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The Business End, Part Two: Project 180, Day 92

Yesterday, I posted Part One . Today, I will pick up where I left off, sharing the changes that we have made to our grading approach at the mid-year point.

Performance as Practice

Hear me out. First, our “completion” approach last semester was folly. Our intentions were good, and we do think there is some value in “doing to learn,” but since there was rarely, if ever, any feedback with the practice (simply a not-enough-time issue), it played only a minor role in our kids’ growth. Second, it still perpetuated a bit of a carrot/stick stigma that we have been seeking to avoid. Because it was entered into Skyward and because it showed up as not done and/or it lowered the “approximate grade” if incomplete, it seemed to take us back to the compliance-based days of old, not the commitment-based days we were seeking to create in our classrooms. So, we sought change; we sought our next better.

Convinced that our best learning opportunities were coming from our Performances, we began to wonder and think aloud about how the implications of that truth could impact our approach moving forward. With reporting practice completion now off the table and recognizing the impact of Performances on learning, we knew we would have to find a way to get more Performances in front of our kids, but we also knew that it would have to be different from our previous approach.

Last semester our basic approach involved our putting practice in front of the kids to prepare them for Performances. It made sense. In life, we practice to prepare. Beyond the real-world logic of it, we were also trying to be mindful of our kids’ potential performance anxiety. No coach throws her players into a game, expecting them to perform without sufficient practice. So we planned out our practice, doing our best to ensure that kids had enough practice before we asked them to perform. Again, we believe our intentions here were good, but because we did not provide sufficient, if any, feedback (time issue), good intentions were not creating the results we were hoping for, and in the meantime, Skyward was filling up with lots of numbers, but those numbers meant little, and they were resulting in misleading representations of grades. Something had to change. And it started with my “What if…”

“What if we approached it from a performance-as-practice angle?” I proposed to my gradeless colleagues.

“What do you mean?” they asked?

“Well, here is what we know…”

  • We know we that our practice approach is not producing the results we are looking for, and reporting completion is skewing our kids’ learning stories.
  • We know that there is value in our Performances. This is where the learning is happening.
  • We know that we want there to be more Performances this next semester.
  • We know that those Performances create a valuable feedback loop.
  • We know that our Performances write and provide the details of each student’s learning story in our classrooms. We just listened to and learned from those stories in our grading conferences.
  • We know that our approach consistently puts kids in front of similar Performances, allowing them to apply what they have learned from our feedback.
  • We know that our kids’ performance anxiety is being addressed through our retake and correction policies.
  • We know that practice is necessary, but we also know that we need to find a better way to use it.

“So, then, what if…”

  • we present our approach to our kids as, “In our classes, you will learn by performing. We will use Performances as the means to learn. You will perform. You will get feedback. You will perform. Repeat. In our classes, we DO; we REFLECT; we DO BETTER”?
  • we commit to one Performance per week, maybe even have a designated Performance day?
  • we continue to acknowledge and address anxiety by even more earnestly encouraging retakes?
  • we, instead of front loading practice,  just jump straight to Performances? Of course, we will make sure kids know how to take the Performances, and there will still be some introductory activities, guidance, and practice, but let’s consider practice on the back end. What I mean is, what if we created a system where kids made choices about practice, based on feedback? What if we had a system in place where a kid could access specific types of practice that target where he needs help based on what he has learned from his Performance?
  • we basically did away with the notion of summative assessments? I mean, we already have on some level, but if we just simply framed everything around the notion that all Performances are formative. And they are, aren’t they? And what’s cool, and what can and will exist is our belief that learning happens at a different pace for each kid and learning never ends. We can create that for our kids. The only thing in our way is time, but we know we can monkey with that a bit, too–as we have. Nothing is final. Learning does not end.

What if? Many what if’s to discover and discuss as our journey conversations continue. We have not found the way, but we are ever chasing to better our way. Of course, it is entirely possible that I will be calling this a folly in some future post, but for now it is how we will seek to optimize learning in our classrooms.

For now, A “2” will still be a “D” in Skyward (going back to yesterday’s post). We have already had that conversation with our kids, explaining that our marks are communication, not grades. And we will continue to have that conversation, asking them to let go of the past, to embrace their present, and to trust that we are doing our best to do better for their futures. One better at a time.

Today’s Trail

Along today’s trail we will…

…begin with Smiles and Frowns.

…wrap up our conversation about fictionalizing the Holocaust and using movies to teach content in the ELA classroom.

…begin viewing The Book Thief.

…reflect in our Journey Journals.

...end with a Sappy Sy Rhyme.

Happy Wednesday, all. Sorry for the long post.

Do. Reflect. Do Better.

One Reply to “The Business End, Part Two: Project 180, Day 92”

  • Hi Monte,

    I too am tweaking Skyward to aid awareness and, if not reflect, at least not distort what is happening in the classroom. After years of Skyward, I’ve concluded that it’s an irredeemably poor platform. Right now, I am merely checking in progress as a “1” and “0” with comments “Complete” or “Not submitted.” This is weighted 0% of the grade. Their summary grade (weighted 100%) is merely their previous marking period’s grade, pushed out to the end of the next term. I communicated this to students and parents. The summary grade is just a “placeholder” until it comes time to self-evaluate at the end of the term. If students want to conference with me at any point during the term to change that placeholder, we can do that.

    In Seesaw, I sometimes give feedback, sometimes hit the “heart,” sometimes make no comment whatsoever. But I always “check it in” with the 1 or 0. Some of that will be self-assessed, some peer-assessed, some teacher-assessed, some a combination — but it’s important to engage in this practice. If you want richer information, get on Seesaw!

    I like what you say about it all being formative — both the practice and the performance. Could the student’s input be their deciding after the fact what THEY want to point to as “performance”? Practice, practice, practice, yes, but at some point during our practice, you need to produce some awesome artifacts that you can point to. And in language arts, this is ideally not just one artifact, but multiple artifacts. In other words, you demonstrated it FULLY, FREQUENTLY, CONSISTENTLY — at least with certain targets.

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