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Assessment of Students needs to be a Two Way Conversation

Following up on previous posts, I have continued pulling students out to do one-on-one conversations at the beginning of each term for over a year now.  These conversations open the door for students to share their interests, issues and concerns about life and school.  It also creates a trusting and honest relationship where they can see my actions addressing their concerns from these conversations in class and around the school.  From there, it is time to expand the conversation and allow the students to take ownership and shared control of their assessment.

I started assessment conversation using major summative assignments and the “Mastery” standards below.  Students would first self-assess after modeling and explanation of the standards from me.  They then use the standards and highlight or check mark each bullet point where they feel they are on the standard.  The key to this that students comment on is that it is all “I can” statements.  Therefore they are forced to be honest with themselves in their self-assessment.  Once they are done self-assessing they meet with me one-on-one and the conversation starts something like this:

Me: so where do you feel you are overall with this assignment

Them: somewhere around _______________

Me: Okay, teach me about this topic

Them: explain as best they can

Me: okay, show me, using the assignment, why you believe you are there

Them: I can do (this)…..I can do (that)…etc. etc.

After this, I go through the key parts of the assignment and provide immediate feedback and allow them to make corrections (if needed) or show them why I agree or disagree with where they have themselves on the scale.  At the end, I ask them, okay so do you still feel that you are _____ on the scale?  Most of them bumped themselves down or said they were a blend of the lower level and the level they felt they were at.

I took this to a new level this term by having term grades conversations.  All 188 of my students (grade 8s and 12s) created blogs/portfolios and were given time in class to update them (every Friday) and they were expected to update outside of class.  Some entries are brilliant and others scratch the surface of what my expectations are.  The point is all my students use their blog, note books and self-assessment sheets to negotiate a mark with me for term 1.  Using the same Mastery Standards, students would place themselves overall for term 1 and defend the position using evidence from their blog and growth of learning in class assignments.  For the most part the students were bang on for this conversation.  I also had my own evidence of marked work and if there was a disagreement I would use my marks book plus their lack of blogging or growth in learning as my proof of where I felt they were.  At the end, no one settled for a mark, rather they took ownership through their negotiation in the conversation.  Students were again provided with immediate actionable feedback to improve their understanding/learning moving forward.  Furthermore, students also wrote a portion of their own report cards by giving me a one sentence goal for term 2.  They typed it directly into MyEDBC.  Finally, none of my grade 12 students received percentages on their report card for term 1.  They knew this going into the class and understand that we are moving towards a culture of learning instead of achievement with marks.  Yes there were a few concerned students going south or east for university but I told them we would also negotiate a percentage that would be given to the counselors at the school to put into their transcripts when they needed them.

Having these assessment conversations took a lot of time….to do all of them at the end of term took 8 days.  I had to plan student driven assignments for this week and was physically drained at the end of every day.  However, the reward for the students and the learning and skill development they have gotten from this process outweighs my exhaustion!

If you want to try these conversations, I would recommend starting small…do it with a group project so that you can get through them in a class and it doesn’t drag on.  Some of my colleagues are trying these now and come to me saying how much time it takes.  They are getting discouraged based on the TIME, however, my advice to them is stay the course.  In the end, student learning and engagement will and has increased as a result and the TIME invested is paid back over and over as the year goes on!

Any questions or comment please let me know.

Level Description

-I can explain and/or teach the concept/content/skill in numerous ways
-I do not need any prompting because I have a firm grasp on the concept
-I can apply my learning to a variety of different situations to show my complete understanding
-I can make numerous connections to other learned concepts to show my complete understanding

Confidently Meeting

-I can explain and/or teach the concept/content/skill as I learned it
-I do not need any prompting because I have a good grasp on the concept
-I can apply my learning to different situations to show my understanding
-I can make connections to other learned concepts to show my understanding


-I can explain and/or teach portions of the concept/content/skill as I learned it
-I can expand on my understanding when prompted
-I can apply my learning to similar situations to show my understanding
-I can make some connections to other learned concepts to show my understanding


-I can explain portions of the concept/content/skill as I learned it
-I can expand on some of my understanding when prompted
-I can apply my learning to similar situations as I learned to show some of my understanding
-I can make one or two connections to other learned concepts to show what I have learned

Getting There

-I am working towards showing an understanding of what I have learned
-I am working towards understanding a few more details when prompted
-I am working towards applying my learning to similar situations as I learned to show my understanding
-I am working to make one or two connections to other learned concepts to show what I have learned
Not There Yet

-I’m not there yet but I am continuing to work to gain an understanding of the concepts learned/discussed in class

Assessment for a Culture of Learning

For those interested in shifting their teaching style to support the push for a culture of learning try these simply assessment “hacks” to change the mindset of your students.

