Working group assessments in with #SBG

Yesterday, I read a few posts from physics professor Joss Ives at his blog, Science Learnification. One of the posts that really got me thinking was about weekly two-stage quizzes in his physics classes.

A two-stage group exam is form of assessment where students learn as part of the assessment. The idea is that the students write an exam individually, hand in their individual exams, and then re-write the same or similar exam in groups, where learning, volume and even fun are all had.

I really like the idea of having students take a quiz individually, then take it again immediately afterward in a group. I’m going to give this a try next time a give a quiz. If nothing else, instant feedback mixed with collaborative problem solving is a powerful combination.

What I’m trying to wrap my brain around right now is how to work this in with standards-based grading.

Since I don’t give points, I can’t do the 75% individual score + 25% group score = quiz grade split that Joss uses. If I could sit with all groups at once, I could observe and listen for individual involvement in the discussion & problem solving.

It may be that we could just do the group quiz portion as a learning experience and leave it at that. Since my students are always allowed to re-assess, there is value in learning after the assessment.

What I think would be lacking for me is the level of engagement that Joss reports in the group problem solving portion of the quiz. His kids are engaged in no small part because everyone’s grade is on the line. I’m not sure where the immediate motivation would be for many of my students.

Any ideas?

Why I’m UNgrading my students

I couldn’t call it DE-grading, now could I…

I never felt right about grades before...

I never felt right about grades before...

It couldn’t really be this easy, could it?

  • Increased motivation to learn for the sake of learning
  • More time on task
  • A rise in creativity and critical thinking
  • Improved work completion
  • A much more positive classroom culture
  • No angry calls from parents

I’ve seen all of these things in my classes in the first month of school.

What did I do?  More importantly, what DIDN’T I do?  You’re thinking, “here comes the sales pitch…”

I haven’t given my students a single grade.

I’m calling in UNgrading.  I want to thank Joe Bower and Alfie Kohn for the inspiration and courage to dive in and do it!

First, some context, so you can see how your system and mine are similar and different:

  • I teach high school science at a public school (not a charter)
  • 90+% of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch
  • 90+% of my students are ethnic minorities
  • We have a traditional school structure (standard course offerings, 6 period days, 55 minutes per class, etc.)
  • I am required to report athletic eligibility grades every Friday
  • I am required to give students progress reports every 2 weeks
  • I must report grades at the end of each quarter
  • My electronic gradebook is viewable by any parent at any time

Pretty standard stuff, really.

For years, I’ve wanted to do away with grades but never was sure how.  Somewhere in my mind, I was still caught up in the fallacy of needing grades to motivate students.  I also felt a strong need to have a defensible position for my grades.  I wandered through the woods of various point systems my first 3 years.  I gave standards-based grading (SBG) the old college try the last 2 years.  Retakes and no late penalties; all that stuff was part of my system.  No matter what I did, it never felt right.

I always said, “I love teaching but I hate grading!”

Now I know why: I was evaluating student work and passing judgement on it.  No matter how clear and detailed my rubrics were, it was still my subjective evaluation of their work.  In fact, the more clear and detailed my rubrics, the more boring their work became – both for them to do and for me to assess.

Next post: How I’m doing UNgrading!

Image used under cc license from the flickr stream of amboo who?

Grading moratorium

It just occurred to me that I never cross-posted my Grading Moratorium guest post on Joe Bower’s blog, for the love of learning to my own blog!

If you have somehow managed to not discover Joe’s blog yet, grab a cup of coffee and set aside some time to read it.  Listen to some Rage Against the Machine while you do.  Get all frothed up in a lather, burn your gradebook and join the Grading Moratorium too!

My Grading Moratorium post: Grading Moratorium – Tyler Rice

I’ve wanted to abolish grading in my classes for a few years now.  Grading has always been my least favorite part of teaching.  I love teaching but I hate grading.  Why do I hate grading? Because I don’t enjoy sitting by myself and evaluating the quality of someone else’s work and then distilling all of that work down to a single letter or number.  Three years ago, I started this journey by no longer giving zeros or late penalties on assignments.  I started that process with the minimum 50% policy (students get no less than 50% of the possible points on any assignment, no matter what).  Two years ago, I instituted standards-based grading in my classes.  It was a major step forward for me in many ways – assessment became more about the learning than the doing of a task.  However, I still felt that something was wrong.  Kids didn’t understand their grades. Neither did parents.  I was still sitting by myself (mostly) awarding grades to student work.  Don’t get me wrong, I did a fair amount of self and peer assessment but the final say still came down to me.

