs.

Said one of my administrators the other day in an opening meeting for the school year: “I know some of you are trying out some different things with grades. Please just remember to think about the impact that what you put in the gradebook has on students and our school. Make sure we have what we need there.” Exactly. I do not teach in a vacuum and neither do you. We can make meaningful change around grading, but it has to make sense within the unique contexts where we each teach.

I’ve never met an administrator who didn’t support an idea for innovation centered on improving students’ experiences in school, helping them to learn more–especially if the plan for enacting the innovation took into account the particular needs of the school.

We can’t totally flout the system–there’s much about it that individual teachers cannot control. But once we know the bounds of the contexts where we teach, we can find the spaces to innovate within them. This creates a spirit of cooperation, of good will, of trust and understanding between us, our colleagues, and our administrators.

Movements are about people, people who grow to trust each other and make change together. Once we do bump up against some barrier that completely stops progress, it’s that spirit of cooperation and trust built up over time that can help us blow through it together.


This is the fifth post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.

You can read other posts in the series here.  Start with the first post, “The English Teacher’s Holy Grail: #StopGrading” to read about how this series came to be.

This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.

Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.

Check out this folder if you’d like to share your gradeless classroom resources with each other (and with me!) and/or enter into more conversation by joining the Google Group a reader set up. 

And I’d love to hear from you to help me craft this series. Either leave me a comment below or fill out this quick form.

Posted in #StopGrading, blog series, collaboration, colleagues, fall 2016 blog series, grading, making change, not grading, the system | Leave a comment

Step Three: Hack your gradebook to make it the data collection tool that will actually inform your instruction #StopGrading

Screenshot 2016-08-10 at 11.00.45 PM

I know you’ve had this conversation. We all have.

You know, the one where a student asks you to round up a semester grade.

You say no.

No because you have a policy against rounding up grades. No because you didn’t round up anyone else’s grade and it wouldn’t be fair. No because you know on a gut level that the student is getting the accurate grade.

The student persists.

So what do you do? You turn to the numbers in the gradebook and find the ones that pulled the student’s grade down and have some conversation around those.

You say things like, “I see you chose not to revise any of your papers. You could have brought up your grade there.”

Or, “If I looked just at your major/summative assignments, your percentage would actually be 88.7. The B is a more accurate reflection of your work this semester.”

End of conversation. The numbers have spoken.

The only problem is that this conversation is only about numbers, not about learning, or about what this student could do as a reader or writer, or about how the student may have grown during the semester. It is an argument about numbers, points, percentages, averages.

I never thought I would need so much math to be a teacher of reading and writing.

We do this because our gradebooks ask for numbers.

We do this because we think we need the efficiency of numbers to manage our 150 or more students.

We do this because it is what we have always done, because even those old-timey paper gradebooks only had little tiny boxes, big enough for a number and nothing more.

We must claim our gradebooks for more meaningful assessment. Our professional observations of our students’ progress matter, and we need to share those observations with students, with their parents, and with other important stakeholders in our school communities. I know my reading and writing conference notes and my conversations back and forth with my students about their revisions are the best information I have about my students, but somehow the accountability-crazed, testing-based world we teach in has told us that what matters are the numbers.

We can fight back against the number as absolute truth on our students’ progress. We can use the powerful tools we have to tell a more complete story of our students as readers and writers.

Rather than recording points in the gradebook, record your professional observations of your students as readers and writers and create a detailed, robust story of each of them as they learn and grown in your classroom.

Use available tools, but use them differently: think of your gradebook as a data warehouse.

From the world of computing comes the concept of the data warehouse. This refers to a system for pulling together multiple data sources into one central location, accessible for multiple users who can look across the data in several ways to assist in decision making. When designing a data warehouse, there is consideration for which data to include, who might use the data and how, and what kinds of reports and analyses will come from the data and for what purposes.

If only someone would create a powerful tool that could turn a gradebook into a data warehouse…

You do most likely have a powerful tool that does this. I’m talking about the online gradebook that your school or district likely requires you to use, a data management system that tracks scheduling, attendance, discipline, and grades. Your gradebook is viewable by multiple users: students, parents, administrators, counselors, other teachers, school support staff. The online gradebook is already a powerful platform to become a data warehouse.

If you think about your gradebook as a data warehouse rather than a place to collect points in order to math them into grades for your students, then you’re thinking about designing a robust collection of data that you can use to inform your instructional decisions for your students collectively and for each student individually. If your gradebook is a data warehouse, then you’re also thinking about what information might be useful for your students to have access to, or their parents, or school counselors, or special education/ELD/study hall teachers, or school administrators. You’re also thinking about how the data warehouse will represent the information you collect on your students so it’s most usable for all parties, for different purposes at different points during the school year.

ONE: Think intentionally about the data you need to inform your instruction.

Effective assessment is essentially research driven by a few huge research questions: what are students learning? Where are they struggling? How can I plan instruction to meet their needs? Hence, it has been helpful to me to put together a data collection matrix, very similar to the research methods matrices that researchers use to plan significant research studies. Click here to see it.

When looking at the last column, you’ll notice that there’s not much there that can be meaningfully quantified other than just keeping track of whether or not the students are doing the work. But there is ample opportunity for qualitative observations and notes: reading and writing conferences, class discussions, reading check-ins, notes on students’ revision efforts, and students’ own comments regarding their learning via writer’s memos, e-portfolios, and their lists of target standards. This gives me an idea of what information I might want to capture in my gradebook. (Here’s a blank data matrix if you want to use it!) 

TWO: Organize gradebook data into meaningful categories.

Once you’ve figured out what kind of data you need to see clearly how your students are doing toward your learning objectives and to inform instruction, you’ll need to plan how you will organize that data in your gradebook. It will be a complex set of information–some clear categories will make it easier for all stakeholders to use.

Using your data collection matrix, identify the categories that make sense for organizing the data you want to collect, use, and report out. For my needs, it’s completion of work, weekly reading check-ins so I can keep track of students’ reading progress weekly, reading and writing conference records, my responses to their revisions so I can track their learning from revision to revision and know at a glance where each student is on each piece of writing, and notes on my students’ learning toward our class learning targets.

I’m assuming that you have the ability to set weights for the different gradebook categories. The weighting tells the math machine in the gradebook what to do with any numerical data. I keep numerical data on only what seems most meaningfully quantified–assignment completion. You’ll see below that it’s only those two completion categories that carry any weight during the semester. The remaining categories do not calculate into the number that the gradebook creates during the semester. But at the end of the semester, the completion category numbers are unweighted and no longer calculate in the number, leaving only the final semester grade category to have any numerical effect on the grade that the gradebook calculates. See below for the gradebook categories I’ll set up for this year based on the data matrix thinking I did about the data I need to inform my instruction (or click here if you’d rather see these in a table). 

Category: Completion of work–major tasks (weekly drafts and thorough revisions, formal presentations, final group book conversations, etc.)

  • Weight during semester 90%
  • Weight for semester final grade 0%

Category: Completion of work–minor tasks (filling out weekly reading check-in form, completing peer feedback, Socratic Seminar tickets and participation, having new books in hand on particular days, etc.)

  • Weight during semester 10%
  • Weight for semester final grade 0%

Category: Weekly Reading Check-ins

  • Weight during semester 0%
  • Weight for semester final grade 0%

Category: Conference Records

  • Weight during semester 0%
  • Weight for semester final grade 0%

Category: Revision Notes

  • Weight during semester 0%
  • Weight for semester final grade 0%

Category: Notes on Student Progress Toward Learning Objectives and Standards

  • Weight during semester 0%
  • Weight for semester final grade 0%

Category: Semester Final Grade

  • Weight during semester 0%
  • Weight for semester final grade 100%

What gradebook categories make sense for the data you need to collect about your students’ learning and progress?

THREE: Plan what kind of data you’ll record for each gradebook category.

Each gradebook category will need information in it–what would be most useful to you and your students? I still create assignments or tasks for each category, but some of them won’t actually be assignments or tasks for students. In the case of keeping track of completion, I will list each task I’ve asked of my students. But for a category like “conference records,” each “assignment” is instead a data point. I create an “assignment” for each conference and just label it “conference #1” or “conference #2.” In the score box I’ll indicate which type of conference it was (reading or writing) and the date so I can see at a quick glance when the last time was that I conferred with an individual student. In the comment field for each conference I’ll leave a brief note about the focus of the conference conversation. Click here for more details about what kind of data I record for each conference category.