More feedback

Try using the “review” function in Word to write specific comments and feedback on essays/outlines.  Students can then modify or revise and resubmit or at the very least have specific comments to look back on for future assignments.  Also, provide more verbal and immediate feedback during class time.  Feedback is more valuable than a number or letter grade.

More peer and self-assessment

This will take some time and modeling by us.  But once we get the students there, this will increase reflective practices of our students and force them to rely on their peers and selves and not us.  After a while, students will have the tools to edit and evaluate their own writing so there will be fewer corrections needed.  Finally, once we mark something the majority of our students never look at it again so there is more value in their own assessment.

Avoid Zeros and late penalties

A zero is not a reflection of a student’s learning, nor is taking marks off for late work.  We provide feedback on behavior by giving work habits on report cards.  Focus on “your” deadlines and use Flex, their own study blocks or before/after school to have them get caught up on work.  If this does not work, they will penalize themselves on the summative assessment for not completing the assigned homework.  Furthermore, we need to rethink our homework and why we are assigning it.  Is it busy work?  Will it further student learning? If it is that valuable why aren’t we doing it in class?  Yes, some students give themselves homework because they did not use class time wisely, or they haven’t handed in a number of assignments.  Even still they do not deserve zeros or late marks.  Students will do the work if they see value in it and can see how it will impact their learning (not their grade).

Allow redos/retakes

Only allow redos and retakes once all other work leading up to the assessment is completed.  For those who habitually don’t do the pre-work use your discretion to take away the privilege of the redo.  Also, have students complete the redo/retake form and have their parents sign it.  Ensure that parents contact info is included – either phone number or email so you can confirm that the parents are aware.  Finally, only allow the students to write it to improve their learning, not their mark/achievement.

Have students create their own final unit exams

This is a great way to have students practice picking out important information from a unit.  Also, it allows the students to have a voice in what they feel is important/relevant information that they learned/understand.  To assess this, pull out the student and have 1 on 1 conversations about the test, the questions and what they learned.  From this conversation come to a mutually agreeable assessment mark.  The anxiety level will go down and the student will be more confident in the classroom as a result.  Another benefit is it allows the classroom teacher to grow the classroom relationships with the students.

Term marks need to be a discussion

Students need to have a voice in their overall mark.  Teachers have a number in their gradebook due to mathematical weightings but is that accurate?  In most cases no.  So allow the student to have an equal say in their mark and either agree with it or average their say and your mathematical mark.  Students will have a 1 on 1 conversation with the teacher and use evidence of their learning.  This could be reflections on group discussions, tests, essays, projects etc.  The onus is on the student to defend the mark they want to give themselves.

No Percentages

The Ministry has stated that we do not have to give percentages at the Grade 8/9 level and that it is up to Districts/Schools to decide if percentages will be included.  Our School has decided that we are not providing percentages for Grade 8 or 9.  However, if we are truly pushing to a culture of learning we need to continue this into grades 10-12.  Yes, senior students will have a percentage on their term/final report cards, however, they do not need to know daily, weekly or monthly what their percentage is (unless they have good reason like self-reporting marks).

Work Habits Rubric

Started last year was the school’s push for a common work habits rubric.  This would be good to include at interim time with the self-reflection interim and a must for term report cards.  A final copy of this rubric will be provided at a later date.

The Power of “YET”

An interesting discussion during my Master’s class this past weekend.  The issue of “Yet” and how we are affecting our students ability of getting beyond “Yet”.

