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Game Over: Morning Minutes, April 14, 2016



Consider the following scenario. In an effort to make learning, not grades, the emphasis in his classroom, a teacher is proposing that next year he will give every kid an “A” in his class, no matter what, essentially taking grades off the table. Write a letter to this teacher evaluating and judging his proposal.  In addition, indicate how  you would personally respond to this approach if you were a student in his class next year.

This is this week’s prompt for our essay of the week in 219. My kids think this is just another writing prompt.  And it is. But there’s more at work here.  I am gathering information.  I want to gather some preliminary data in the form of student feedback as I move forward, as I move to make real that which is proposed.  Next year–well, the next two years–all kids will get an “A.”

I know. I can hear the protestations already. But I have thought deeply about this decision and will strive to make the case for my decision in the next several posts as I continue to work through the details of my attempt to transform teaching and learning in my locus of control, my tiny star in the universe: 219. In earnest, I hope you all will pose questions and raise concerns to help me solidify my plan before I venture out into uncharted, perhaps hostile territory.  I think I have anticipated all objections and have formulated answers, but there may well be some things that I have not considered, so fire away. I will not take personally any objections or criticisms; I invite them. I have to. This is not a whim. This is a risk. I am hanging my professional hat on this. I will take a lot of flak for this, but I am ready. My convictions are secured in my strength to see it through.

Anticipated Objection #1: You can’t do this.

Reasoned Response #1: Actually, I can.

I looked into both state and local policies on grading, and I discovered that my approach will settle securely within both sets of guidelines. My initial thinking was to give each kid a “P” for a pass, a pass provides credit but neither hurts nor helps a student’s GPA. My main concern as I move forward is to do no harm to my kids as I experiment and learn over the next two years, so just to be sure that I had made a solid student-centered decision, I ran it by our head counselor at the high school to get her thoughts.  Our discussion led me to understand that a “P” could be problematic for kids on their transcripts, affecting college  and scholarship opportunities, so I decided that I would go with the “A” instead.

So, technically, I can give all students “A’s.” But the bigger question then becomes, “Should I?” I’ll hash it out for you over the next several days, sharing my reasons for taking this step, my reasons for putting an end to the grade game in 219.

Please, if you are so inclined, join the conversation. I want your help.

Happy Thursday, all. Home today. Daughter ended up with pneumonia, too. Been a dinger of a spring.

superman



6 Replies to “Game Over: Morning Minutes, April 14, 2016”

  • I’m curious if there are any intermediate steps I can take to explore the concept. I’ve started giving no count assignments for fear free practice. I wonder how feedback divorced from a score would affect learning.

    • Hi, Melissa. Thank you for joining the conversation. You’ve already begun exploring. Fear-free,no-count practice is where I began 5 years ago as I ventured into the realm of standards-based grading (SBG). At the time, I simply wanted kids to begin to learn that practice affected performance. So, since it was no count, the kids either did it or didn’t. Initially, many did not do it. Why would they? There were no points, no grade attached. So, as they were trained, no carrot, no compliance. Things began to change after the first for-points assessment, when kids began to see the connection between practice and performance. The kids who did the practice, generally performed better on the assessments. The kids who did not, generally performed poorly. Not exactly rocket science, but revelatory nonetheless. Importantly, and I did not necessarily see or make the connection then–much to my embarrassment and annoyance now–that the practice on which I gave feedback had a greater impact than completion practice, practice with no feedback. Consequently, more kids began doing the practice once they began making the connection between practice and performance. Still, it did not create the culture that I was seeking at the time, a community of learners concerned with their learning, not their grades. This became a sobering, frustrating reality for me. Kids were still–despite my efforts–in it for the grades. In part this was due to the fact that I was asking them to unlearn 10 years of learned behavior–no carrot, no compliance. It was also in part due to my having to translate SB grades into traditional percentage grades at term’s end, which in the end really resulted in traditional grading in a bad SBG disguise. And because my approach to SBG wasn’t really SBG as long as there was no real way to report SBG, my approach began to falter and my resolve began to peter out, and somewhere along the line I began feeding my kids carrots again–I began to grade practice again. But all was not lost as I fell back into the rut, for I had learned, and though I had fallen down, if you will, I had not given up, and I was always looking for ways to get back to where I believed I had done my best with fostering real learning. And now, with my current quest, I believe I have the understanding and courage to make it work this time. It’s taken me too long to get here, but I think it was a necessary part of the journey. And as you contemplate your own journey, you too will struggle and succeed in finding not “the” way but your way. I am excited that you are beginning to toss it all around in your head. If my mistakes can help in any way, please let me know, for I believe I will be making several over the next 2 years.

      Here’s a quote that I came across a few days ago that really resonated with me.

      “Students can learn without grades, but they can’t learn without timely, descriptive feedback” (Rick Wormelli).

      I think we as teachers know this, have always known this. We just have never been able to get rid of the distractions that are grades. I feel like now, with my giving an “A,” I can focus on what matters. Grades off the table, replaced by a feast of feedback. More to come on how I will set the table and prepare the meal. Hope this helps. Sorry for the lengthy blah, blah, blah.

  • I think a very interesting concept. My question is related to the previous post, ” what if I opt out…. Choose To do nothing?”

    I could see students being engaged when the content suited them, but not when the content did not.

    • Hey, Troyer. Hopefully today’s post will somewhat speak to this concern. Thank you for joining the conversation.

  • Wow Syrie! What you’re doing takes guts, and I admire your strength and determination to carry through with your plan. So, Here’s a question. If you give all your students an A in your class, how will you motivate them to learn?

    • Great question, Amarise. Certainly one that I have considered and will seek to answer in the coming posts. Stay tuned.

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