We know that we should be using “triangulation of data” to assess and evaluate students. We know that we can often find out more about what students know and can do by observing them, listening in on group discussions and through our 1:1 conferences with them. All teachers know more about their students than their mark book would show. However, when we want to use that knowledge to help inform a report card grade, we must have evidence that we could share with a parent if needed. We cannot simply say that we “remember” that their child could or could not do something.
At first glance we might think that recording information gleaned from observations and conversations is going to be time-consuming and onerous. How do I possibly write down the conversation as I am having it? Do I have to go home every night and record every conversation I had or observed?
If, however, you have intentionally decided what the learning goals and success criteria for a learning cycle/period are, then recording observations and conversations is easier because it focuses your data collection. Here are some ideas you could experiment with:
- You can use a rubric or continuum for learning over time instead of just for one assignment. For example if you are teaching writing, the craft of writing (organization of ideas, voice, sentence fluency, conventions etc) is the same for all writing. In reading, understanding the main idea, the theme, inferring, understanding character and the author’s style is the same for all texts. For history you could have a rubric about identifying conflict and change, and understanding historical perspective. In French you could have a rubric about pronunciation, using correct grammatical structures and responding to questions. For all subjects you can identify the big ideas for the subject and assess students on them over time.. When you are observing or conferencing you can highlight where the student falls on the rubric or continuum. I suggest colour coding and dating each observation. What is important here is that you are not penalizing a student if you don’t observe something but are able to note what you are observing. It requires no note taking. It is like creating a student profile.
- You could create a check-bric of ‘look fors’ (correct fingering in music; referring back to the text in book club meetings; flexibility in using math strategies; sportsmanship in PE; using scientific vocabulary during science experiments). Over a shorter period of time you would observe students to look for evidence of more specific criteria. I find that if I break my class lists into groups by color highlighters and then focus on the “blue” kids on Monday I am more likely to use this method.
- You can record student collaboration by having them use an ipad or chrome book to record their conversation and then listen to it later. At that point you could make anecdotal notes or fill in your rubric or check-bric. It has the added benefit of keeping kids on task.
- Instead of trying to record observations of all kids on a given day, decide to sit with one group each day. The hardest thing as a teacher is to observe without saying anything. It’s easier to take notes when you aren’t talking. Try it and you will find out a lot about your students.
- At your guided learning table, keep your assessment binder. After you have worked with some students take a few minutes to jot down what you learned.
Not every time you talk with or observe students will you need to record what you learn. At first you may gather too much or too little data. It takes time to figure out what the “just right” amount of data is. However, if when you are looking at your data for determining report card grades and you don’t have any data arising from conversations and observations then you may want to try something for next term that provides you with evidence and accountability.
Sometimes when we adopt new ideas in education, it takes a while during the implementation stage to figure out where the balance is. Some of you may remember “whole language”. While the actual research into whole language pedagogy never suggested that phonics was not an important part of reading, the early implementation of the pedagogy got a little messed up. Once we took the ideas of whole language and developed a more balanced approach to learning, things got better.
As the educational community has moved more towards “student-centered learning”, “learning by doing” and “student voice and choice”, we do need to remember that teachers can still tell kids that there are “must dos”. It is choosing when and where to implement the “must dos” that is tricky and requires extensive teacher knowledge and professionalism.
Recently my math teachers and I went to a session with Marian Small ( a well-known mathematics guru). A teacher in the audience lamented that her grade 9 students couldn’t cope with proportional reasoning because they didn’t know their multiplication facts. Small’s response was: Teach them. As a more problem-based math environment is being implemented in Ontario there is confusion about math facts. And, students who are perfectly capable of knowing them with greater automaticity arrive in grade 7 without that skill. It makes fraction work very difficult.
In primary language classes across the western world, primary students are encouraged to write long before they know how to spell or use proper capitalization and punctuation. This is a good thing. The problem is that at some point there needs to be an expectation that they apply correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization as they are writing. We get students arriving grade 7 believing that it ok to write without any capital letters, periods or paragraphs until the revision stage. It is an efficient practice and no writer I know would ever make so much work for themselves.
So we have decided two things: we will insist that most students learn their number facts and students will write using periods, capitals and paragraphs as they go in the first draft. It is not a choice. Students need to know how to do this. We will see what happens.
It makes me think, however, about when and where student voice and choice should come into being and how we interpret this as teachers. It reminds me of parenting. I always gave my children a choice about the pajamas they wore. I never gave them a choice about going to bed. In classrooms we want to make sure that we are providing multiple entry points into learning and opportunities for students to express their voice through choice. But, we also need to remember that we, as teachers, get the big picture. There are times when we need to have “must dos”; when we need to ensure that students are having the specific opportunities that we know will ensure success.
Today I had to really think about why we integrate technology so well into our program at our school as I had a visitor who came to observe and ask questions. He was impressed by the fluidity of the technology use in all the classrooms. He was impressed with the level of engagement of the students. We talked about how using chrome books or ipads was not an event at our school but just part of how we do school. How did that happen he wondered? I think there aremany of reasons but the main one is pedagogy. In all things about teaching, all the pieces have to complement each other: teaching style, resources, assessment, classroom management and technology. One of the questions that our visitor asked was how did the teachers feel about giving up the computer lab two and half years ago? My response was that by the time we started to think about doing so, the way we taught had changed so that a computer lab really didn’t mesh with how we were teaching.