Your students haven’t learnt that…“Yet”

Your students haven’t understood that…”Yet”

Your students haven’t developed that skill…”Yet”

Your students just aren’t there…“Yet”

What gets us this “yet” statement.  A couple of things we need to consider.  One: students develop at different times/stages of life.  We have arbitrarily said Kindergarten starts when you are 5 and you progress to the next grade etc. and “graduate” at 17 years of age.  But when we think of our own lives most of us honestly can’t say that at 14, 16, 17 or even 20 that we were reflective, truly critical thinkers, risk-takers, or even handed in all of our work in on time etc.  But we expect our students to be there and hold them to a standard that most just aren’t there….”Yet”.  Second, we have set deadlines for our students to illustrate what they have learned; whether those deadlines are term ends, tests or even due dates.  When they fail a test, don’t hand work in on ‘time’ or can’t get an essay written in the proper structure we penalize them.  Ever considered that they just aren’t there “YET” and need more time to learn.  I believe that if we reflect on the “Yet” we will see the power of redos, retests, assignments we are giving our students and hopefully our individual examination of the “issue of grades.”  So for the students who are failing, or those C students…consider that they are just not there YET and think about what you can do to get them there in the few weeks we have left!

Assessing Problem Based Projects

March 30th I introduced my first ever Problem Based Project to my Criminology 12 students.  From day 1 they were engaged and excited to come to class and research causes, find professionals in the field to interview and collaboratively find solutions to their chosen problem.  Students were excited to not have a set criteria and the freedom to go in whatever direction they chose.  Parents signed permission forms to allow students to work off campus or meet interviewees during class time.  Every day students knew they were working on this assignment and knew what needed to be done and completed weekly.  Now, May 5, the projects are due (with the exception of a few who can’t meet with experts until next week).  So now the question of how to assess a mostly criteria free project arises.

Students have been instructed to create their own rubric based on past rubrics I have used throughout the year.  Students will use their own criteria of what they have done in the project and key learning outcomes based on their understanding of the assignment. Starting next week, after I have thumbed through their blogs/websites, I will pull out the groups and go through their projects with them and discuss their self-assessment.  Students will use evidence from their learning, interviews and blogs to show their understanding of the problems/solutions and “defend” their assessment.  So the final overall mark will be a mutual decision made by the group and I.  Students will take full ownership of their mark and there will not be any surprises.  Below are the blog entries and next week I will post some of the student created rubrics.

Example of Rubric from the SAOUNIVERSITY Group


Darla Morrell – rubric

Problem Based Learning – aka inquiry/passion projects

Three weeks ago I assigned a problem based project to my Criminology 12 class.  The assignment simply asked them to find a PROBLEM to a social issue plaguing Walnut Grove, Langley or British Columbia as a whole.  The topics have been insightful and have allowed for conversations to start within the classroom to continue to build on student/teacher relationships.  To start each class I remind them of where they should probably be by this point, remind them of required criteria and get feedback of problems they may be having.

One of the big issues is getting the students started on contacting experts and specifically who to possibly contact.  This is a challenge as grade 12 students, who for the most part do not like putting themselves “out there”, have to do just that.  Students draft emails, have me check the initial email and then, as some have done already, have numerous contacts with their contacted expert.  I have asked the students to include me in all their emails to “experts” in the area they are finding solutions to and I have been both taken-aback and inspired by reading the interactions grade 12 students are having with the adults they are attempting to make connections with.  Below is an excerpt from one of my students in reply to a security expert at a major university:

We are able to come to campus however we are not aware of the exact location of the offices.  As for more information about our project, the premise was for us to come up with a criminology related issue that affects the area that we live in. Our choice was sexual assault on university and college campuses as it has become an increasingly large issue here in BC as you know. Our conclusion will be to have a solution, or multiple, to the issue at hand. At this stage of our research we are meeting with representatives from other educational institutions as well as members of the RCMP to understand protocols, security measures, and what schools are doing to protect their students.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.  Thank you so much.

Students are extraordinarily engaged in this assignment as the only required criteria was: a social issue/problem, link the issue/problem to social or criminological theories, create a blog and record your research/findings/solution.  Currently there is also no due date, as students have as much time to complete the task as necessary (as long as they show me through blog posts and class work that they are still engaged and creating information).  Students have been empowered to take risks and whatever steps they deem necessary to achieve their solution.  They have been informed that they may start down a path, just to realize that they hit a dead-end.  They know that I am there to support them and that there are numerous alternative paths to try.  As I framed it, “failure of one path does not mean failure of the assignment.”  The critical thinking, collaboration in their groups and communication skills they are developing in this assignment far surpass the “old way” of me teaching this unit to them in a lecture style and then seat work to show understanding.