What kind of data will you record for each category in your gradebook?

FOUR: Decide where you’ll have the gradebook crunch numbers.

Until your school as a whole steps away from grades (which may be never), you’ll still need to have some math happening in your gradebook.

As I’ve already indicated, the most meaningful thing I can think of to quantify is how much of the work we ask of our students they’ve completed. Hence, the numbers in my gradebook reflect completion of work and nothing else. Hence, the number that my gradebook broadcasts as the “grade” throughout the semester is a reflection of whether or not students are keeping up with their work. This is enough for athletic eligibility purposes, for parents keeping tabs on their students, for counselors to know if students are keeping up with their work.

I have thought carefully about how I want this particular number to work. For example, if I have a student who has chosen not to complete a major task for my course, like a revised paper, then I want that completion percentage to take a bigger hit than if the student forgot to do the ticket to be prepared for a Socratic Seminar. The revision represents possibly weeks of writing back and forth between me and the student and it is the place where students really learn and grow as writers. If students are not doing the most important work of the class, the completion percentage needs to reflect it. This is the one part of the gradebook where I use numbers, so I make those more important assignments worth more than the other routine, daily tasks that I ask of students. I want the number that my gradebook does spit out to be meaningful and to accurately reflect how much of the work my students are completing.

Oh, and get ready to say again and again, “That’s not your grade. It’s a percentage that reflects how much of the work for this class you have done. If it’s not 100%, you’ve got some work to do.” This is a shift in how to read that gradebook number as the semester progresses. Students and their parents will need reminders of just what you’re broadcasting with it. Keep talking about it.

What number data do you need in the gradebook minimally to satisfy the needs of your school community?

FIVE: Create a word-based scale to use for the categories that quantify numerically.

Emphasis on numbers in the gradebook keeps students focused on points and numbers. If possible, develop your own grade scale or set of marks that you can use in your categories that you do want to quantify numerically to keep students from being too focused on numbers and to provide for them more information about their progress.

Words like “complete,” “almost,” “keep at it,” “partial,” “review instructions,” or “missing” provide much more information to students than numbers, and if you’re able to use those kinds of words instead of just numbers, it helps students to know more about how they are doing.

I’ve made my own set of “assignment marks” (as our data management system calls them) with these words so that “complete” registers as 100%, “almost” as 90%, “keep at it” as 80%, “partial” as 75%, “review instructions” as 50%, and “missing” as a zero. With this custom grade scale, this section of the gradebook uses words to show what percentage of the work a student has completed. It’s a good idea to provide to students a clear key to what you record in the gradebook, especially if it’s different from what they are used to. Click here for the key I provide to my students to help them make sense of what they see in the gradebook.

This approach means that what goes into the gradebook on an individual assignment is not static. Update the word you record for each assignment to describe where the student is at in the process as the student keeps working. This honors the process of revision and recognizes that improving writing means working at it again and again. This keeps students focused on the work rather than the grade. It frees them to take risks, and it reduces their stress because they are not worried about losing points for anything and can instead see their work for what it is and focus on making it as strong as possible.

What could your word-based scale be?

Whew. That’s kind of a lot of detail. My apologies if this is overwhelming. What more would it be helpful for me to show you or explain? How much of this works in your gradebook world? How much of it just doesn’t work at all? I’m only familiar with my gradebook program (Infinite Campus, in case you’re wondering). There are others out there and I have no experience at all with how they work.

Or do you have other ideas for how I could go about all of this? In all honesty, I’m really still figuring it out.

You may be thinking that your gradebook can’t do that (whatever it is), right? Don’t get shut down by apparent limitations. Think like a hacker. Hackers come up with clever solutions to tricky problems. I would say our required gradebooks are a tricky problem in our teaching lives.

I’ve suggested that you put something besides numbers in the score boxes in your gradebook and maybe you are thinking that’s not possible in your gradebook? Try it! My gradebook flags my non-number entries as “invalid score input.” But that’s all it does. It still lets me put those words in there. Even if your gradebook does not permit you to put anything besides a number in the score box, can you leave the score blank and use the comment/note field instead to collect and communicate meaningful information about how your students are doing? Find a way to record and communicate out the kind of meaningful information your students can use to reflect on their own progress and that you can use to drive your instruction. The point is this: don’t make assumptions about what your gradebook can’t do. With a little creative thinking, maybe you can use your required online gradebook–with all of its limitations–to be a rich data collection and communication tool. Play around with it. See what’s possible. Ask your district or school if there are additional features to it that teachers do not currently have access to–maybe there is a possibility for more flexibility.

Here are some questions to ask to get you started exploring the possibilities of your online gradebook:

  • Is it possible to put a word or two rather than a number in a score box? How many characters can you type?
  • Does your gradebook allow space for comments or notes on every individual score? How many characters can you type?
  • Are you able to set up different categories in your gradebook and have only some of them calculate into the grade?
    • If not, can you use abbreviations on assignment titles to denote different categories? Can you leave the score box empty to keep certain assignments from calculating into the grade and just leave a note/comment?
  • Are there built-in codes/abbreviations that you can use to avoid putting in numbers? (e.g., my gradebook includes “T” for “turned in.” I can mark any assignments as “turned in” and it will not affect the number the gradebook calculates in any way.)

And finally, don’t be discouraged by what appears to be a lot of data entry that you don’t have time for. That’s been the response of some of my colleagues when I show them what I’m up to. But this qualitative data recording work has replaced all the number management I used to do. I have gained some time by setting the numbers game aside. I gain time by not having to write to students to justify lost points on assignments too. I’ve also found ways to work as efficiently as possible with data entry. For example, I carry my laptop with me from conference to conference and enter my note regarding the conversation right there on the spot, often asking the student to help me to compose it. It has been worth my time to figure out how to do this and to make it manageable.

Thinking of my gradebook as a qualitative data warehouse yields a rich set of data that tells a detailed story about my students as learners rather than a collection of numbers and points needing explanation and interpretation.


So that concludes the thinking I need to do to get things going in my classroom next week. I’m planning to write a post about the first day of school where I will begin the conversation with students about grades the moment they walk in my classroom. But if you’ve got burning questions or want to push back at my thinking or think I’m missing something–please send a note (comment here or click on the link to the form down below) and I’ll see how I can respond.

Thanks for reading!


This is the fourth post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.

You can read other posts in the series here.  Start with the first post, “The English Teacher’s Holy Grail: #StopGrading” to read about how this series came to be.

This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.

Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.

Check out this folder if you’d like to share your gradeless classroom resources with each other (and with me!) and/or enter into more conversation by joining the Google Group a reader set up. 

And I’d love to hear from you to help me craft this series. Either leave me a comment below or fill out this quick form.

 

Posted in #StopGrading, assessment, blog series, fall 2016 blog series, gradebook, grading, hacking, not grading, planning | 2 Comments

Step Two: Design a classroom experience to keep your students working without points #StopGrading

Screenshot 2016-08-09 at 11.11.57 PM

Will students still do the work you assign if you don’t give them points for it?

Yes–especially if the work is valuable to them.

In the previous post in this series, I outlined what I thought it should mean for a student to get an “A” in my language arts class. In essence, that list makes up my intended learning objectives for the course. Following the precepts of backwards design, next I have to think about where I’ll be able to see whether or not students have met those goals and then I’ll need to plan instruction to help students get there.

So I spent a good chunk of today doing that thinking and pecking it out in a huge bulleted list. It looks like this (I’ll just ask you to read one objective here instead of all of them):

Objective: The student is a reader with a vibrant, self-directed reading practice that will continue beyond my classroom.

  • I’ll know students can do this if they
    • Read more books than they initially thought possible.
    • Create lists of books to read in the future (as Penny Kittle says in Book Love, “readers have plans.”)
    • Read books that matter to them.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide ample opportunity for my students to choose what they read.
      • We will have some shared reading experiences (one whole-class book each semester) but the bulk of student reading will be individual choice or book groups.
    • Give students time to read.
      • Ten minutes at the start of every class period gives students 40 minutes per week. This also gives me time to conference with a few students about their reading every day.
    • Get quality titles in front of students.
      • A classroom library isn’t practical for me (see my post on this here). But our school’s library is fantastic–more time there.
    • Get students talking about books.
      • Student response groups can help with this as will an online collection of books students have read and what they think about them. (currently building this as a WordPress site that a student aide will manage for me).

