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.
- 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
- 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.
- We are creating a culture of achieving rather than a culture of learning.
- 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.
- It will create resilience, grit, empowerment and engagement
- 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
- 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
- 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 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.
- 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.)
- 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 https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573083121313406310/sent/?sender=54817457872879148&invite_code=343ee9f339bba45a73ebb12f66803b8c)
- 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.
- 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.
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.
I have struggled with feedback and what it means for the majority of my career. I always thought that it was limited to when I handed back a test and we went over the answers, or during an essay when I would mark them on a 6pt rubric and offer written ideas on how to improve or think of other points to include. I am now rethinking how and when I do feedback.
Feedback, I have learned, is more powerful in the moment (as long as I do not interrupt them “in the moment”), that it is often more powerful if done verbally and in the form of an inquiry question to make the student go deeper. I have also found collaborative feedback among classmates is often more beneficial for learning than anything I could every say/do (peer review/assessment or simply inquiry based learning). Try some of these tips that I have found on Pinterest and Twitter and challenge yourself to provide meaningful, growth focused feedback.Formative feedback
- George Couros – The Innovator’s Mindset
- Dave Burgess – Teach Like a Pirate
- Don Wettrick – Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level
- Dan Pontefract – Flat Army
- Paul Solarz – Learn Like a Pirate
I always seek student feedback. I ask for feedback on a specific project and also do a teacher feedback survey at the end of the year. After reading Couros’ book (and the section on how he would do teacher pull-outs) I went back to my feedback that I did last June which I still had and a few of them commented that they would have liked to have done this mid-year so that some of what they said they would change could have been changed or addressed for the rest of the year. So I put 2 and 2 together and back in November/December I created a binder divided into 7 sections for all my classes. Each section is nicely divided with a coloured tabbed divider and each section starts with a class list. I created a series of 17 questions divided into 3 sections for the 3 terms we have at school (See link below). So now I have a binder with 184 pieces of paper with each student’s name on the top.
During a purposely planned day of engaged group/seat work, I pulled the students in groups of 5-7 to an office or vacant classroom. They all thought they were in trouble and this was going to be a stern talking to. I had to laugh as I started to tell them where my head was at for this pull out. I told them that it was threefold – first – to get feedback on me, my class, my teaching style and the content; Second – to get feedback on the school and their lives in and out of school; Third – to try to make their lives simpler and try to help make school more engaging and possibly make some meaningful changes around the school based on their feedback. A sense of calm came over them and they freely opened up to me as I broke the ice with my planned questions and then ensured I gave them an opportunity to provide any other feedback about me, the course or the school. A lot of them went off and started to talk about other subjects and as they did I told them I was more than willing to hear what was happening in other classes but did not want to hear specific names associated with those classes (and if there is only 1 teacher teaching the subject I asked them to be vague about it and only give me the overarching subject – for example I’m the only Law teacher at my school so they would have said Social Studies if they were referring to Law). Some of the findings were eye opening – such as most are working 20-25hrs per week in grade 11 and 12. They all love our new Flex block schedule – see wgss.ca for more info on that. A lot of them feel that they cannot talk to or approach their teachers. That many teachers, although passionate about their subject fall short of actually engaging their students in the subject. And the list goes on.
I took this feedback, pondered what it all meant and have made some innovative and meaningful changes in my teaching (see Making Student Life Simpler – Creating an Assessment Calendar). I have taken a lot of what I read recently (see the Must Reads for Re-Energizing your Teaching) and modified for my purposes. I have revised lesson plans to empower my students to take ownership of their learning (see Lessons to Empower Students). I have touched bases with some of my students and asked for feedback on how I have changed things this week – all have said 100% they love the changes, look forward to what we will do next and are engaged for a longer period of time in the class. One student did say that they were always engaged with my powerpoints, stories and humour but feel that this way she actually remembers the content as she found it and had to understand it, versus me giving it to them.
So I think the value of taking 7 hours of my instruction time, 25 mins of a students instruction time, to get meaningful, authentic feedback has paid off for the positive. I encourage everyone else out there to try to do the same.Student Check in Sheet