Students have been asked to blog a minimum of once a week to share their research findings, struggles, next steps etc.  My aim is that other students and other experts from around the region can contribute and help guide student learning.  Student’s blogs are below – please check them out and offer any help, guidance etc. that you feel will benefit their exploration!






We Need Numerous and Alternate Forms of Assessment/Reporting

I am always in my wife’s bad books when it comes to report card prep.  My wife teaches grade 1 (and has taught all grades up to grade 7).  It takes her approximately an hour to write each student’s report card, an hour of editing and then another hour re-editing after her principal has read them.  I laugh as I’m done all seven of my blocks in about two hours with edits.  Each year we have the same conversation about what a report card should look like and what its purpose is.  This year, with the “New Curriculum” rolling out in September I think it’s time for districts and the Ministry to make some real change in what assessment and reporting looks like.  Some school districts are ahead of the game in BC, Surrey being one of them.  They have given their teachers the power to choose one of three reporting styles: FreshGrade, traditional or a “New Report Card Template” for elementary.

At the high school level we still input numbered comments or create our own banks of comments and cut and paste.  We are limited by space on the report cards and, due to over 180 students, limited by time.  FreshGrade is a step in the right direction as an alternative in how we report student learning at the high school level.  FreshGrade is an innovative, first to market, multiuse reporting tool that integrates a portfolio, gradebook, report card and a messenger app.  A lot of people are on Twitter and Blogs lately pushing a shift in reporting and touting the benefits of FreshGrade.  I will not deny that I am on the same bandwagon as I am planning on implementing blogging and portfolios next year in my classes (not FreshGrade but other platforms: see Students Digital Portfolios).  I do not want to come across as a FreshGrade ‘hater’ but as I have played around with it I personally see it as an elementary or middle school alternative.  Like many other multiuse technologies where individual platforms are more powerful and do more, FreshGrade has limitations as designers attempted to pack as much into it as possible.  Here is what I am struggling with:

  1. By using portfolios and putting visual evidence online, what are we showing? There needs to be a visual and physical representation of growth. Therefore teachers would need to put the good, the bad and the ugly up to show student learning/understanding. Furthermore there should also be some form of rubric or assessment scale attached with teacher, student and/or peer evaluation.
  2. The evidence is clear that Standards Based Assessment (SBA) is best for student learning. How do we use FreshGrade with SBA? There should be an exemplar put next to their work so parents can see how their son/daughter is doing compared to the standard as well where they need to improve. I have not heard of this being done in the FreshGrade conversation.
  3. FreshGrade limits the ability for feedback from others. Those who are supporting the use of blogs in the classroom argue that the benefit is that students can connect with the outside world and get feedback from others around the globe. Students are skyping and blogging with students in Europe, North America etc. FreshGrade is a closed network for Parents, Student and Teacher and lacks the ability to be put out to the general public.

Starting in “upper intermediate” and continuing into high school grades we need to focus on creating networked students who know how to use social media in responsible ways.  Whether that is using Twitter, Facebook Notes or LinkedIn to create a network of people that could help shape the students learning.  There is no arguing against the power of collaborative learning and FreshGrade does not allow this to happen.  So yes we need to use portfolios, blogs and other social media to illustrate our learning and post work on a frequent basis but if it stays static in a closed environment we are not allowing growth of student learning.

As for reporting I argue we need to do is focus on an alternative template in the high schools as we can learn a lot from our elementary colleagues.  We can and should still have formal report cards that act as a snapshot of learning to date.  But what we should do is create a fluid document that can be revised and modified throughout the term/year.  We should convert these fluid documents so we can report on the curricular competencies in each subject rather than assignment scores (I like the Summary Reports that FreshGrade allows for and these should be a model we base our high school informal reports on).  Then we can use elementary reporting styles to comment on the current understanding of each competency (Exceeding, Meeting, Approaching, Not Yet Approaching).  I envision students also self-assessing on this document as well, allowing them to negotiate and discuss their level of understanding (much like the FreshGrade Self-Assessment template).  Students would know immediately what they need to work on and can self-assess at the end of term as well to see if they agree with the teachers view.  These categories can be combined with student self-assessment, averaged out at the end of the reporting period and given a letter grade. Parents could then have the ability to interact with the document as well, asking questions of the teacher, providing feedback of life at home, student concerns/conversations at home etc.

