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Questions Coming from "Going Gradeless" in Secondary Math

This post was originally posted on my personal blog here.

Going "gradeless" (using feedback-focused assessment) has brought about some great things with students, but often leads to more question than answers about my assessment practices. If you are reading this and have any ideas or suggestions I would love to hear from you!
Overarching Learning Goals & Learning Maps
I have started my year in grade 10 math with a set of learning goals and an incomplete learning map. I went into this process with an understanding that these documents will always be working documents. Changes will be needed depending on the group of students and changing needs of the course/society/etc. I am only 6 weeks into the semester and already envisioning the need for changes just based on pedagogy and assessment policy. Some of the reasons for this will be become more evidence in the topic below.
My learning map only has descriptors for level 3, which is partly by design.
1) I couldn't fig…
Recent posts

Trials and Tribulations

So, it's been a crazy few weeks since my last post and now it's time to just sit down with a hot chocolate and type...

I'll start with the highlights which include completing some course specific PD, meeting Starr Sackstein, and having some epiphanies about my own practice. Then I'll end with some next steps for myself (got to model what I preach, right?).

Within my department, there were concerns that we were not ready to deal with grade 9 gradeless. I wanted to do it justice - I figured that my two years of dabbling with gradeless was some background compared to my colleagues who may be dealing with gradeless for the first time. I approached my principal (Jim Kardash) and he was extremely generous in giving us three full days of release - two of which were with the Board's Instructional Coordinator (Kristen Clark). As a course group, we first conferred to create common assessment practices and assignments. That one day was a whirlwind of productive collaboration …

Feedback Focussed Assessment Conversations

This post is essentially a conversation that occurred on Twitter yesterday and this morning about formative and summative assessment, mastery, issues around grade 12U students wanting to know their grade because they need to apply to university, teaching students to self assess based on the success criteria and more. It's amazing that teachers from both elementary and secondary and in more than one board are contributing to the conversation.


[View the story "Feedback Focussed Assessment" on Storify]

Week 2/3 in "Gradeless" Math - Self & Peer-Assessment and Reflecting on Progress

This post was initially published here.

In the second full week of school I put a lot of focus on starting to develop student's skills in self- and peer-assessment. Without these skills the idea of developing an environment that creates more autonomous learners likely would not happen (and the burden of giving descriptive feedback would fall entirely on me - and I also have a goal to get more sleep this year).

Here is the gist of the steps I attempted to take last week:

1. Give students questions to use when reflecting on their work (such as "Have I written my solution so that someone else can follow it?"). I put these on the board and uploaded a photo of them to our Google Site for student's to reference.

2. Introduce the model I am using for descriptive feedback (Acknowledge what you are doing well; Describe what your next step should be; Determine how/when you are going to work on your next step). I also put this on the board and uploaded a photo to our Site. In t…

Can you make a 3D map of Canada? Constructionist vs. Instructionist Strategies

I’ve been teaching grade 9 Geography for over 15 years now and when I say 15 years, multiply that by two semesters and multiply that by at least two sections each semester. So many, many times. I’ve never been happy with how my “Landform Regions of Canada” lessons have turned out. I don’t know why, but it’s very difficult for the students to connect their theoretical learning with actual pictures of the Canadian landscape. I have tried graphic organizers with notes from the textbook, slide shows with many pictures, picture books and art from each landscape, videos, webquests, starting from the geological history, starting from issues based in each region, starting from national parks in each region, students presenting different regions/ecozone to the class, to name a few. I wish I could take all the students on a cross-country drive so they can see it for themselves so I’ve been looking for a good VR experience (if you know of one, PLEASE let me know!). 
Then there are the philosophy …

Unfortunately, the Press Missed the Point

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There was a lot of press regarding the Gradeless Transition at Mayfield Secondary School. Unfortunately, the press missed the point. The focus of many articles and interviews was "negotiated grades", but that is only a small part of the whole thing. The main idea is student motivation and learning - students will learn in a way that is fair, because it is interesting or because they need to know, not for a grade. Grades are the "carrot" and the "stick". We have raised children to fear punishment and crave rewards, but that is not what we should be doing. The lessons we teach are often gone the next day - students have no reason to remember and don't. If students learn because they are interested or find things to be useful, they will retain and use this new knowledge.

There have been countless studies that looked at motivation. Students who receive marks aren't motivated to improve. Pair a mark with a comment and they don't improve. Give the…

Reflections on my first year in a "gradeless" or feedback-focussed classroom

We have now had two weeks of school and the rhythm is returning. Clubs and teams are up and running and classes are even going on their first field trips. It’s amazing how quickly everyone gets into the swing of things. However, I have been taking it pretty slowly in my classes. This is partially because all the “official documents” that I need to give the students are still not complete and partially because I don’t want to overwhelm students with the whole gradeless, feedback-focused, place-based and inquiry-based program all at once.

I ran my grade 9, Issues in Canadian Geography, classes as gradeless last year. Essentially, the whole course was inquiry-based and we used five overarching learning goals that followed the inquiry cycle and that were organized into a learning map. Students completed guided and then open inquiries based on the curriculum. I consulted with students as they moved through the inquiry cycle and gave verbal and some written feedback (usually through Google …