(see after the second horizontal line below for the rest of the list) (or if you’d rather see my thinking laid out as a table, click here).

I try to make myself do this kind of thinking through my classroom every year–so I’m grateful that this blog post gave me a chance to do that work. It was thinking I needed to accomplish before I have students next week. I always find areas I want to focus on to improve (this year: more work with mentor texts, more focus on writer’s notebooks, more conversation about books…). I encourage you to do something similar as a thinking exercise. I’ve even created a table for you to use if you want (it’s a google doc–you can grab a copy of it here or in the folder that you’ll see a link to at the bottom of this post).

This post started with a question–will students work if there are no points offered for each task? If the work is valuable to them, yes, they will work.

Using the concepts of backwards design reminds us that valuable, meaningful classroom work hinges on starting with valuable, meaningful learning objectives. For me, these are not strictly the standards or curriculum objectives laid out in my district curriculum guides. They are the bigger concepts, the reasons why we teach reading and writing to begin with, the most important work of my classroom. If I start my thinking and planning there, then the work that comes out of my planning for my students will be valuable.

Based on my intended outcomes for my students as a result of my classroom, I’ve found that the reading/writing workshop approach best gets us to those outcomes. My students need choice and time to work and lots of feedback and a community of readers and writers–these things all scream workshop. That is not to say that other approaches can’t work in a gradeless classroom. It all starts with your intended outcomes–what do you hope your students will accomplish as readers and writers as a result of your class? How can you craft a classroom experience that will get them there?

There are things I’ve had to set aside in order to get my students to the place where they are using reading and writing to read their complex world in order to write their futures within it. I’ve set aside the idea that my students all must be doing the same thing at the same time. I’ve set aside the idea that I should choose the books they read and that we read them all together. I’ve set aside the idea that I can read and respond to every single piece of writing I ask them to write because they simply must write more than I have time to respond to. It hasn’t been easy to set these things aside, but my classroom has been better for it. And I’m getting closer and closer to a lively reading/writing workshop every year. Trying to make workshop happen in a high school classroom has been one of the most difficult challenges of my teaching career! (Check out the phenomenal discussions about the high school workshop classroom over at Three Teachers Talk and at Moving Writers or my recent posts from #UNHLit16 if you want to think more about workshop).

The list of qualities of “A” students from my classroom/learning objectives has one central purpose: to help me plan my classroom experience around meaningful work for my students that will keep them working. That list is not the rubric for my students’ semester grades–I negotiate the grade agreement with my students ahead of the first 6-week progress report deadline so that the progress grade I post for each student is the one they determine for themselves based on our grade agreement. I wait to approach the grade agreement conversation with my students until they are well marinated in the work of my classroom and we have a healthy collection of data (mostly qualitative) on each student’s progress in the gradebook. Only then will they really be able to enter into a conversation with me about what should make an “A” for our class based on the work the class asks of them and how well they’ve been accomplishing it. And if they help to define the set of objectives to which they will eventually be evaluated, they will be so much more invested. They will own it.

The next thing I need to think through is setting up my gradebook to collect the data I need to know if my students are progressing toward the learning objectives/qualities of “A” students. So that will be the focus of the next post.

First day back to work tomorrow–I’m excited to see my colleagues and intrigued about the top secret field trip our admin team has planned for us. We see students for the first time next Thursday (9th grade only) and Friday (all grades). Best of luck to those of you who are starting with students this week.


This is the third post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.

You can read other posts in the series here.  Start with the first post, “The English Teacher’s Holy Grail: #StopGrading” to read about how this series came to be.

This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.

Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.

Check out this folder if you’d like to share your gradeless classroom resources with each other (and with me!) and/or enter into more conversation by joining the Google Group a reader set up. 

And I’d love to hear from you to help me craft this series. Either leave me a comment below or fill out this quick form.


Objective: The student is a reader with a vibrant, self-directed reading practice that will continue beyond my classroom.

  • I’ll know students can do this if they
    • Read more books than they initially thought possible.
    • Create lists of books to read in the future (as Penny Kittle says in Book Love, “readers have plans.”)
    • Read books that matter to them.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide ample opportunity for my students to choose what they read.
      • We will have some shared reading experiences (one whole-class book each semester) but the bulk of student reading will be individual choice or book groups.
    • Give students time to read.
      • Ten minutes at the start of every class period gives students 40 minutes per week. This also gives me time to conference with a few students about their reading every day.
    • Get quality titles in front of students.
      • A classroom library isn’t practical for me (see my post on this here). But our school’s library is fantastic–more time there.
    • Get students talking about books.
      • Student response groups can help with this as will an online collection of books students have read and what they think about them. (currently building this as a WordPress site that a student aide will manage for me).

 

Objective: The student writes to think through life, to pull ideas together, to say something important to a targeted audience and for a specific purpose. The student is intentional about form in order to meet the needs of the audience and purpose.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Make independent decisions about the form their writing needs to take depending on their intended audience and purpose.
    • Write about topics that matter to them.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide lots of choice regarding what they write about and how they structure it.
      • The weekly draft structure creates space for this–students turn in a draft each week of their choosing with their choices scaffolded by the punch list to be sure their choices enable them to hit the requisite course curriculum objectives.
    • Give students time to write.
      • I’m planning for notebook writing time on Mondays and Tuesdays and then writing time with computers for some or all of block days and Fridays. Any of these blocks of writing time will give me time to conference with students one-on-one or in small groups.
    • Show students many many models of different types of writing to imagine possibilities for their own.
      • Putting mentor texts in front of them every single week will be important, as will building some sort of resource where students can revisit past mentor texts to consult them again (WordPress site?)
    • Help students to come up with ideas for writing–from reading, from discussion, from responding to what’s going on in their lives.
      • I can teach brainstorming strategies and engage them in conversation (conferences, small group, socratic seminars)

 

Objective: The student revises extensively to improve a piece of writing.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Work on individual pieces of writing over lengths of time, achieving several different drafts.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide the opportunity for students to revise writing, not just to produce it.
      • I can ask students to revise for a few minutes after a short time of notebook writing to get them in the consistent practice of revision.
      • The thorough revision task does ask students to revise extensively–they’ll do this three times per semester.
      • I’ll teach revision alongside peer feedback so students see how feedback from writers drives revision.
      • With frequent mentor text use, I’ll show students how they can turn to mentor texts to get ideas for revision.

 

Objective: The student asks complex questions and persists to research answers to them.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Stick with a singular research topic that interests them over a period of time, beginning with a research question of their own design.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide space for meaningful research tasks and instruction in how to navigate the research process.
      • The first semester feature piece task after Thanksgiving break will be a research task based on students’ own questions and interests. There will be mini lessons along the way on various pieces of the research process and the semester punch list will help students focus on doing research work.
      • I will also conduct a research project and model my process for students so I can teach from inside of the task.

 

Objective: The student seeks out mentor texts–for writing, for text form, for thinking, for reading–and uses those mentor texts to grow.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Locate their own mentor texts to help them think through a writing or reading task that they are taking on.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide access to high-quality mentor texts and show students how to use them as guides for their own work.
      • I’ll put mentor texts in front of them every week and show them how to learn from them.
      • The online database of the mentor texts we use will be available for students to use on their own.