Rough Example of Alternative Template:

Assignment #1 Assignment #2 Assignment #3 Overall
Competency #1 Meeting Meeting Meeting
Competency #2 Exceeding Exceeding
Competency #3 Approaching Approaching

Parents can then look at the chart and see what their son/daughter needs to work on.  Notice there is no reference to a mark for the assignment but where the student is currently with the competencies.



Mind Shift in BC Education

The “new” BC Curriculum is set to roll out in legislation in September of 2016.  With it, a change in how we assess our students with the Core and Curricular Competencies and the content we are prescribed to achieve these competencies.  A lot of teachers are worried about various aspects of the curriculum implementation such as assessment, learning new content, or anxiety around inquiry/project based learning.  For teachers we have collaboration, professional development days and curriculum implementation days to get ready for September.  But what about the two other major stakeholders in this entire process that are being left out right now: Students and Parents?

I am sure that each district in BC is or will be holding parent info nights to “educate” the parents about the new curriculum, the competencies and the power their children will hold in this new phase of education.  However, like teachers, I am sure they will leave these evenings with more questions and confusion.  Lucky for teachers we have had sixteen months to prepare for September 2016.  Parents, sorry, that was or will likely be the only “open house” info session you will get until September.  So for me, I want to write the rest of this blog as an open letter to both the Parents and Students.

Dear Students.  You have probably experienced some changes this year as your teachers prepare for the new curriculum.  Some of the changes you might think are pointless or as my grade 12s say “dumb” (such as no percentages in gradebooks and less marks but more feedback as assessment).  Others you might think are awesome (collaborative essay prep, creating your own unit tests and fewer lectures and more inquiry/self-discovery).  What I ask of you is an open mind and a willingness to try something new.  Trust me, it is difficult for your teachers too, who have likely been doing some of the same teaching practices for years.  Change is difficult and a lot of work but you should be thankful that your teachers are trying something new that, in the long run, will benefit you greatly.  The new curriculum is designed to provide you with skills required in an ever changing job market.  The top three job requirements at Google are: cognitive ability (problem-solving/critical thinking), leadership (ability to work collaboratively) and humility (ability to say you were wrong and move on).  Right now you are probably still sitting in rows in some classes, listening to teachers talk to you about content and then giving you worksheets to check for understanding.  The new curriculum is going to ask your teacher to shift their mindset and yours to get elbow deep in the learning right alongside you.  You will be asked to work collaboratively in groups to first problem find, then problem solve.  You will likely fail along the way (not fail the course because your teachers won’t be grading you along the way).  But don’t worry your teachers will be there to help you get back up, back on track and encouraging you to find new and creative ways to solve problems and find information.  Just as you will fail along the way your teachers will likely fail too.  There will be the proverbial lesson that, half way through, your teacher realizes is not working (although you and the entire class realized it 20mins earlier!) and they will have to improvise and fix it.  Help them, encourage them, challenge your teacher to do more and give your teachers LOTS of FEEDBACK along the way.  Teachers got into teaching because we are life-long learners.  We all learn best by trying and doing and then figuring out what worked and what didn’t.  The fact that your teachers are willing to take risks in front of you every day should be encouragement enough for you to take risks for us and trust that we are doing what we truly believe is best for you.  This mind shift is what creates grit and resiliency and grit and resiliency will get you that job at Google!

