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A New Year Begins

Summer often feels like it flies by. I think a large part of that is that I am always busy. I am busy planning for the next school year, attending all the PD opportunities offered online and planning my own PD offerings while trying to squeeze in time to read and spend time with family and friends.

This summer, I decided I would not spread myself too thin. I sat down as last school year came to a close and looked at what I felt I needed to work on a bit more and where I could do that while focusing on rest and rejuvenation. So largely, I sat in the sun and read.

I enjoyed my return to reading for pleasure, and I have already shared a few of these stories with my students this year. I did some professional reading as well and attended some low-pressure PD. One session I attended ended up being the answer to a question I had regarding my classroom assessment. When COVID-19 closed schools for a few weeks, I decided that I needed to look into different ways to assess my students because I knew the old normal would be a thing of the past. This thinking brought me to Point-less by Dr. Sarah Zerwin.

Cover of Point-Less by Sarah Zerwin
Can be found here

I spent the first few days of Covid closure studying Zerwin's book. I appreciated how it was an answer to many of my struggles and the impending struggle of equitable grading that the pandemic was sure to multiply. I sat with her examples and started playing with new ideas. Starting with my values, exploring what students needed to demonstrate, and then coming up with accessible goals that the students could approach with support. The maiden voyage was a huge success, especially considering most students did not return to school enthusiastically or dedicatedly. Zerwin's work helped me to maneuver that challenge and still provide students with both meaningful and accurate feedback on the work they were completing and, in the end, making the process meaningful. Post "early covid" and a return to the "traditional" school, this new grading method continued to work, but some bumps in the road started to present themselves. Students became apathetic without a grade attached to everything. We told kids we were back to "normal," but I was unwilling to return to a less authentic approach to grading. These two things created tension, and I was looking for an answer.

Back to the Source

Angela Stockman and some colleagues put on Camp ReWrite this summer, and I was lucky enough to attend a few of the sessions. Sarah Zerwin presented one as she introduced some of her new thinking in this Gradeless approach. She has a new book in progress, so I am not going to share too much of that or pictures of my final product because I don't want to spoil it and want people to support all of her work but her thinking sparked ideas for me that I was able to develop further. I still plan to embrace a Gradeless approach in my classroom, but there is more structure. There is a framework that students will be able to lean on more to find a starting place and work toward growth and success. I am excited to see how focusing on student progression can ultimately help students on a path towards mastery.

Starting with Assessment

Our school division started this year with a morning PD session with Dylan Wiliam. I had read much of his work in my earlier teaching days and firmly believe in formative assessment. His presentation was really affirming as it spoke to the importance of much of the work I was doing and the early work that got me here; I chuckled at the mention of ABCD cards and the flashback to my elementary math days. I had some colleagues talk to me about how his words reminded them of the work I was doing and planned to do, which was also a nice little nod, but I left his presentation concerned. This information should not have been revelatory. The idea that learning is a journey and we should be assessing the end of the learning and not using the stumbling along the way to hold kids back should not be groundbreaking, but here we are.

I often hear teachers talk about how students never study, so they do poorly when it comes time to test. I do wonder if the idea of formative assessment is a revelation; how do teachers know if students had the information in the first place? This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of students and talk about study strategies and scheduling. My biggest takeaway... kids are way too overscheduled. Some of my students had less than an hour of free time a day if they were to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep we suggested was good for learning. ONE HOUR! Now we are asking them to use that hour to study. I struggled with that notion and still do.

Questions to Guide Room 157 this year

  1. How can I best leverage the minutes my students are in front of me to help them learn the information while providing time to practice and study?

  2. How can my feedback help student progress in their learning goals without becoming dependent on numbers to validate their work?

  3. How do we approach assessment outside room 157 so that others do not create tensions that make our practices less effective?

I am excited about our work in Room 157 this year. I am excited to start working on and building my own resources to share with teachers. I am excited to focus on the journey.

Learning is not a one-and-done. Assessment needs to move away from a punitive measure that holds students back. This falls on teachers. Some will say it is unfair to ask folks to do more, we already do so much. That is true, but so do the kids. By adjusting our practices, we can make it easier for everyone. At least, that is what I am thinking right now. We will see how it goes.

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