I am really excited about starting a new Social Media Team at our school this year. Our goal is to teach students how to engage students in the process of telling our school story. Empowering students to create content will allow us to share more from the student perspective. We plan to meet with students throughout the year to coach them in the process of learning effective practices of using social media tools.
One of many attempts to “fix” the flaws of traditional grading practices, has been the implementation of grading floors. In this video, I provide alternative ways to balance the flaws of the 100 point scale, and traditional grading practices.
Want to promote student voice? Make them the principal! In this video I share a role play idea to promote a collaborative culture, providing opportunity for student voice.
This video focuses on practical ways to plan and implement effective formative assessment.
Schools are being innovative with technology, but is the same innovation occurring in our course and curriculum design? When will we scrap the content area course silos and create interdisciplinary courses that promote problem and project-based learning, which provide authentic, real-world applicable skill development? Allowing more flexibility to combine interdisciplinary content, outside of the restrictions of grade level standards can help. But we also need to get more creative to make this happen. I explore all of these topics in this video.
In this video I discuss how the placement of students reflect our high expectations for their learning. I talk about the importance of shifting from traditional ability groups, to effective, inclusive classrooms that support all students in achieving academic success. This includes approaches and strategies for implementation.
This year, our school implemented a learning pathway model of professional development with our teachers. I’ve shared our rationale and an overview of our work in previous posts. We are now at the time of year when we need to take time to reflect on the success of this model. To do so, we sent out a staff survey, met with our School Instructional Leadership Team, and had individual conversations with teachers at their end of year meetings. After reviewing the feedback, we came away with the following reflections:
1. Choose and autonomy are great, but it must be balanced with some structure and support.
When designing the structure, we didn’t want to micromanage goal-setting, action steps, or resources. We did provide a general guide for groups to use, but took more of a hands-off approach to monitoring and involvement in guiding action steps. As a result, multiple groups shared they struggled with setting goals that could guide the significance of the work, and sustain focus throughout the whole school year.
To respond to this feedback, we made several improvements for next year. First, we structured the guidelines to encourage teachers to generate questions they are curious about, related to their topic. We felt questions, rather than goals, could encourage teachers to pursue specific areas of interest. Groups can generate broad goals, and individuals can also develop and pursue answers to their own questions. In addition, we plan to provide more hands-on support at the early stages of question development, to assist groups with getting started. One method for generating questions, which we will encourage, is to use the Question Formulation Technique.
2. Some individuals struggled with aligning their learning pathway work with their differentiated supervision model.
One of the intended benefits of this model of professional development was that teacher’s who were on a differentiated supervision model could use the work of their learning pathway to support their portfolio or action research. For example, a teacher who participated in the technology integration learning pathway, could focus their portfolio to highlight their work engaging students in learning, and utilization of resources, which are two components of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching. They can take their professional learning and use it to implement strategies and resources to improve work with students, and highlight that through their portfolio.
3. Teachers were interested in more opportunity to share their work.
As teachers collaborated in small groups, the learning they gained was generally isolated from the work of the other groups. Teachers expressed interest in more opportunities to share their learning among the groups. To respond to this feedback, we plan to design our annual Learning Lounge (see @MurphysMusings5‘s post on this awesome experience) to allow groups to share and collaborate midway through the year.
If we want to empower our students to take more ownership of their learning, pursue their interests, and become lifelong learners, we must model these traits through our own professional learning. We need to create experiences that encourage educators to become a profession of learners. We do this by providing a balance of choice, autonomy, purpose, structure and support. I am so excited to see how the improvements we are making to this balance leads to even greater success with this model next year.
Over the past several years, our school has been working to improve our grading and assessment practices. This included identifying flaws in traditional grading practices, and identifying more effective approaches. As a result of this work, we reached a point where marking periods became an obstacle to implementing our practices. More background about the origins of our story can be accessed here and here. Ultimately, we decided to remove marking periods entirely, and transition to a year-long grading period.