 

Objective: The student maintains a writer’s notebook as an important thinking/reflecting space.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Bring writer’s notebooks to class every day and will work with them carefully.
    • Show evidence of thinking and reflection in their notebooks, inspired by what we do in class.
    • Turn to their notebooks to do this work without direction from me.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Create my own writer’s notebook that shows students one possibility for their own thinking/reflection tool.
      • I need to decide if I want to continue with the writer’s notebook I already have in process or start fresh with one for the beginning of the school year. I usually start fresh. But I really like my current writer’s notebook…
    • Provide opportunities for them to share awesome tidbits from their notebooks with the class in small and large groups.
      • Write, turn, and talk activities provide opportunity for this.
      • I also plan to acquire a document camera so I can put notebook pages up for students to see, both from my notebook and from students’ notebooks.
    • Have students write in their notebooks for meaningful reasons nearly every day.
      • I don’t collect notebooks ever but I do monitor how students are using them in class and we look at them together in conferences.
      • I will continue to assign class prep work to be completed in notebooks–work that I check by having students show it to me quickly in class. (e.g., Socratic Seminar tickets)

 

Objective: The student manages digital tools and digital spaces effectively to keep track of work.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Master our digital tools/spaces.
    • Persist in working through confusion regarding how a digital tool/space works.
    • Use digital tools and spaces consistently and effectively for class work and collaboration.
  • In my classroom, I’ll need to
    • Choose just the right set of digital tools/spaces so that these are manageable and not overwhelming.
      • This year I’m planning on Google Classroom as my main classroom hub and I’m anxious to see how it plays well with all the other Google tools my students have been using:
        • Google Docs for writing, revision, and peer feedback
        • Google Slides for presentations
        • Google Drawings for graphic organizers
      • I’ve built one WordPress site to be a space for book conversation and recommendations. I may build another to be our resource for mentor texts we’ve used in class.
      • We have a class blog to publish student work.
      • I expect students check Infinite Campus frequently to see the story that builds there about them as readers and writers (I use it to keep track of my conference notes, for example, and after time this becomes a detailed story about a student as a reader and writer in my class).
      • I expect students to check their district gmail account frequently.
      • I’m considering using Twitter more frequently than I have in the past–if for no other reason than helping students to become more literate with this powerful social networking tool. How might it enhance our classroom community and our work?
    • Provide enough instruction to each student to show them how to use the tools/spaces effectively.
      • In-class time on computers is critical as it provides opportunities for me to walk students through how to use our digital tools/spaces if needed.

 

Objective: The student is a positive community member: provides high-quality feedback to peers on their writing, participates earnestly in small group and whole-group conversations, moves through our classroom spaces (physical and digital) with kindness.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Create a positive, vibrant classroom community.
    • Listen to each other.
    • Take great care in responding to each other’s work.
    • Share their ideas with each other in class conversations.
    • Help each other through struggle and support each other’s work.
    • Disagree kindly.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Work on teambuilding and communication to create an atmosphere where groups can thrive.
      • I’ll structure students into small 3-4 person response groups as I usually do, spending some time getting to know them and having them get to know each other first before making the groups.
      • They’ll stay in response groups for the duration of the semester as their home base in the class. I’ll expect that they look out for each other in the groups.
      • Provide lots of opportunities for small-group conversation.
    • Teach students how to do peer feedback effectively so they can help each other with revision.
      • I plan a feedback/revision book camp in the second full week of school so we can establish a focus on this right away.
      • A feedback circle might be a great way to do this–worked great with my 9th graders last spring.
      • Then as we go through the semester, I’ll monitor the conversations with each other on their writing via the comments they leave in the margins of each other’s drafts and look for opportunities for continued instruction with individuals, small groups, or the whole class.

 

Objective: The student demonstrates successful student habits: meeting deadlines, reading and following instructions, asking questions, seeking help and support.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Hit deadlines.
    • Turn in work that shows they have read and followed instructions.
    • Ask questions when they have them.
    • Seek out help and support when struggling.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Give students access to the tools and materials they need to be successful: clearly posted deadlines, simple and straightforward instructions, and opportunities to ask questions and to ask for help
      • I’ll use the gradebook to record data on how they’re doing with these things so they and I can see patterns and trends that need to be addressed.
    • Make it a safe atmosphere to struggle, to ask questions, and to seek support.
      • As I work alongside them, I can share my struggles with them and ask my students to help me find ways to navigate them. This makes it okay to struggle and help each other.

 

Objective: The student takes risks in order to learn.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Take risks in class discussions.
    • Take risks in pieces of writing.
    • Take risks in the books they choose to take on.
    • Make mistakes and learn from them.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Make risk taking (and the mistake making that is part of it) a valuable piece of the classroom.
      • By working alongside them (i.e., doing the work I assign them), I can model risk taking and mistake making.
      • We can celebrate mistakes made and the learning that comes from them.
      • Conferences will be important places to help students learn from mistakes and to encourage them to take risks.

 

Objective: The student practices effective self-reflection, self-evaluation, and metacognition. Students know what they already know, what they want/need to know, what they’ve learned, and how well they’ve learned it.

  • I’ll know my students can do this if they
    • Use curriculum objectives/standards throughout the year to help them think about, plan, and evaluate their learning.
  • In my classroom, I will need to
    • Provide opportunities for students to do this important planning and reflection.
      • As I’ve done in the past, I’ll ask students to choose focus standards for themselves from the CCSS for each semester, to paraphrase them into their own words, and to explain why they want to work on each standard they chose.
      • I’ll ask students to reflect on their work toward their target standards
        • In writer’s memos on pieces of writing
        • In conference conversations with me
        • In 6-week progress report self-evaluations
        • In the letters they write at semester’s end to negotiate with me for their semester grade
    • Show students what it looks like to plan their learning and reflect on it effectively.
      • I have umpteen examples from students past to make available to current students.

 

Posted in #StopGrading, blog series, CCSS, fall 2016 blog series, grading, making change, not grading, workshop teaching | Leave a comment

It takes a village to #StopGrading

folder-23397_1280

Okay people, a clever reader (you know who you are SRG) wondered in a comment on the first post in this series if we should have a shared folder or forum or something for people who are taking the gradeless journey. Maybe we could all share resources, talk to each other, help each other out.

I love this idea.

So I set up a google drive folder to work as a drop box for you to share your resources with each other (and with me!). 

Let me know if you have any suggestions to make it work as awesomely as possible. I’ll include the link on all future posts in the series. And I’ll move my folder of resources into that folder as well so we can all work on this together.

Thanks, readers. You rock.

(Do we need a Facebook group too?)

Posted in #StopGrading, blog series, collaboration, colleagues, fall 2016 blog series, grading, not grading | 1 Comment

Step One: What’s in a Grade? #StopGrading

step one

For the purposes of keeping this post laser focused, I’m going to briefly describe a few things about how I’ve been going about grading for the last five semesters. I’m planning later posts on these things, but for now here’s what you need to know:

  • I no longer put any kind of point-based evaluation on anything, not any single minor assignment, not any single major assignment, not the semester final grade.
  • Because I teach in a school that uses numerical gradebook data for a variety of purposes beyond my own (like weekly athletic eligibility reports and counselors checking in on students and admin pulling reports on students who are earning low grades to get a sense of where to target some extra supports), I must keep some numbers-based data in my gradebook at all times. I use this to reflect the only thing that makes sense to me to quantify: completion. I have to constantly remind students and their parents and everyone else, “that is not the grade. It’s a number that reflects how much of the work you’ve completed that the class has asked of you.”
  • Other than completion data, I record short, narrative notes on students in the gradebook so I can build a detailed description of each student’s work, struggles, and successes.
  • At the end of the semester, I negotiate with each student for the semester grade, based on a grade agreement that the class and I write together that defines clearly for everyone what makes an A, B, C, etc. in the course.
    • A key component of this grade negotiation is students demonstrating what they’ve learned toward a few, self-chosen learning objectives/standards for the course.
  • That negotiated semester grade becomes the only thing that calculates into a student’s official grade for the course–I remove the completion data from calculating into that overall grade in the end. It was just progress data.

So what’s in a grade?

In a points-based classroom, the grade represents how many points a student has earned out of the points possible. A semester grade is the result of many individual assignments of various point values and how many points a student earned on them. Hence, a points-based grade shows (most simply, and I know I’m simplifying here) how many points a student has collected.

Of course there are sophisticated ways to set up one’s gradebook so those points reflect something more than mere point collection. I’ve spent much of my career trying to figure out how to do this best. I’ve used weighted categories so the most important assignments carry the most weight in the grade. I’ve used rubrics that spell out in detail what the points mean for each different aspect of a task.

But in the end, my students’ points-based grades reflected points collected more than anything else, and that’s how my students saw them too. “How many points is this worth?” heard again and again in my classroom suggested that the relative point value of a task correlated with how much a student would care about it.

In the world beyond my classroom, grades mean something too. They show up on transcripts that students use for college applications, scholarship applications, even job applications. A principal actually did ask me in an interview once about the C I had earned in an upper-division English class during college. He was joking with me. I still got the job. But the fact that he even pointed it out says something about how audiences beyond our immediate classroom read the grades we broadcast.

