My first quarter of fifth grade is over and it is time to reflect. This is scary because the transition has been difficult for me and I’m afraid I haven’t done all that well. The good part is that there is room for improvement. This post will look at how I have tried to deal with the idea of a single grade report for each “subject.” I hope that this reflection will help me make some positive changes in the future. My next post will talk more about how I have struggled with bells that disrupt thinking, the short learning periods that result, and what I have tried to do to make learning deeper and more authentic.
Grades have been one major bugaboo this year. In elementary school, where I come from, we didn’t report grades, but handed parents a rubric that reported a child’s path toward grade level expectations on a variety of standards. 1 Our middle school uses a Pearson developed web-based Grade Book system. Grades are calculated based on “assignments” entered into the book. There is little or no room for narratives that describe student progress, or for other forms of documentation of student learning. Furthermore, the grade book averages these scores to attain a final grade, which goes against my sense that learning should not have to happen on a time schedule. I do not want to penalize one learner for arriving later than another, nor do I want to send a message to learners that there is a single path to follow or a single destination.
A significant amount of my time this quarter has been devoted to figuring out how I can mesh my values with this system. So, after some effort my esteemed colleague, Heath, and I have developed a rough draft of a standards-based rubric for reading and writing so we can report progress to parents and students. 2 We developed these after looking at the IA Core reading and writing standards, with an eye toward trimming them down to some of the most important ideas within the standards. 3
While just an early draft and still a rubric (see footnote #1 below about rubrics), I hope to eventually move beyond this toward to some kind of challenge-based tasks that are more real and meaningful than simply documenting progress toward someone else’s standards. Both students and teachers could eventually collect these documents and describe the learning that happened and the next steps. Perhaps we could even link these collections and reflections through our Pearson GradeBook site so it would simply serve as just a “shell” to house a link to our real documentation of student learning. 4 I have not figured out what changes I need to request in order to make that kind of linking to happen.
First quarter was rocky in part because I developed the rubric as the quarter was moving along. As a result, the rubric did not guide our learning during the quarter (and documentation could only be done by me, and was rarely shared with students…sigh); it evolved as I learned about the constraints of my new situation. To improve, my goal is to present the second quarter rubrics to learners this week. We’ll unpack them slowly together, and brainstorm ways we could document our learning. If I can do this, I imagine it will help to insulate us from having to post and complete numerous “I can…” statements over the course of the quarter. It might also allow us to develop some smaller projects/challenges/inquiries that could provide the context for our learning and our reflection. 5
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I bought a great book recently, Lost in Translation, which contains about 50 words from many languages all that cannot be translated into English. One of my favorite words is the Hindi word: jugaad, a noun meaning (sort of) the sense that the project will get done despite the fact that when the project started, the resources may not have been sufficient to complete the task. I’m thinking that jugaad might be a word I need right now.
- While standards-based reporting is much better than reporting a single grade for a subject area, I am more radical than most when I rebel against even this amount of “standardization” of learning. I share some of Alfie Kohn’s thinking about some of the problems with standardization of learning. I know. I’m an idealist, but there should be a place in the learning universe for us, too. I will probably always feel a disconnect between my work in public education and what I know about deep learning. ↩
- Many thanks to my principal, Leona, for clearing the space for this experimentation. When you hear this from your principal, you know you have a good one: “So what I’m hearing is that you need some time and space to try this, maybe fail, and then try again? You got it.” ↩
- Most certainly we haven’t achieved our goal, but we are farther along than if we hadn’t tried. You can see what we have done for writing and reading. ↩
- Linking from the Pearson site would be a delightfully ironic twist. ↩
- I am learning how the constraints that bells and short learning periods — 43 minutes — influence the kind of thinking that we do together. I have a much greater sense of how important it will be to really engage students in their own learning. Forty-three minute periods have an amazing ability to generate passivity. ↩