Sunday, February 26, 2017

Processing My Process: Grades & Goals?

Like most teachers, I am a collector and recycler of ideas. Many of these remain locked up in a memory vault or notebook, while others coalesce around a singular purpose awaiting their moment to enter my practice. Over the past three weeks I have been returning to two ideas that, while not outside my realm of awareness, have by virtue of recently appearing on my Twitter feed prompted me to risk: grading student work without awarding a traditional grade and student goal setting. In the way our work has come together, I am going to use one (ungraded student work) to prompt another (student goal setting). While neither is revolutionary, I am hoping to have my feedback of their work have implications that reach beyond a returned paper set aside in a "portfolio" (translation: manila folder in a hanging folder in a cabinet to be "reflected upon" using a standardized template) or dispensed with disgust at an unfriendly number.

At this juncture (halfway through the school year), I really need for students to take to heart the feedback I have (repeatedly) shared with them, both individually and holistically as a grade level. Just as I am extremely confident I am not sharing anything new with them ("reduce clutter by revising out unnecessary clauses"), I am equally sure that many have ignored the advice from quality educators for the past 11 years of their schooling. I also know that our district (like many) has been sending professionals to training on subjects such as  SMART Goals and growth mindset, other than a passing nod to each in a department meeting, not much practical turn key training has been given. It may be that it has, but I, like the student who needs to be retaught what a metaphor is each year, the ideas have not been presented in a way that has clicked with me. This would likely be a fairer assessment of the situation as others (as you'll read) in my district, if not building, have.

I have toyed with these ideas in class over the past 15 years with varying degrees of depth and success. Like many of the strategies I have refined with my classes, I continue to try and find ways to make their use meaningful enough that they become valued by the students and thereby gain a sort of power and credibility. Articles by Carol Dweck and graphic organizers about SMART goals, to this point, have promoted interesting discussion (and have returned to them in college at which point they express gratitude for having been given them in high school) but have served primarily as "one-offs" that have little real resonance for either teacher or student.

A few weeks ago I came across a tweet (pictured above, left) by another teacher in the same school district as I, regarding her efforts with goals setting with students. Following an exchange of e-mails, she shared some resources with me including a short explanatory video she sued with her classes. At that time, my students had just taken a multiple choice mid-term and I had been looking for a way to have them process the results. It occurred to me that they might benefit from developing some SMART goals around heir own skill deficits as a means of drawing some conclusion as to1) what they are and 2) how to address them. Like "the best laid plans of mice and men," dates and ideas did not line up well enough to follow thru, but I had made some preliminary copies and began to consider a discussion of growth mindset as a precursor activity. Not quite ready to go, I set aside the materials for another day.

In two of my classes, prior to our five-day Present's Week Recess, students submitted analysis essays based upon individual chapters of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, Persepolis: Book 1. My intention when assigning the task (as students were informed of on the assignment) was to follow my normal grading process: read twice, comment and use a generic Advanced Placement writing rubric to provide feedback. I might even invite them to develop some personal writing goals after first providing them the vocabulary with which to do so (see, I still had those copies on my desk which I really wanted to use). The latter part had yet to have actually taken place, but the thought was there.

After a quick review of some of the papers, I came to a familiar conclusion: some of the same mistakes were being made, and not just by those students who had (based on prior experience) written the hit "print" on the library computer five minutes before class. If I followed my past practice, in all likelihood, other than prompting some haggling for points, my x/y grade (x = 9-1 on 9-point rubric, y = 100-65%) would have the same amount of minimal impact. It was then I came across Mike's tweet (above right) and I began thinking of trying something different. What if I read twice, commented with some suggestions for improvement and did NOT give a grade?

As of this writing, after 6+ hours on a train ride to New York City and a third of the way back, I am about 2/3 of the way through the papers. While many of the comments are similar, I am also attempting to personalize them further, a process that takes a considerable amount of time. Too much time to do this in such great detail, very frequently. But... what if we use this as an opportunity to establish some baselines about our writing and with this baseline, and some guided reflection, each developed a SMART Goals for improvement?

With the kernel of an idea of a plan of action, as well a sense of purpose, I find it's time to review some of my notes, finish the papers, and remember where those copies were for class tomorrow... and risk again.

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