For those audiences, the grades reflect more than mere points collected. They aren’t aware of all of the tiny calculations or extra credit or assignments redone or percentages rounded up that may have gone into the grade. They just see “A” or “B” or “C” or “D” or “F” and come to their own conclusions. “A” students are smart, right? They do their work. They meet deadlines (late work penalties would surely bring the grade down). They persist. They are responsible.

If it’s an “A” next to a math class, it means something different than an “A” next to an English class. It says something about the student’s strengths. And if a student’s transcript shows “A”s across all subjects, that student is well rounded (and really good at playing school). Just the kind of person you want to admit to your college or hire for a job. And don’t forget that straight-A students receive discounts on car insurance too.

The point of all of this is to say that the grade says lots of things to lots of stakeholders. I’ve always struggled with what some argue about the grade, that it should reflect achievement toward learning objectives and nothing else. That we should make our grades as pure as possible–no extra credit, no completion, no late work penalties, no points for bringing in a box of tissues for the class stash. I’m not sure I would want a student who showed up at the end of the semester–without attending a single class–and rocked my final assessment showing mastery of all of the learning objectives to walk away with an A, but in a pure standards-based classroom, this might fly. The future employer who looked at that grade on the student’s transcript would not have the complete story.

The quest for purity–grades that reflect students’ achievement toward learning objectives and nothing more–seems to underpin the standards-based grading movement. I am not writing that off whole-hog. I don’t know enough about it to do so. But I’m certainly not presented with adequate resources–time, student load, and the right gradebook tool–to be an evaluator of 155 students toward a set of multiple standards for each of them. If I had 10 students or 20 or maybe 30 total, maybe I could manage this. But with 155, it’s impossible.

At Penny Kittle’s and Kelly Gallagher’s workshop at the UNH Literacy institute this summer, Penny said how much she worries that students who are not readers are walking away from an ELA class with “A”s. I worry about this too. An “A” in a 12th grade language arts class should mean something about a student’s abilities as a reader and a writer, not just as a point collector. It was possible for me as a 12th grade student to collect enough points for the grade I wanted without reading the books my teacher assigned. It was possible for me to do this as a college student too.

Ultimately, what should an “A” reflect in my class?

  • The student is a reader with a vibrant, self-directed reading practice that will continue beyond my classroom.
  • The student writes to think through life, to pull ideas together, to say something important to a targeted audience and for a specific purpose. The student is intentional about form in order to meet the needs of the audience and purpose.
  • The student revises extensively to improve a piece of writing.
  • The student asks complex questions and persists to research answers to them.
  • The student seeks out mentor texts–for writing, for text form, for thinking, for reading–and uses those mentor texts to grow.
  • The student maintains a writer’s notebook as an important thinking/reflecting space.
  • The student manages digital tools and digital spaces effectively to keep track of work.
  • The student is a positive community member: provides high-quality feedback to peers on their writing, participates earnestly in small group and whole-group conversations, moves through our classroom spaces (physical and digital) with kindness.
  • The student demonstrates successful student habits: meeting deadlines, reading and following instructions, asking questions, seeking help and support.
  • The student takes risks in order to learn.
  • The student practices effective self-reflection, self-evaluation, and metacognition. Students know what they already know, what they want/need to know, what they’ve learned, and how well they’ve learned it.

I know that these objectives are not exactly with you might see in the standards or the curriculum guides for the classes I teach. But these objectives capture the work of my classroom. The standards are inextricably there–they are the basis of students’ self-reflection and self-evaluation of their own learning. And the standards are the foundation for the curriculum I teach so I plan with them to be sure my students are doing the kind of work they outline.

But let’s be honest–our grades represent more than students’ achievement toward the learning objectives we see in our standards documents and curriculum guides. I agree with Penny Kittle–it’s not okay for a student to leave high school with an A in language arts without actually being a reader. But “being a reader” is not an expressed curriculum objective or standard. Success on all standards is improved if students are readers. Hence, I want to make this an specific goal of my classroom.

I invite you to make a list on your own of what you want an “A” to represent with your students. What’s the work of your classroom? What qualities should “A” students embody? What would you hope they will continue to take on in their lives beyond your classroom?

Let’s make our grades actually mean something beyond being just a collection of points. And once you know what you want the grade to reflect, now you can figure out how to get your students there. That’s the next step–planning a classroom experience for your students that will enable them to do the meaningful work you’ve outlined in your list of what you want an “A” to represent with your students.


This is the second post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.

You can read other posts in the series here.  Start with the first post, “The English Teacher’s Holy Grail: #StopGrading” to read about how this series came to be.

This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.

Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.

And I’d love to hear from you to help me craft this series. Either leave me a comment below or fill out this quick form.

 

Posted in #StopGrading, assessment, blog series, fall 2016 blog series, grading, making change, not grading, planning | 2 Comments

The English Teacher’s Holy Grail: #StopGrading

Screenshot 2016-08-06 at 12.50.49 AMSeveral years ago, one of my students–a junior–ended up with an 89.4% in my class for his second semester grade. He asked me to round up his grade. I explained to him that had he chosen to complete the optional rewrites on his papers, we would not have to talk about this, and I thought we were finished with the conversation.

But then he emailed me. And then his dad emailed me. And then his mom emailed me.

And then he emailed me again. And then his dad called me on the phone. And then there were more emails.

In each instance, I explained again that had the student chosen to complete the optional rewrites on the papers to increase his grade on those major assignments that accounted for the majority of students’ grades in my class, we would not need to even have the conversation. But the student, his dad, and his mom told me how important the A was for his transcript to be able to get into college. They didn’t care that it would be unfair to the other students who also had similar grades for me to round up this one and not theirs.

They didn’t care that it was actually language arts department policy not to round grades.

They didn’t care that the student had chosen not to continue working on his writing when given the option, something that would have made him a better writer and brought his grade up along the way.

All they cared about was what an A could mean on this student’s transcript when it came to his college applications in the following year.

And then, the next morning at the end-of-year teacher appreciation breakfast that our parent organization hosts for us every year, this student’s dad walked into the cafeteria.

He was looking for me.

“It can’t hurt to ask you just one more time,” he said to me.

I couldn’t believe he was there, pushing me on this. I held my plate of food in one hand, my cup of juice in the other (I had just made my way through the buffet line). It felt invasive. It felt inappropriate. It felt way too pushy. All I wanted to do was sit with my colleagues and celebrate the end of the school year and enjoy some time with them before we all left the building for 10 weeks. I wondered how he even got into the building, or who told him where all the teachers were, or how he had the gumption to walk into this celebration to try to re-open a conversation I had already indulged for far longer than really was necessary.

I stood my ground and off he went and I think that was the last of it–with that student at least. But that was not the first or last time I’ve had a student or parent asking me to raise a grade for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the student’s learning in my class. Instead, those conversations are usually about how a grade could impact future college applications or lead to discounts on car insurance.

This is our fault. By “our” I mean society collectively. Our society is obsessed with numbers, with quantifiable data, with “achievement,” with test scores from expensive, invasive mandated tests that supposedly can tell me more about what my students need and can do than I can assess myself through my daily interactions with them as human beings.

Even though we teachers have not made the policy level decisions regarding the testing madness and many of us are doing what we can to push back at it–we are complicit in the grade frenzy. We threaten grade penalties for late work. Or we say things like, “This assignment is worth a lot of points so you better take it seriously!” We give them graded reading quizzes to get them to read. We put grades on pieces of writing and invite them to revise–not because revision makes them better writers but to “bring up their grade” on the paper. Parents sit down at conferences and the first thing we do is pull up a student’s grades and talk about what’s going well or not going so well.

None of this, by the way, has anything really to do with what students are learning.

We get to the point where we start to believe that our students won’t do anything at all in our classrooms unless we give them points. This is totally unfair to our students. They want to learn. If the work is meaningful to them, they’ll do it even if they’re not collecting points along the way.

