Standards Opinion

Taking Names and Giving Feedback

By Starr Sackstein — September 17, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A few weeks into the school year and admittedly, I’m a little uneasy that my usually ever-filling grade book is still empty (at least in the traditional sense).

Instead, students have been meeting with me daily and feedback has been reciprocal through those meetings. In addition to individual conferences, I’m actively walking around the class during work periods and listening in on student conversations, taking notes and making sure to reflect on what I see and hear.

Overall, the conversations in class seem to have shifted. No one is asking me, “How do I get an A?” or “What did I get on that?” Instead, they are asking insightful questions about the material and seem less concerned with right and wrong.

For this shift to work in my classroom, I really need to be on top of the communication with students and parents about what learning is going on in our space. The first major project in my AP Lit and Comp class isn’t due for a little bit but college resumes and essays have provided great insight into each student’s current level. This information coupled with diagnostic results has provided excellent feedback for how I need to pace the class.

In addition to AP, my other classes are following suit in many ways. Newspaper, not a traditional class to begin with doesn’t seem concerned with grades at all. It’s more about publish-ready work and student empowerment. In journalism and publications finance, kids are working together to understand the material and develop relationships.

Starting next week, I will be doing in-class conferences with students based on their feedback (I made a Google Form for them to fill out) and we will discuss where they feel they are now which will inform how to appropriately set goals for the next few weeks based on the current standards being addressed.

Last year I started doing these conferences in November with great success, so I wanted to build upon them this year and make them an integral part of communicating achievement.

It’s important to be practical when taking on major change. Always keeping one step ahead, I want to make sure I anticipate as much as I can, so this is what I’ve been doing:

  • Lessons are planned at least a week in advance, with wiggle room as needed to push back if kids need more time and enrichment activities are available for students who are ready to move ahead.
  • Students are aware of expectations as they are regularly kept in the loop through posted agendas and emails.
  • Materials and expectations are provided upfront to avoid confusion, with time for students to ask questions throughout the process.
  • Individual conferences are set up by appointment and impromptu wherever they can fit.
  • Notes are taken with every meeting, individually and in class.
  • Reflecting on the process on my blog as well as providing students time to reflect has been happening regularly. Staying accountable to myself and to them is essential.
  • The language we use to talk about learning has shifted necessarily. We don’t use the word “grades” - we use standards and mastery.
  • Students are asked to track their progress whenever feedback is provided, so they can maintain ownership of their learning.

The journey so far has been exciting. I’m eager to see how the year unfolds and if students can articulate a shift within their own learning experiences in comparison to the traditional experience.

Thanks so much for reading and allowing me to continue to share my process. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

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.