Student Achievement Opinion

Guest Post: A Grading Journey of Epic Proportions (Part 2)

By Starr Sackstein — May 30, 2017 3 min read
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Guest post by Jonathan So

My last post I started off by saying I have been on a journey of an epic proportion.

This year I was given this amazing sketchnote by @debbiedonsky, a good friend, and felt that it really showed my transformation as a teacher in a “Gradeless Classroom”.

In my last post I shared some of my first year journeys and ended with the change in my classroom.

After my first try, I felt that though I had given up grades it was still too teacher-centered. However, as I moved to a more student-centered experience, I really started to see more drastic changes happening.

For part two of this journey I want to highlight some of the tools and ideas that I found useful for getting my students to reflect and be more a part of the evaluation process.

Before, I kept monthly reports but now they are written by students and me together. Monthly reports turned into term reports as students have taken time to write (our formal ministry reports go home three times a year and fit nicely in between the students’ own words).

At the beginning of the year, the page was blank with the expectation that kids would talk about how they are doing. They answered the question, “what am I learning and how am I doing?” and then they’d draw a picture of the learning. Although, this was not the most successful approach for obvious reasons, the biggest challenge was that students needed to be taught how to reflect before they could be expected to share or understand the depth of their learning. Halfway through the year, I decided to change up the graphic organizer.

This new graphic allowed my students to look at curriculum in a organized manner. As they reviewed content and skills, they’d write in the boxes and plan what they wanted to say. This was the easiest way to get students talking about reflection in relationship to what the curriculum says they have to do.

Sample of student work:

Once they finish their reflection, they show their parents and write a small reflective piece together about their progress so far.

Here are some sample of student letters:

First term: Sample 1, Sample 2

Second Term: Sample 1, Sample 2

What about the Ministry Reports?

I still have to do them. However, this year, I have also started mini-conferences with my students. Right before our reports come up my students use google forms to tell me how they think they are doing and then I spend 5 to 10 minutes with each student conferencing about what they wrote.

It is a long process but so worth it in the end. I have rich and meaningful data for my students, and my students have no surprises about their progress which I think is the most meaningful aspect.

Here are some of my favourite responses:

What have I learned:

  1. Reflection is not as innate as we think it is. Sure we all think and ponder as we grow up, but to use reflection as a tool for success, students need skills and time to learn.
  2. This is a long process, but it is a meaningful one and therefore worth the time.

  3. Not giving grades has strengthened my relationship with my parents and the classroom community.

  4. Most, if not all students don’t really care about marks, they care about learning. A mark may have been a sign of learning in the past, but when asked, they talk about the feedback now.

  5. I have seen more gains in my students in two years than I have in my 10 year career. This might be because I have become a better teacher but I do attribute a lot of this to how students are learning about learning. They clearly see the expectations and set goals to get there.

  6. Going gradeless doesn’t mean that I am turning my back on the system or on years of practice, but just rethinking what it mean to communicate learning.

The last point of my learning has been the greatest impact this year. Going “gradeless” hasn’t really meant that I have no grades but that I am rethinking what it means to learn in school. Our kids are ready for change and need that change. The more we have them a part of the learning, the better.

How might you try some or all of this in your classroom? Please share

Jonathan teaches grade 6 at Ray Lawson Public School, in the Peel District School Board, Ontario, Canada. He has also taught grades 2 to 5 and is one of the lead instructional technology and math coaches at his school. He is a proud parent of 3 young children Izzy, Micah and Levi. He is always looking to promote creativity and exploration in his family, students and colleagues. His interests lie in math, assessment and technology (not in any particular order) but he is also passionate about inquiry and the endless possibilities it has for his students. Connect with him via twitter (@MrSoClassroom)

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.