Replacing Traditional Grades with 4 Words

I wish the idea was originally mine, it seems so simple and intuitive. How are traditional number and letter grades related to student learning? Yes…yes we have all heard the weak arguments about grades representing a students level of achievement related to curriculum expectations. However, this does not answer my question….how are grades related to a students learning? The actual answer is they are not! The sooner we all get on board with this reality the better our instruction practices and our students will be.

Recently I have been reading Tweets and writings from Mark Barnes and Joe Bower. These two men clearly explain the importance of learning being about the exchange of information (feedback) with students and not about providing subjective numbers on a report card or offering rewards and punishments. Barnes’s article entitled “HOW 4 SIMPLE WORDS CAN SOLVE EDUCATION’S BIGGEST PROBLEM” does a masterful job of explaining how subjective grading does little to help students learn. It is simply a relic from the past. Real learning requires the student to be engaged in reflective conversations with their teacher. I add that we need to hear and discuss with our students their ideas, points of view and perspectives on their own work so that we as educators have enough information to truly provide accurate, empowering feedback. Otherwise it is a note on a page (or rubric) which the students can not fully appreciate of understand.

Mark Barnes advocates what he calls the SE2R model:

SE2R

  • Summarize — Provide a one- or two-sentence statement of what was accomplished.
  • Explain — Give a detailed, objective explanation of what learning is demonstrated and/or what is missing, based on the activity’s guidelines.
  • Redirect — When learning outcomes are not demonstrated, redirect students to prior learning or to seek help from the teacher or a peer.
  • Resubmit — Ask students to resubmit activities, projects or assessments, after they’ve returned to prior lessons and models and made changes to the work. This way the teacher can re-assess for mastery learning.

Our report cards do not need numbers, they should be records of the reflections discussed by the teacher and student during the term. It should indicate the strengths, areas of need and next steps to achieve the identified goals. Our statistically driven society (which has been hammered into our students by peers and parents) has resulted in an increase in student anxiety and compulsion about grades. Far too often I am spending time with students and parents trying to persuade them that the numerical grade is far less important than the actual learning. Why are we so fascinated by a subjective number on a page and less interested by the qualitative description of the actual development of the child? I am still astounded by this fact.

When I look through the Ontario Curriculum I find the enormity of it to be disheartening. I believe that mastery learning based on feedback from the teacher during reflective conversations with students should be the goal of all educators. We need to start focusing more on how well our children are learning and less on how much!

MJ

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George Couros and Building Relationships

Today I had the pleasure of attending a board workshop given by George Couros. At first I was apprehensive about attending. I follow him on Twitter, which is to say I have a certain perspective of him. His posts are filled with intelligent academic ideas, thoughtful questions/wonderings, enlightening perspective and a high dose of feel good messages.It is this final aspect that had me questioning whether or not this was going to be just another interesting learning opportunity filled with an ‘overdose of positive energy’ devoid of authentic learning. I AM EXCITED TO SAY THAT I WAS WRONG!

George’s message of ‘cultural innovation’ where engagement (a major buzz word at our board) is seen as a lower level goal resonated throughout the room from the beginning of his presentation. He deftly described how empowerment should be our ultimate goal, not just for students but for all members of our board. While this seems like a simple statement, we as educators spend so much time focusing on what we need (students achieving ministry goals) we forget to give them what they need. One question I was left with today (from George) was how much of what we are doing is best for kids and how much is covering our own butts? This one will require further reflection on both a classroom and school wide scale.

Rarely do I find people who predominantly agree with my philosophy of education (or so it feels like). Question practices, decisions and the dreaded ‘tradition’ regardless of who espousing it should be the norm. People in education so often cling to tradition like a lifeboat on the Titanic, it makes me want to grab a violin and play to their death…or worse to their own irrelevance. We need to seriously examine and question our practices. Keep what is relevant and working and replace the rest with the riches of our new world (new technologies, expanding base of relationships and new ways of showing our thinking).

Here is a collection of what I found to be George’s strongest messages for those of you who were not able to be at MEC today.

-Relationships are the key to everything

-School = compliance…how do we break that cycle

-Technology does not equal engagement. A computer to taken notes is a very expensive pencil

-We need to tools relevant to kids (technology) to cultivate empowerment

-would you want to be a student in your class…if not reflect and change

-kids need to be producers and creators of things

-Literate-Adaptive-Transformative (similar to the SAMR model)

-Schools should be using the same tools to teach that students are using at home (youtube, e-mail, twitter etc.)

-Digital portfolios are not simply a collection of work now, but provide students the opportunity to build skills for their futures and in the process create their digital footprint

I could go on but this blog is turning into an essay.

I would like to end by thanking George for sharing his ideas and his thinking with us today. It is rare to hear someone in his position speak so freely and honestly about how our education systems need to change. It is also refreshing to attend a meeting of educators where I felt like my views, opinions and beliefs were truly aligned with the presenter. While I may be a little less emotional or interested in heart tugging videos than George or the majority of my colleagues, I felt validated as an educator today. You can’t put a price on that.

My goal tomorrow is to make my students feel the same way.

MJ