Monday, November 28, 2011

Grading Practices- My Mindset

Over the past week I have read numerous blog posts regarding perspectives on grading procedures, along with several articles on the topic from Educational Leadership’s newest issue, Effective Grading Practices.    I have thoroughly enjoyed the candor expressed within each intentional word spoken about the topic. 

In Ann and I’s world of Multiage, we have naturally changed our own perspective as the year has moved forward.  In our building/district, we are in year three of Standards-Based Grading.  Even though we have been focused on scoring student progress as a 4,3,2,or 1 rather than letter grades of A,B,C,D, or F for several years now, truly understanding Standards-Based Grading sinks in over time.  It is a process you have to become accustomed to since a shift of thinking is required.  You must focus on their progress towards a standard and record where their progress is at each grading period, rather than their effort and graded work averaged over a chunk of time.  This transition, though, has been a very comfortable process for me.  I like how it is black or white in nature; a student either has it or doesn’t.  Simple.

And this year Ann and I have really been able to take it to a new level.  Our students have the ownership of “Meeting Standard” or “Not-meeting Standard”.  (Again, they either have it or they don’t- very simple for them to understand.)  We are very open with the students about the standards they are to learn, introducing them within our Target Walls, but also providing students with their own Mini-target walls that are building blocks based on their individual needs, not their grade level.  Standards-Based Grading allows for the flexibility to move at the student’s pace, based on the student’s individual needs.  It’s what I love about it the most- it allows for “no ceiling, no floor” during the learning process.

The way that we have instilled our grading practices are non-threatening in nature.  Students are not working for an extrinsic motivator, nor competing against their peers.  They have specific goals, work towards them, “meet standard”, move on to the next building block, and set new goals.  Then they repeat the cycle  while understanding that they MUST continue rehearsing, reflecting, and synthesizing their knowledge base as learning continues in order for long-term retention to take effect.  They understand the true learning process.  It isn’t about a grade, or a meeting standard mark, but building their own intellect- because that’s the real purpose, right?

So filling out report cards can seem tedious in a process that is built in this manner.  (Our students could have filled them out on their own, had we let them, because they already know these facts about their journey. Every day is about their own personal progress.)   Formal report cards are an extra step, but it does allow for a documented trail of learning:  where the student has been, where they are now, and where they are going.  Tracking learning is something to treasure- one should have a way to appreciate their hard work and courageous effort. 

Regardless of which stance you take concerning grading, please remember that any type of grade labels a student.  They should not be blindsided by the marks on their formal report card.  Formative assessment along the way should have involved the students to allow them to clearly understand themselves as learners and where they are on their own continuum.  The feedback they receive is essential to their growth.

The questions we should continuously be reflecting on often, through our own learning journey regarding this issue, are:  How often do I provide my students with feedback?  Is my brain doing the work during the correcting process, or is theirs?  Do my students have specific information about their own learning profile?  Do they set their goals, or do I do it for them?  Do they choose their path each day, or do I make those decisions?

Ann and I allow our students to teach us every day, and because of this mindset we have grown exponentially with the use of daily formative assessment and student self-assessment.  In the end it isn’t about the final grade, but the learning path you walk together.


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