To the Parents.  I ask that you also enter September 2016 with an open mind and shift your mindset to help facilitate the new curriculum.  Yes, you have a more active role in this than you think.  First, you must stop perpetuating the culture of achieving by asking your child what they got on their tests, projects, presentations etc.  Instead you must talk to your child to ask them what they did well, what they could improve on, and any mistakes they made along the way that they can ensure they do not make again.  As I said to the students, your child will likely fail along the way, you must be there, as their teacher will be, to catch them and encourage them to keep going and help them refocus their learning.  Second, create a routine when you get home to help create a growth mindset.  My kids, who are in grade 1 and 4yr old preschool hear these three questions every day: 1) what did you work hard at today? 2) What mistakes did you make today?  3) Who did you help today?  It has become so entrenched in our after school discussions that they ask us when we will ask them the questions.  They have already started reflecting on their day before they get home in anticipation of the questions.  It is a great and easy way to get and stay involved in your child’s lifelong learning regardless of if they are in grade 1 or grade 12!  Third, encourage your child to get on social media and follow them on it (after you have helped show them what proper use of social media looks like).  With the new curriculum your child will likely be creating blogs, digital portfolios and seeking out experts on Twitter and Facebook (grade/age depending of course).  This is the project/inquiry based portion of the curriculum and certain teachers will require this more than others.  For me in Criminology 12 and Law 12 I will be asking them to reach out to experts in the field from around the world to help problem find and problem solve locally in Walnut Grove.  For you to follow them on these sites you will be given a front row seat of what your child is learning and will allow you to continue the conversations at home about their experiences.  This will enable to you to further support the culture of learning we are aiming for with the new curriculum.  Finally, I ask that you too cut the teachers some slack as they are in the trenches, neck deep in learning with your child teaching them the skills they will need for jobs that haven’t even been created yet!  Yes the content is still there but it is not the focus.   Your child will dive deeper in specific topics and due to this they might skip other content.  In the end your child will come out of BC’s Education System with 21st Century skills like critical thinking, creativity and an enriched ability to collect and organize information.  They will do so by using tools of collaboration, communication and citizenry to become better students, people, global citizens and most importantly lifelong learners.

In closing, the world we live in and the new curriculum is participatory.  We need all the stakeholders to participate, take risks and change the way we have traditionally done things to ensure everyone has the chance to succeed and grow as a learner.  Our common goal is creating communities of classrooms where parents, teachers and students collaborate together to support each other!

Why we need to get rid of Honour Roll

As our Admin Team are circulating around presenting term 1 honour roll to all the A and B students in the building, I have a thought about why we need to stop doing honour roll until the end of the year.


  1. Most of us at WGSS have shifted to cumulative marking. To take a snapshot of the “learning” thus far and say that it is worthy of recognition is backwards thinking. We should only be recognizing the end product of the totality of the learning and that is in June
    1. Also a lot of teachers allow retests, redos, revisions etc. throughout the year and at the time honour rolls are pulled after the reporting period we may not have had the opportunity to change the marks etc. Every student learns at different speeds (hence the push for differentiation) and it is both not fair and defeatist if we take the snapshot throughout the year rather than once at the end.
  2. We are creating a culture of achieving rather than a culture of learning.
    1. By rewarding a mark, we are not motivating any students to do better, learn deeper and spend the time improving themselves if we push grades at them (and then reward them based on these grades). With the new BC curriculum being implemented and less focus on content, we need to change the mindset to create the culture of learning – and that message won’t get out until we stop honour roll every term and put the focus on the learning done all year.
  3. It will create resilience, grit, empowerment and engagement
    1. It will create resilience as the goal is honour roll – they know they have all year to achieve it and that it is a one time recognition (and thus means more).  They will seek multiple chances to redo/revise to show their understanding and as a result they will have a better understanding of the info; ultimately shifting to a culture of learning
    2. Grit – as above – they will learn that continued effort, hard work and the drive to the end goal is the key….and along the way learning happens
    3. Empowerment – will lead to students taking initiative and make decisions on their own (likely to redo/revise work). This is done by giving students the skills, resources, opportunity and motivation they need to be successful in the future. This is only done when we remove the focus on grades and shift it to learning. Empowerment leads to motivation which creates engagement of the students and that is when learning happens. Right now we are working on equation that motivated students = smart = honour roll.

The counter argument that I have heard the most to keep honour roll is that we must continue to motivate students to do well and that seeing their peers get this recognition will motivate those not on honour roll to try harder to get on.  Again, this is backwards thinking and we are perpetuating the culture of achieving and relying on grades as a motivator.  The only way to motivate the unmotivated is to empower them (see blog posts Innovation = Engagement and Lessons to Empower Students).  It is time that Administrators and Councilors stop equating success to a number and instead focus success on the growth of the student.