There is a Grades-For-Compliance Exchange That Organizes Schooling

We teachers are complicit in the grade thing, but it’s pretty difficult not to be. Our schools orbit on an exchange. It’s what keeps everything organized–student behavior, power dynamics within buildings, all of it. Students do what we ask them to do, and in return we give them grades that they can cash in for the high school diploma and use for their college applications if that’s what they’re doing after high school. To our students, getting the grade can seem more important than learning the stuff–a student once told me that usually she did just enough work to get the A rather than working to learn. This was certainly the case for me as a high school student: I did only what I needed to do to get the grade I wanted and no more, and often this meant I didn’t even have to read the books my English teachers assigned me. As long as I listened carefully to what they thought about the books, I could give those ideas back to them on exams and in essays and do just fine.

I could have learned so much more.

There’s a powerful ethnography from 1977 that illustrates this exchange-based system. Willis’s Learning to Labour describes the exchange at the center of the school he studied: the teacher offered knowledge to the students in return for their respect and compliance (the book focuses largely on a group of boys who didn’t want what the exchange offered and responded with oppostional behavior). Willis goes on to outline several characteristics of the exchange-based teaching paradigm and the characteristics of schools necessary to maintain this teaching paradigm. He explains that the material structure, organization, and practices of the school he studied maintained the paradigm.

The exchange-based paradigm that our schools still operate on–student compliance for grades that they can cash in for diplomas and college acceptance–is bound up in every aspect of schools. It’s the air we breathe. From controlling students’ space in buildings (lockers, areas that are off-limits to students, etc.) to controlling their movements (bell schedules, attendance policies, etc.) to the instructional and curricular practices of the school, everything works because everyone–teachers and students and parents and college admissions–have bought in to the exchange.

Willis describes the instructional and curricular practices that the school used to maintain the exchange. Teachers made all curricular and instructional decisions. Teachers decided when a lesson began and ended. Teachers controlled the discussions in classrooms. These practices signaled to students that the teachers possessed the knowledge and were in charge of how and when it was dispensed to the students.

And to this I’ll add that teachers decide what grade represents what students have learned and done. Students generally do not assess their own learning or decide what grade represents the work that they’ve done. All of this communicates to students that school is not really about them as individual learners. Do what your teacher asks and you shall be paid with grades that you can use to get you into college. That’s the game.

Willis argued in 1977 that because the exchange-based teaching paradigm was so ingrained in society’s understanding of school, it was nearly impossible to achieve any kind of different teaching paradigm. Even though nearly forty years have passed since then, his assessment of the ways that a dominant teaching paradigm influenced how a community thought about the purposes and practices of school is still very relevant. In many ways, we still struggle with many of the same challenges.

Paradigms are very difficult to change: “a paradigm is a model or a pattern of thinking. It’s a shared set of assumptions with how we perceive the world. Paradigms are very helpful because they allow us to develop expectations about what will probably occur based on these assumptions. But when data falls outside our paradigm, we find it hard to see and accept. This is called the Paradigm Effect. And when the paradigm effect is so strong that we are actually prevented from actually seeing what is under our very noses, we are said to be suffering from Paradigm Paralysis” (Harrison, qtd. in Hill and Nave, p. 39).

Are we in paradigm paralysis when it comes to points, grades, test scores, accountability, and quantification? Are these things so much the air we breathe that we can’t see them for what they are, for the ways they are getting in the way of our students doing meaningful work as readers and writers in our classrooms?

If a book from 1977 provides such an accurate description of the paradigm that still organizes schooling today, then yes, I would say that we are paralyzed.

Revisions of this traditional teaching paradigm are essentially the Holy Grail that my student, Adam explained to me a few years ago: “The Holy Grail of teaching is to figure out a way to show students that it is meaningful and valuable.” I do not want my classroom to be simply about an exchange between teacher and students where if they comply with what I’m asking, I give them the grades they need to get into college. I want my classroom to be “meaningful and valuable” in a way that will inspire my students’ active participation and not their passive compliance.

But within a greater societal culture where a particular exchange-based paradigm is the norm, anything different may be literally a holy grail—impossible though some (such as myself) may be completely obsessed with finding it.


With the term “grading” I mean two things:

  1. The catch-all term for the work we do when we respond to student work and evaluate it. Anything from marking right and wrong answers on a quiz to marking errors on a paper to writing comments in the margins of students’ work typically falls under the umbrella of “grading” as teachers use the term. Example: “I have so much grading to do this weekend!”
  2. The act of determining an evaluative score on a single piece of student work so that a series of individual assignment scores can be averaged or otherwise calculated into the official grade for a student for the semester. This makes the grading work described in #1 above in service of justifying a score, in service of explaining why it wasn’t 100%, in service of matching to the rubric that outlines what success looks like.

Nothing in these two definitions is about writing or reading or learning. It’s about quantification, justification, and evaluation. Grading as we typically understand it has no place in an ELA classroom if you want students to actually focus on the work of reading and writing and what they are learning in the process rather than the grade. Writers need response, one writer to another. They need to revise, taking feedback from readers and thinking about how to use it to make sure the writing is best communicating the writer’s intended message. Readers need conversation, not reading quizzes, to push their thinking and to see the places where they can grow as readers.

If writers need response and readers need conversation, both takes on “grading” described above do not achieve these things. The piles and piles of “grading” we create a) function as an enormous weight we carry August/September through May/June each year and b) are so onerous that we’re unable to give our students the very best feedback to help them grow as readers and writers.

I’ve been doing everything I can to stop grading.


Welcome to the first post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom. You can read other posts in the series here. 

At the NCTE conference in Boston in November of 2013, I saw Alfie Kohn speak about grades. While sitting there listening to Kohn, it all came into focus for me. My colleagues, Mr. S and Mr. B, had been working on me for a while about moving away from traditional grading but I just couldn’t see a way around it. Mr. S and I even had a bit of a blog war about it here in this blog. So by the time I heard it all straight from Kohn, even though I couldn’t yet see clearly how to do it, I was ready to think seriously about making a shift in my classroom.

That January, I engaged my class in the conversation. We looked at Kohn’s argument in “The Case Against Grades”, and talked about how it captured their experiences in school. Then I asked them to vote–should we try going gradeless for a semester? By secret ballot, they voted unanimously to give it a shot.

Five semesters later and I haven’t looked back. I have blogged a bit about going gradeless along the way.

This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.

Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.

And I’d love to hear from you to help me craft this series. Either leave me a comment below or fill out this quick form.


 

Works Cited

Hill, Danny and Nave, Jayson. (2009) Power of ICU: The end of student apathy…reviving engagement and responsibility. NTLB Publishing.

Willis, P. (1977) Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. Westmead, England: Saxon House.

Posted in #StopGrading, blog series, fall 2016 blog series, grading, making change, not grading | 15 Comments

I asked my students, and here’s what they said worked and didn’t work in my classroom last year

Every spring, I survey my students somehow about their experience in my class so I can work to improve for the following year. This year and last year I landed on a format for this survey that has yielded some great information for me. (See last year’s blog posts here and here and here.) The survey was a little more complex last year–a few different sections (reading, writing, digital tools) but this year I just went with one big list of the things we did/used in my classroom and asked students to let me know which ones helped and which ones didn’t their growth as readers and writers.

I surveyed two sections of seniors, a total of 58 students. Forty of them responded to my invitation to complete the survey. I did not survey my freshmen because I’m not teaching freshmen next year. I’ll start with what they said worked:

What helped you? (percentage of students who said it helped)

  • Choice about your writing (97.5%)
  • Choice about your reading (95%)
  • Work time in class (92.5%)
  • Lesson plan posted online each week (82.5%)
  • Working on your writing in Google Docs (82.5%)
  • Optional attendance days (80%)
  • Collecting all your work in Google Drive (77.5%)
  • Author visits (72.5%)
  • Weekly drafts (72.5%)
  • Conferences with Doc Z (70%)
  • Group book conference with Doc Z (70%)
  • Socratic seminars (70%)
  • Thorough Revisions (65%)
  • Independent reading (65%)
  • Semester grade request (65%)
  • Mindful breathing (62.5%)
  • Notes about your work, not points, in IC (60%)
  • No grades until the end of the semester (60%)
  • Reading books together as a class (57.5%)
  • Peer response on writing (57.5%)
  • Schoology (57.5%)
  • In-progress grade check-in (47.5%)
  • Writer’s Notebooks (45%)
  • The punch list (45%)
  • Response groups (37.5%)
  • Formal speeches for finals (25%)
  • Discussions on Schoology (17.5%)
  • Google Site portfolio (7.5%)

If you’ve wondered if the workshop approach works for students, the first three bullets up there should tell you that yes, it does. Choice about reading and writing and time to work in class are pillars of workshop, and my students were nearly unanimous that these things helped them to grow as readers and writers. This tells me that my journey toward a workshop classroom needs to continue. I’m more there than I have ever been and will be making more movement toward a workshop world this year.