Two years ago, after meeting with and getting permission from our Superintendent, our school piloted a “continual grading period” in sixth grade. We gathered a lot of data in our first year, and solicited feedback from students, parents and teachers on multiple occasions. In addition, my assistant principal @Murphysmusings5 and I were lucky enough to get some guidance from grading guru’s Myron Dueck and Doug Reeves. This definitely helped with communication, planning and implementation.
After making some adjustments, last year we implemented our continual grading period into both sixth and seventh grades. Our second year of implementation went a little smoother, and the overall feedback we gathered was increasingly positive.
A Sign of Success
Last year, thanks to the amazing efforts of our teachers, we ended the year with no retentions, and not one student who qualified for summer school. I’ve always disliked summer school, feeling it was a poor approach and ineffective. A few years ago, my former assistant principal @mr_tbloom came up with the idea to “put summer school out of business.” We thought that if we implemented remediation and support programs throughout the year, addressing deficiencies and low grades before they grew too large to overcome, we could eliminate the need for summer school. Last year, that vision came to reality. It wasn’t the elimination of marking periods that led to this success, but rather the hard work and effective grading/assessment practices of our teachers which ultimately helped us reach our goal. However, removing marking periods removed a barrier to those practices, allowing them to be more successful.
The Death of Marking Periods
This year, we are implementing our year-long marking period into all grades in our school (sixth through eighth). We are putting to rest an outdated practice which creates arbitrary timelines for learning, and is an obstacle to effective grading and assessment practices. I am proud of the way our teachers have embraced this change, and excited about the success it has yielded. Our staff showed a willingness to take a risk, and so far, it has paid off. Trying to change traditional, entrenched practices such as grading, is often seen as a daunting, if not dangerous task. However, as leaders and educators we have to be willing to challenge the status quo, take a risk, and embrace change. It won’t always be successful, but when it is, it’s pretty cool.
Do marking periods still serve a purpose in your school? Are they an obstacle to effective grading and assessment practices? What are your thoughts?
Last April, I published a post The End of Marking Periods, in which I challenged the relevance and need for marking periods. I shared several reasons why I felt the use of marking periods were one of the many, traditional, outdated practices in education. Then, instead of just talking about it, our school began to take action.
Over the past four years, our school has been taking steps to improve our grading and assessment practices. We have tried to move away from a culture of grading, which exists in many schools, and instead, promote a culture of learning. We’ve explored many flaws of traditional grading, and identified steps we could take to make improvements. Some of which, I discuss in my post Traditional Grading Flaws and Fixes.
To enhance our improved grading practices, we proposed the idea of piloting an new approach to grading periods. Instead of the traditional, four marking periods, we would pilot a year-long, grading period. Our Continual Grading Period would allow teachers more flexibility with their pacing, lesson design and assessment practices. It would also allow us to enhance our assessment practices, which have incorporated re-takes and re-dos. But ultimately, and most importantly, it would provide more opportunities for students to learn, and demonstrate their learning. We discussed and reviewed the idea with our sixth grade teachers, evaluated the possible benefits and shortfalls, the decided to move forward with our proposal.
Late last spring, my assistant principal and I met with our central administration, made a short presentation to our school board, and with their support, moved forward with our pilot.
Throughout the implementation this year, we continued to have conversations and meetings with students, parents and teachers to gain feedback. We informally collected feedback from students, and formally collected feedback from parents and teachers via surveys. Our student and teacher feedback was overwhelmingly positive. All of our sixth grade core teachers supported the continuation of our Continual Grading Period.
Our parent survey responses were a mix of positive and constructive feedback. The positive feedback included some pleasant surprises, and the critical feedback we allowed us to reflect and make improvements to our communication and implementation. We shared an overview summary of our parent survey, which included our planned improvements (which you can view here).
This month (May 2016), we evaluated all of the feedback and decided to not only continue our grading period in sixth grade, but also expand into seventh grade. With the support from our district, we plan to continue implementation during the 2016-17 school year. I am confident we will learn more in our second year of implementation, and continue to make improvements.
What are your thoughts on the relevance of traditional marking periods?