In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher had all the control: all the students did the same assignment at the same time with the same due date; all the students created the same art project; all the students read the same book finishing at the same time. And, all the students used the computer lab for the same purpose at the same time. This gave the teacher a sense of control, and comfort.
As we move toward more student voice and choice, toward a more workshop environment, we find that kids are working on different assignments, at different times. They are reading different books at different speeds. They are writing different genres and on different topics. They may be working on an Ipad, on a chrome book or laptop, on their own phone or in a workbook. Some students may be using voice to text software. Some students may have the google document translated to a different language or different reading level. Students may be working individually or in groups. A traditional teacher, thinking about this might think it sounds like chaos. But it is not.
The trick to teaching is not in control but in intentionality. When you, as the teacher, know exactly what you want your students to be able to know and do then it is easier to allow them to arrive at that learning goal in a multitude of ways. Your intentionality will lead the way. It is important to realize, though, that student voice and choice is not the same as “anything goes”. If you intentionally want students to be able to write a well-crafted and organized paper they may be able to choose the length, the topic and the format. But, a diorama will not meet your learning goal.
Our fluid use of technology in our classrooms is not because we are tech-savvy (although many of us have become so). It is because our pedagogy allows for fluidity. We are intentional in what we want students to be able to know and do and we create an environment in which technology supports those goals. Had we tried to implement this degree of technology into a traditional teaching practice it would not have worked. It is not about the technology. Technology is not a thing. It is all about the intentional learning and teaching in the classroom.
In the olden days, determining the report card grade was easy. A teacher’s mark book had a collection of grades which were added together and divided by 100 to create an average mark. What a student did in September counted as much as what the student did in January. There was no such thing as formative and summative assessment; all assessment was valid and counted. It didn’t matter if the mark was on a first attempt assignment or a tenth attempt. Now, as we have learned and researched more about how students learn, we have had to rethink how we assess and assign report card grades. Good thing is that we are, hopefully, being fairer to students; bad thing is that it is really hard to do.
- Overall expectations: Report card grades are about meeting end-of-year over-all expectations. So, the January report card is a “dipping in” to tell parents and students how they are doing about meeting end-of-year over-all expectations. Instead of thinking of the grade as being an accumulation of meeting a bunch of specific expectations, you can take a broader view about how the student is meeting the overall expectation in relation to the specific expectations. For example, a specific expectation in language is “establish a distinctive voice in their writing appropriate to the subject and audience”. If a student had not demonstrated a growth in voice but had demonstrated growth in some of the other specific expectations that lead towards the overall expectations of “generate, gather and organize ideas…” and “draft and revise their writing…”, the lack of voice may not, particularly in January, affect a student’s grade but rather be a next step.
- Most recent and most consistent. This part is also tricky. Ideally you should have multiple pieces of evidence to support your decision about a grade. Since the overall expectations are pretty big, all of the assignments and tasks students have been doing all term should contribute towards their understanding of these overall expectations. At the beginning of the term students are learning and practicing—any assessment data you have is probably formative in nature and not going to inform the report card grade. Think about learning to drive; you wouldn’t want your first attempts at parallel parking to be part of your final driving test! However, towards the end of term students should have had enough practice time to be able to demonstrate their learning independently and consistently. These attempts are more likely to inform the report card grade. However, if in January, a student produced a product that was not up to his/her regular standard, it should not count against the student. To be fair, everyone has bad days. And, some assignments/tasks are richer in scope and may need to have more input into informing the final grade than others.
- Where does formative end and summative begin???? As much as possible, assignments and tasks that “count” towards the report card grade should have been done independently. If you have a student who always requires assistance to get work done (not prompting but help) then that needs to be factored into the grade. You don’t necessarily have to decide that a task is formative for all students and another is summative for all students. For example, if you had students do a “summative” task in late November but found that 25% of your class didn’t do well, it may have become formative for them as you did some more teaching and gave them another opportunity to demonstrate their learning. Perhaps during the learning stage, your conversations and observations led to you to believe that a student had a solid understanding. All of his/her assignments and quizzes were fine. But, during the final assessment the student didn’t do so well. During a conversation with the student about this test revealed that the student had been nervous and made some silly errors. The “summative” for this student may not have as much weight. You have the duty to find out about these discrepancies so that your evaluation of a student is fair. So, you don’t have to be too rigid in which assignments “count” so long as you are using assignments and tasks that were done independently by students.
- I don’t want my students to feel bad. Unfortunately we have to assign marks and no one likes getting a poor mark. But, if based on your learning goals and success criteria students are not meeting goals, you cannot give them a level 3 or 4, even if they have tried really hard. A good way to know you are on track is to do some subject and grade teacher moderation. A ‘B’ in one grade 8 class should be the same as a ‘B’ in the class next door. One thing to help students understand the grading system in Ontario might be to say that a ‘C’ grade means that the work is a bit tricky for you but that you are heading in the right direction. A ‘D’ grade means that the work is very difficult for you but we have a plan to help you. Discussions around growth mindset might be helpful for your students before you hand out the report cards.
- The body of evidence: Make sure that when you are assigning grades that you take into consideration conversations, observations and products. When you are using conversations and observations as part of your body of evidence, ensure that you have written records of this.
- Professional Judgement: This is the hardest part of assigning grades. As a teacher your professional judgement is tied to a number of other factors: being planned and purposeful; planning with the end in mind; knowing the curriculum; teacher moderation (so that you aren’t working in a vacuum); and, experience. It is the ability to assess all of your information for each individual student in light of the curriculum and decide how well that student is doing, at this point in the year, towards meeting the end-of-year overall expectations.