I’m surprised to see that the next most helpful thing to my students was the simple fact that I posted my weekly lesson plans online where they could access them ahead of time or after the fact. I include with those weekly lesson plans links to all the materials they will need and any notes from class conversations underneath the table that contains the weekly plan (you’ll find an example here). I’m glad to see so many students indicated that having access to the weekly lesson plan helped them.

I was pleased to see a strong response on conferencing with me individually and in groups, on the weekly drafts, on socratic seminars, and on optional attendance. I did more conferencing this year than ever before and more intentionally. I hit a rough spot with this after my dad passed away suddenly in February. There were a few weeks there where I just didn’t have the energy to conference unless students asked me for help. Even so, I’m thrilled to see that so many students saw conferencing as helpful. Weekly drafts are a structure that my colleague Jaime suggested for this past semester. We wanted students to write more–he wondered if we could ask them to get a piece of writing across the finish line (as a draft) each week. Then after a few of these, they would choose one to revise. This one structure has made my classroom feel more like a workshop than anything else I’ve done. I love it. And I’m glad to see many students did as well. Socratic seminars are something I’m being much more deliberate about lately. I had the opportunity to take a class with a socratic seminar master, John Zola, this past spring. What I learned there has really improved seminar discussions in my classroom (my socratic seminar guidelines are here). And as for optional attendance–this is something we’ve done in this senior class for the last few years. Fridays are optional for students who are caught up on their work (read more about it via the letter we send to parents here). It’s really a fantastic motivator for many. Students love to have control of their time. I’m a real believer in the optional days. They give students practice in managing a more flexible schedule like they’ll have in college. And those optional days are smaller classes full of students who need or want to be there. I make them work time always and I use them to conference.

I see interesting things there about the tech pieces: students share my love of Google Docs as an excellent tool for writers. They also see their Google Drives as useful for collecting and organizing their work. They weren’t huge fans of Schoology (nor was I–I’m moving away from it for next year). And the Google Site portfolios we used, that my department is all using–they didn’t see those as so useful. This may be my fault. I didn’t make them primary in our daily work in class. It was difficult to when my students don’t have access to computers every day (we have three sets of computers to share between 17 language arts teachers). I need to think about this piece–I love the idea of them curating their work in a portfolio (and the department idea is to have one Google Site for each student that they use for all four years of language arts–we built a template for this, structured on the Common Core State Standards for language arts). But it felt extra, out of our typical work flow, busywork. Some of my colleagues had better luck with this so I’ll keep thinking about it. But I just don’t want to throw anything at my students that feels like busywork.

I would have liked to see a stronger response about a few things this I see as critically important: thorough revisions, the things I’m doing to move away from traditional grades (semester grade request, no grades until the end of the semester, notes about your work not points in IC), peer response, writer’s notebooks, and response groups. This tells me that I have some work to do on all of these pieces. The thorough revision task is tough and takes time (you can see it here). One student wrote, “the revisions took time, but they did really help improve our writing a LOT.” I do think I can maybe simplify the task somehow–I’ve essentially used the same task (with a few revisions as it evolved) for five semesters now and I know what works and what doesn’t. Maybe it’s time to take another look at it and see how I can revise the revision task. The non-traditional grading pieces all got around 60% of students saying they helped them grow. This is another piece I really believe in but am still thinking through. Very few of them said that these pieces DIDN’T help them grow (see data below). And as for peer response and response groups–I’m still learning how to really create a collaborative classroom community, especially when it’s something students are not so familiar with. It’s messy and students have a difficult time trusting each other sometimes to give great feedback on their work. I wish more of them saw their peers as helpful toward their growth. I will keep working on this. And writer’s notebooks–this one came out low last year as well. Clearly I didn’t quite get there. I have some ideas though after the time at UNH with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher (I wrote about my goals for writer’s notebooks as part of my workshop manifesto here).

Here are a few more tidbits from students from the survey:

“It wasn’t nearly as stressful as other LA classes and that worked tremendously.”

“As much as the weekly drafts sucked, they did help improve my writing, this had the biggest impact this year.”

“I love the freedom with the writing.”

“I thought that by writing drafts every week and have a few thorough revisions it allowed us to improve upon our writing.”

“The optional attendance for me was one of the biggest motivators to actually get work done.”

“Work time in class was always a big help for me because I could get things done and you were there to help if needed.”

As for what students said didn’t help them grow as readers and writers:

What didn’t help you? (percentage of students who said it helped)

  • Google Site portfolio (70%)
  • Discussions on Schoology (60%)
  • The punch list (45%)
  • Formal speeches for finals (42.5%)
  • Writer’s notebooks (25%)
  • Response groups (22.5%)
  • No grades until the end of the semester (20%)
  • Schoology (17.5%)
  • Thorough revisions (15%)
  • In-progress grade check-in (15%)
  • Mindful breathing (12.5%)
  • Book groups (12.5%)
  • Reading books together (12.5%)
  • Author visits (10%)
  • Semester grade request (10%)
  • Socratic seminars (7.5%)
  • Peer response on writing (7.5%)
  • Notes about your work, not points, in IC (7.5%)
  • Weekly drafts (5%)
  • Optional attendance days (5%)
  • Independent reading (2.5%)
  • Choice about your writing (2.5%)
  • Working on your writing in Google Docs (2.5%)
  • Collecting all of your work in Google Drive (2.5%)
  • Choice about your reading (0%)
  • Lesson plan posted online each week (0%)
  • Work time in class (0%)
  • Conferences with Doc Z (0%)

The first thing I notice here is that there are very few things that a lot of students said didn’t help them to grow as readers and writers in my class. Yay! But there is pretty good consensus on the Google Site portfolio and Schoology. When there is that kind of consensus, I need to think seriously about not doing those things anymore or do them completely differently if I know they’re important. As I mentioned above, I need to think through the portfolio and I’m moving away from Schoology. I am pleased to see here that for some of the aspects of my class I discussed above that I wished had more students saying that they found them helpful, there were very few students who said that they were NOT helpful. That’s the non-traditional grading pieces, the peer response, the thorough revisions, writer’s notebooks. All things I need to keep working on to improve, but definitely not things I should even think about moving away from.

I want to thank my students for their thoughtful reflection–it always helps me to improve my classroom from year to year.

What worked in your classroom last year? What didn’t? What will you change? What will you continue to work on?

And when do you start back to work? (August 10 for us.)

 

Posted in 21st century teaching and learning, CCSS, grading, making change, not grading, planning, reflections, student feedback, using data, workshop teaching, writer's notebooks | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I’m moving to Google Classroom from Schoology

Seems I’m on the hunt for the perfect online home for my classroom.

Last summer I wrote with great excitement about my move to Schoology from a Google Site as the home base for my classroom. I had been using a Google Site for years that had become an excellent archive of my lesson plans, assignments, and resources for my students.

But it had limitations.

It was not a place where I could interact with my students. I had a different site for each course I taught, so I had to move between two or three different sites regularly, depending on how many courses I was teaching in a given semester. Whereas all the google apps for education play well together, I still had to figure out how to organize my drive files and all of my students’ documents–the site didn’t do that for me. And, well, technology evolves but this one particular tool hadn’t changed much and I wondered what more was out there.

(And yes, I do know about the new Google Sites that is coming to us and is already out there in Beta for early adopters. But from what I could figure out about what’s really “new” about it, it won’t enable me to do what I need the online home for my classroom to do.)

So last summer I decided I would step away from Google Sites and try out Schoology, our district’s official LMS. I couldn’t design a fun-looking website for my students like I did with Google Sites, but I thought that the potential for connecting within and beyond my classroom via Schoology was worth the trade off. We could do online discussions. I could extend my PLC beyond the walls of my school and connect with educators across the state and country. And Schoology would help me to keep track of my students’ work–it would let me know for each assignment who had done the work and who had not. This was certain to save me time, right?

