SHARING REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING AND LEARNING AT CATE SCHOOL
by Annalee Salcedo
They say that if you come back from a professional development conference and don’t use what you learned in your class within two weeks, you’re likely not to use it at all. So on the plane ride from Phoenix, where I just spent two and a half days at Solution Tree’s Annual Conference on Grading and Assessment, I planned how to incorporate at least a little of what I had learned into my classes. I have been dappling with standard based grading for the last few years, but the Conference gave me language (and confidence) that I was able to use immediately in my parent-teacher conferences, which started less than three hours after I landed in Santa Barbara and returned to Cate.
During our conferences, I showed parents their child’s row in my gradebook (excerpted below), which tracked each student’s progress on the learning objectives for the term, listed across the top. I explained how their child’s grade reflects their level of proficiency (on a 1-4 scale) with these objectives at this time. I showed them how most of these skills have already been assessed at least two or three times, and how their score for each skill (in white columns) more heavily reflects their most recent performance rather than scores from when the skills were just introduced.
“That makes total sense,” parents said all night. In most of my conferences, I was able to point out to the parents that their child improved on several skills (for example, Student 1’s improving ability to interpret rate functions), and I could see the pride and approval in the parents’ faces. In a few cases, the parents noticed before I could point it out that their child got several “2”s in a row and they said, “hmm, my child isn’t learning from his mistakes.” In most of these conferences, we didn’t talk about grades - we got to talk about how well our students are learning.
Bill Ferriter was a one of the speakers at the Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading and in his book, “Creating a Culture of Feedback” he quotes Seymour Papert who wrote, “The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them, except for one skill. The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn.” My conferences last night were all about how well students were learning. Parents were asking, “Does my child know what the learning goals are?” “Does my child know where she is on that skill?” “Is he using your feedback?” “Is she checking in with you to make sure she knows what she needs to do to improve?”
I did have one parent persist in a line of questioning specifically about what in terms of content his child needed to do better in order to be more successful in this class. The student had gotten a string of 3s and 4s on the most recent assessment of our target skills to date, and so I said that in fact, mathematically he’s shown solid levels of proficiency. But we noticed that all previous assessments were riddled with repeated 1s and 2s, so clearly this student prepared really well for the unit test, but wasn’t addressing the mistakes during the unit. I was able to explain to the parent that in terms of product, his son was able to deliver, but his process clearly needed improvement. The parent said, “Oh, so it’s not just math you’re trying to teach him. OK, I’ll talk to him about that.” So will I, I promised.
Part of why I felt ready to jump into these conversations with parents just hours after the end of the Assessment and Grading Conference is because I realized that though I’m not using a full fledged standard based grading system, I have fully adopted the Standards Based Mindset, which Tom Schimmer spoke about at the Conference. It was super exciting to share this mindset and evidence of their student’s learning habits with parents during our conferences.
I did have one student attend his meeting with his parents (and I love it when they do that!). But it revealed to me some of the work I have yet to do. For example, my student wasn’t able to describe this system of assessment and grading, even though I had explained it in class and had them read about it on our class website. (Classic: if they didn’t learn it, did I really teach it?). He didn’t know how my google sheet worked, what the 1-4 scale meant, or how this all mapped to a letter grade in the end. This tells me I need to get my students more actively involved our system of assessment. As Ferriter puts it, I need to teach my students how to gather feedback rather than wait for it from me, as if I were the expert on their learning. I need to figure out ways to get my students actively judging their own levels of proficiency, tracking their own progress, and identifying next steps for themselves. Luckily, Ferriter’s book has lots of great practical tips for how to teach students to become experts in their own learning. Those are the tips I was taking notes on during my plane ride from Phoenix, and I can’t wait to start using them!