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Posts Tagged ‘grading’

I Am Them

For the first time since finishing my Masters Degree in 1999 I am back in the student world. In January I began a doctorate program with eighteen colleagues from my district and around the province. It is so interesting going into the modern student world I have been seeing as a teacher and administrator over the last two decades. There are probably a lot of future blog posts in the work and the reflection of my experiences.

For now, I want to talk about my first two major assignments and my feedback on my feedback.   These are both fairly large written assignments – done in a group of three (I really like the ability to collaborate – a post for another time).  We submitted the first one, and a few days later one of my partners texted the others of us in the group to let us know our paper was marked.  I think the text was something like, “Paper is back .  A-“.  Well, that was a bit disappointing, like an A- is an OK letter grade and we all have some paper-writing rust, all just getting back into writing after a long time on the other side of assignments with our students.  My partners then said that there was a lot of feedback on the paper.  I think to their somewhat surprise and disappointment I said something like “We got an A-. Time to move on.  I am not going to read the feedback.”  And perhaps to partially prove a point, I haven’t read any of the feedback on the paper.  I heard it was very good.  The professor raised a number of issues and questions for our consideration.  And I know he may be reading this blog, and I know I am supposed to be a mature learner, but I didn’t read the feedback – I had my grade, A-.  And that was OK, and I was moving on to the next assignment.

Push ahead to our second assignment. Same professor.  We got it back today.  There was no letter grade on it.  He gave some kind comments that we were well on our way and he offered a lot of feedback, questions, suggestions, and provocations throughout the paper.  I have read the comments three times already and re-read the paper at least as many times.  I am sure I will spend several hours seeing how I can incorporate the thoughts into an improved paper.  I see some ways it definitely can be better.  My mind is just so different without the letter grade on the assignment.  I know at some point there will be a letter grade on the assignment and as our professor says, “deadlines are your friends.”  And in that way, I guess marks are as well.  They do signal conclusion.

Now, for all inside education this little experience I have had will not come as a surprise.  For the last twenty years (and longer) we have been talking of the power of feedback and the challenges associated with grades on papers.  This links to the movement away from grades at younger ages.  It is interesting to experience it myself.   Feedback is an invitation to a conversation and to improvement and grades (even if accompanied by the same level and quality of feedback) is an end point.

Thinking of our students, and what they have told me about feedback and grades, as I said in the title, I am them.

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I am not sure what it means to take off my ‘teaching hat’ and put on my ‘parenting hat’; it’s kind of all the same to me. I also think we bring all of our hats to help us in different situations. That said, this is a post with my ‘parent hat’ in mind.  As classes are settling in and school is in full swing, I have some hopes for my own kids’ experiences (and my engagement with these experiences) for the coming school year.

Communication

I am so pleased so many teachers have websites.  I love how the teachers display their kids’ work, giving weekly previews and sharing ideas on how we, as parents, can support their current learning at home.  My day job severely limits my ability to see school in action for my kids and the website is a wonderful way for me to stay connected.  I also appreciate the ability to subscribe to the websites and receive emails with new content.  While I know we should be checking back regularly, the updates are a great prod for me to take a look. I know it may seem like “one more thing to do” but the sites have been an amazing tool of engagement and connecting me with my kids’ learning.

Homework

I really would prefer you didn’t.  I won’t use this space to get into the big debate about the value of homework (that said here is an article from Alfie Kohn that will get you thinking), but I know our kids, like so many other kids, are very engaged in learning outside of school. So, particularly at their age (young elementary), homework is really unnecessary.  I do love home reading, particularly when it is focused on reading and sharing and not about simply reading a certain number of books.  My oldest son has the ability to turn reading into a contest, to find the easiest books to read as possible, so he can ‘win’.

Create Some Space

The most enjoyable times my older daughter has had in school have been when she has had some free space and choice of what she can learn, and how she can display that learning.  Please give them some work that pushes their boundaries, pushes their thinking, and that does not necessarily have an “answer”.  They love this type of work, it is what they talk about at the dinner table.

Be Careful with Busy Work

When there is a Hollywood movie being shown, one of my kids wants to stay home.  She also doesn’t understand why, when she understands a math concept, she should use the rest of the time to colour.  To be clear, these type of things have happened exceptionally rarely, but they discourage my kids from school.

Grading

Again, prefer you didn’t, even with our oldest child in Grade 5.  I have been in education my entire life, but if she comes home and tells me she got a “B” on something, I have no idea what that means and then the conversation ends there.  Please give feedback, and  feedback that my kids can use to improve their work next time, feedback that my wife and I can use to support what is going on in their learning and in the classroom.

What Really Matters

Just take good care of them, help them adjust socially. And, be memorable like all of my elementary teachers were. I can point to at least one way each of my elementary teachers made a difference in my life — from my love of Bruce Springsteen to my interest in storytelling.  All of our kids mention when their teachers ask about their lives outside of school, whether it is about family, sports or other interests. These little things are really the big things for our kids about school.

To be very clear, our kids go to an outstanding neighbourhood school and they have a great sense of place and belonging. And, to date, we have had 10 teacher experiences — all very positive. Here’s to counting on another great year ahead.

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