Shifting from a Culture of Achievement to a Culture of Learning

Shifting from a Culture of Grades to a Culture of Learning



I had a student last week come to me and ask “how can I get to 95%?” (She was at 91%). How, as an educator in Social Studies, do I tell a student how she can get 4% better? Do 4% more in your thesis statements; put 4% more effort into studying for the test; put 4% more into __________. I’m sure if I manipulated my EasyGrade grade-book scales, assignment weights or simply omitted her lowest quiz score she could achieve her 4%. But the question still remains, why is she so focused on that 95%?   Yes the university she wants to get into requires this benchmark but more importantly we have created a culture of grades/achievement rather than a culture of learning. I will admit, I am one of the culprits in this practice as I update my online marks with all assignments, scores and grades attached to the student. But what about the university entrance requirements. The simple answer to this I learnt from a colleague last week. He polls his senior math students at the beginning of the year to see who has made a decision about what university they are going to. He then explains that he will not post percentages just letter grades as his focus is on the learning, understanding and growth of his students. He does ask students to have a conversation with him about their plans and goals and he will do everything he can to ensure a specific percentage is met.

Also we need to remember and recognize that universities are moving towards a holistic application. Many of my students are commenting on the personal profile requirement that UBC requires and that it takes them between one and two hours to complete. So as much as the benchmark is required, the whole student is looked at for acceptance. Also, I should add that even if the student does not meet the entrance mark, there are still other options for students to go to post-secondary school such as university colleges in BC. For many this is a better transition as class sizes are smaller, better access to profs and likely cheaper than the bigger universities. Once they complete a year or two of classes they can transfer to the university of their choice as a mature student with easier entrance requirements.

As the link above states, achievement culture is bad practice and we need students who want to learn for the sake of learning. The question then becomes how we shift the practice to a culture of learning. Here in my opinion are some simple ways to do this in our classrooms.

  1. In EasyGrade we can delete the scores and overall percentages and just leave the Letter Grade. Doing this will enable us to give quality feedback to the student and flip the question – what do you think you need to do to improve your lowest category grade (homework, labs, quizzes, projects etc.)
  2. Get rid of the typical homework piece of school. Shift to a more learner, collaborative approach to check for understanding. Instead of worksheets, have the students demonstrate the concept using any medium they choose or have a series of pop quizzes, go over them immediately but DO NOT count them for marks. (see
  3. Give students meaningful and specific feedback about their learning. If this is done correctly, students will naturally dig deeper into their understanding, remember the information and be able to make connections to other topics.
  4. Allow re-tests and revision of assignments.  Whether it is a driving test, LSAT, or provincial exams, our students have numerous real world examples of redoing assessments without penalty.  If redoing and revising leads to a deeper understanding and better reflection of what our students know then retests and revisions should be common practice.


It is still our job to prepare our students for university, but not in the traditional sense most of us are used to. It is NOT our job to throw tests, essays and other assessments at our students in the name of ‘time management’ to prepare them for midterms and finals at university. Rather it IS our job to give our students the skills to efficiently find and synthesize information, show them that depth of understanding is better than breadth, collaborative learning is more powerful than individual learning and that it’s not about the end grade, but how we got there. These skills will serve our students better in university and their lives than that 95% my student is asking for.

Innovation = Engagement

I was invited by my Principal to attend an Admin meeting with him at the Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning (SAIL).  It was a meeting that showcased what other schools are doing around the issue of innovation and flexible structures and to share ideas on how to move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation.  On my page “Thoughts and Rambles” I talked about the argument that innovation = motivation = engagement of our students.  I believe after attending this session and hearing what other schools like SAIL, Thomas Haney, Timberline, Fraser Heights, Inquiry Hub, A.L Fortune, Westview to name a few, has strengthened my argument.

We need to allow students to become empowered.  We need to lose the control that some teachers/administrators have on their classrooms/buildings so that students want to be in that space.  SAIL requires students to be face-to-face 2-3 times a week but they find that students are there more frequently because they are empowered and motivated to be there.  The consensus seems to be that the strongest learning is happening in the most flexible schedules.  Whether it is “X” block at L.A. Fortune, Innovative Timetable at Thomas Haney or Flex Time at Walnut Grove, the learning and value of these times enables students to see the real world connection of their learning and thus become more engaged. Again its not about how engaged the teacher is since if we are truly innovating the students shouldn’t need to rely on an engaged teacher (they need an inspired teacher willing to take risks but in a project-based/inquiry-based model the teacher should be secondary).

It is a really simple equation that we must follow: innovation leads to empowerment and creates motivation in the students to want to learn that ends in the engagement of the student.

We need to think of other ways that typical brick and mortar schools can do to create flexible schedules and innovative teaching styles that will do this for our students.  Thank you to all the administrators who let me in on this conversation and the day.  Any other ideas please leave me a message.