Here was the thorny problem: my students write in google docs. It’s the best tool for teaching writing I’ve ever encountered. The revision history, suggesting mode, the collaborative possibilities–all of it makes teaching and learning writing dynamic and alive. So when my students turn in work to me, they turn in google docs. And I respond by writing comments in the margins that my students work with in revision. I needed the system to be able to collect google docs for me. But Schoology cannot do this.

Ok, it CAN collect a google doc, but it essentially takes a photo of it. What you get is not the live document. You get a Schoology-a-fied version of the Google Doc, and the response you do as a teacher remains in that Schoology system with that document, not with the actual live Google Doc where the student will continue working. My workaround was to have students submit, via Schoology, a link to that live Google Doc. This way, the system would help me keep track of who had completed the task and who had not–something I thought would save me significant time.

It didn’t actually save me time. In fact, this system created more time in my work flow. I had to click into Schoology, then click on the class, then click on the assignment folder, then click on the assignment, then find the student and click on the link to the document to read and respond. All that clicking (and waiting for pages to load) was costing me precious time.

Instead, I created a Google Form to collect work from students. One form, all of my students. They would check off which class they were in, what assignment it was, and provide the link to the google doc. All of this would come into a Google Spreadsheet for me that I used as my daily to-do list (I moved records off of the main spreadsheet and onto  a tabbed sheet for each class as I completed my work with them so that main page was a list of the things I still needed to work with). I could sort records by student or by assignment or by class. It all worked really well for me. Everything was in the same place.

But there were some frustrations. Most notably was when I would click on a link a student had provided and would get a message that I didn’t have access to the file. This meant that the student failed to move the file into his/her Google Drive folder for class (a folder that I had access to, so anything within the folder I could open up and respond to). Most students did a great job with keeping their work for class in the folder designated for it, but I had a few repeat offenders especially who never seemed to be able to accomplish this one simple task.

My Schoology site for each class became a place to house folders that had things in them–like my weekly lesson plans with links to all necessary resources. Great resource for students if they happen to miss my class or if they want to go back and review something. I stopped posting assignments there for students to complete through Schoology because my one google form had so simplified my work flow with reading and responding to student work. So it was just a website with resources on it, and not a very pretty one at that.

Some time ago I looked at a beta version of Google Classroom. I wasn’t all that impressed at the time so I kept with my Google Site. But now I’m drawn to it. I want help organizing my Google Drive. I want to not have to deal with students forgetting to give me access to their work. I want one screen where I can see all the work I need to review. I want a platform for conversation and interaction among the class. Google Classroom can do all of these things. I still can’t design it the way I always did with my Google Sites–most of the design decisions have been made for me. I CAN add my own image or photo for across the top of the page–I’ll do this. Maybe even a photo of each class? This was not possible in Schoology.

And if I can convince my colleagues to also use Google Classroom, students will have one place to go to see what they need to do for all of their classes. Something that is a huge value for our students as a whole.

Click here for a video about Google Classroom in case you’re curious.

I’ll let you know how it goes. What’s your favorite online home for your class? Got any Google Classroom tips for me?

Posted in 21st century teaching and learning, making change, muddling through, technology | 3 Comments

My workshop manifesto for the next school year #UNHLit16

As I reflect back over the last three days at #UNHLit16, my mind wants to throw down a manifesto regarding things I’ll focus on to improve my reading/writing workshop classroom for the next school year.

(In case you’re keeping track, I’m back to work in one month and two days. Yikes.)

(I better summer some more.)

There are things Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher do consistently that I want to get better at.

  1. Making space for students to share out their work. I did this some last year, but I was never very consistent with it, and students never really got used to doing it. But I saw the value over the last three days. We ended each day with a few minutes dedicated to us sharing our beautiful words (as Penny called them). I loved hearing from the other people in the room. I stood to share my words once–and I was nervous! What we write matters to us. It’s a bit of our soul in ink. But a strong and vibrant writing community reserves space for people to offer their words to the group, where others receive them with kindness. I will make more space for students to share out their work.
  2. Conferring doggedly. (side note on word choice here–when I was writing my blog post last night, I stumbled on whether I wanted to write conferencing or conferring, and I went with conferencing after a brief google search to see what words people were using. And then Kelly brought it up today–that conference is a noun and confer is the verb. Like all good ELA teacher geeks, I went straight to my favorite app–dictionary.com of course–and I discovered that both confer and conference can be used as verbs, but confer has an additional lovely definition. Whereas conference as a verb means only “to hold or participate in a conference or series of conferences,” confer also means that essentially AND “to bestow upon as a gift, favor, honor, etc.” Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t we honor our students as readers and writers when we confer with them, one-on-one? Aren’t conference conversations a gift of time? I know they have been for me in my life as a writer. So I hereby officially switch my allegiance to confer and conferring over conference and conferencing.) (That may have been the nerdiest parenthetical aside in the history of time.) ANYhow, Penny and Kelly made such a strong case for the power of conferences. If you want to build readers and writers, you must confer. Period. I did confer last year with my students, but not as frequently as I want to, not as doggedly as I need to. I will confer more. Every day. In as many moments I have available to me as I can.
  3. Using mentor texts for writing invitations and study of craft moves. Reading Writing with Mentors this summer really got me started on this one–great book if you’ve not read it yet. And Penny and Kelly brought this to life. All of our quickwrites were based off of various engaging texts (and I use text to refer to anything you read–words, video, infographics, t-shirts, paintings…) (Ok, enough with the word nerd stuff). We wrote from poetry and excerpts of prose, infographics and video clips. We used the texts to inspire ideas to explore in our writing; they were mentors for our thinking. We also used texts as our mentors for writing–reading them like writers to find craft moves that we could emulate in our own work. I loved all of this. I will flood my classroom with compelling mentor texts for my students to read, think about, study, and imitate.
  4. Elmo. You know, the document camera. I need one. I will procure a document camera for my classroom. Why? (read #5)
  5. Making writer’s notebooks vibrant and indispensable. It is so inspiring to see what Penny and Kelly are doing with writer’s notebooks. I use them, but they are not yet that indispensable reading/writing/thinking tool that I want them to be for my students. I want to invite them to think artistically like Penny’s students do. I want to show them how to track their thinking like Kelly’s students do. And I want to make writer’s notebook work visible for my students (hence #4) so they can imagine new and different ways they can use that space to cultivate their thinking, response, and writing. And I want to have more fun in MY writer’s notebook too. I will work to make writer’s notebooks more vibrant and indispensable in my classroom. 
  6. Making my workshop responsive to what is important to my students. Penny and Kelly shared with us today (and had us write about them) two short videos: Trevor Noah on recent police shootings of innocent black men and Prince Ea’s “I am not black. You are not white.” Having woken up to the news about the horrible sniper shooting of police officers in Dallas at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, we needed to process, to be sad, to be angry, to think through it all, to discuss it with each other. Penny and Kelly knew that, and they made sure our classroom made space for us to use words to reflect, to read and discuss powerful texts to help us think. What better way to show students why reading and writing matter to them as human beings? I will be more responsive in my workshop classroom to what is on the hearts and minds of my students.
  7. Being honest about the challenge of conferring effectively. I loved that we heard about Kelly’s seven minute writing conference with a student that went basically nowhere. I have so been there. I appreciated the conversation about the conference we watched and Kelly’s question about whether he gave the kid too much concrete direction or not. This was so refreshing. I find conferring really hard. You want to teach the student something helpful, but you don’t know what it will be until you can find out what the kid is thinking and trying to achieve, and then you aim to teach something effectively to keep that reader/writer growing… all in the space of a few minutes? I find it intimidating. I only hope that what I said was helpful whenever I walk away from a conference. I know with more and more practice I will get better at this. Maybe even record them so I can review them and think about what I’m doing well and not so well. I will work intentionally to get better at conferring.

What’s on your reading/writing workshop manifesto for next year?


I hope I get the opportunity to do this again, #UNHLit16. Thank you to Penny and Kelly for sharing their classrooms with us, and to Lisa and Sabina for making it all happen, and to all the people in the room who came here to learn alongside me. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to talk with more of you. May your remaining weeks of summer break feed your teacher soul so you’re fueled up and ready for the start of the next school year. I know these last three days have been fuel for me. 

 

Posted in #UNHLit16, colleagues, conferring, engagement, gratitude, making change, on the road again, planning, professional development, reflections, teacher geek moments, teaching, things made of awesome, workshop teaching, writer's notebooks | Leave a comment