Last spring, I came across Joe Bower’s blog, for the love of learning.  I voraciously read everything on his blog.  Some articles more than once.  I shared them with peers.  I used Joe’s feedback form with my students.  Most importantly, I sat down with my students for the grading of their final project of the year and I had them tell me what grade they deserved and why they deserved that grade.  I asked questions and made observations about their work but I left the final say for the grade up to them.  That was the most I had ever enjoyed grading – because I wasn’t doing it!

My intention for this coming year is to do the best I can with the requirements of my system.  I teach high school science.  We are required to post athletic eligibility grades weekly, give progress reports every other week, and post final grades at the end of each quarter.  All of this takes place on a computer system that parents, students, administrators and fellow educators can access.  Therefore, I plan to place the burden of grading onto the students.  Much like I did in last spring’s trial run, I plan to conference with students when possible and ask them to grade themselves.  When that isn’t possible, I plan to create a self-grading sheet for students to complete and submit to me for data entry.  If students are grading themselves too high or, more likely, too low, I will conference with them to try to reconcile our difference of opinion.

Because I am moving to 100% project based learning, students will only have a few graded assignments per quarter.  They will also create electronic portfolios of their best works.  These portfolios will be the evidence that they will use at the end of each semester to assign themselves a grade.  Furthermore, the electronic portfolios will be in the form of publicly available blogs that I will advertise to parents and other teachers so that they can view them and leave comments.

My greatest fears with going to this type of grading scheme are that parents or administrators will not approve of it.  I hope to be able to alleviate their concerns with quality student work that is readily available to them at all times.  I also have a goal to keep my classroom blog much more up to date this year with photos, videos and descriptions of current class activities.  Hopefully this will lend a greater amount of transparency for all stakeholders with respect to the activities in my classroom.  More importantly, I hope that abolishing grading (as much as I can anyway) will lead to greater student motivation and learning in my classroom.

I love teaching but I hate grading

How many teachers out there feel exactly the same way?

In my previous post, I describe the need for a better way.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince you of that need.  If you need convincing (or need a toolbox to use to convince someone else), go read everything about abolishing grading on Joe Bower’s blog, For the Love of Learning, then come back.  To me it all comes down to tons of research on the negative impact of grades on learning and motivation.

Okay, so I’m with you.  Now what?

Assessment really must be about mentoring students through growth and learning while helping them to be metacognitive and reflective.  What I’m talking about here is not grading.  I’m talking about being the expert learner in the room and facilitating students through the process of becoming expert learners.  I’m talking about mentoring students, not measuring them.

Self assessment is definitely a learned skill – and a critical one.  If a student can’t assess their own knowledge and the quality of their own work, then they are not ready for success beyond the walls of a classroom.  We have to use assessment methods that help students to learn how to do this for themselves.

Umm… you’re still not giving me any answers – just more questions.  How do we do it?

Honestly, I’m not sure what the answer is.  I really think portfolios are part of the answer.  Nothing earth shattering there, I know.  However, the real key is dropping the grading of those portfolios – at least by the teacher.

What happens when students grade themselves?  Here’s one great example: No Grading, More Learning.  The Duke professor who did this has more details on her blog, HASTAC.

What if I had my students gathering evidence of their learning throughout a grading period, and then asked them to grade themselves at the end?

What would the teacher do  in this model?

  • Give the students frequent and ample feedback and mentoring on their learning
  • Provide models of quality work and help students learn how to compare their work to these models
  • Serve as the model inquirer and teach students how to ask questions and answer them with clarity and quality
  • Deliver targeted workshops of knowledge and skills that the students need, when they need them

If you think this would be easy, you’re wrong.

If you don’t think the extra work would be worthwhile, I’m never going to be able to convince you.

We need a better way

I stumbled across @joe_bower ‘s blog yesterday – the aptly named For the Love of Learning – and had a field day reading all of his work.  It reminded me of a feeling I began to have very strongly three years ago.  However, due to pressures of the system, I wandered away from it.

The feeling?

I really want to do away with grades.  Students need mentoring and formative feedback, not judgement!

I’ve spent the last three years wandering through the woods of assessment.  I’ve read Stiggins, Marzano, Kohn and others.  In a lot of ways, this all just left me unsure as to what was the “right” grading method.

I thought standards based grading ala Marzano was the answer.  It was better in some ways and worse in others.  I felt like I was doing a lot more work, and yet students were even more confused about why they got the grade they did then they had been before.  No matter how many times I explained it, I still had students ask me “how many points is this worth?”  Standards based grading was better in the sense that it wasn’t about points, but rather measurements of skills and knowledge.

No matter what I do, though, grading remains the least fulfilling part of my job.  I love teaching and I fully understand that, for now, grades are a significant part of my job.  The crucial question is this:

If I love teaching, why do I abhor grading, which is one of the traditional keystones of teaching ?

I’ll tell you why.  It’s because grading gets in the way of learning.  If my job is not about the facilitation of learning then I need to get another job!