One student desk. One teacher chair. One brightly-lit hallway. For five days this was my set-up. A set-up that was new, different, and nontraditional to the random students and teachers that walked by each day. But this was the set-up that not only worked best for us but was promised to our students before their grading conferences began. A promise of privacy. And it was through this privacy that I was able to have 127 experiences that I’ve never had in my nine years of teaching: an individualized conversation in which each student was able to select a letter grade, explain why he/she deserved that grade, and offer suggestions/recommendations to our grading policies for next semester.
Now, I’ve posted term grades numerous times over the years. And while I’ve made tweaks and changes to my grading system over the years, it’s always been a mere “going-through-the-motions” part of my job. Yes, I believed in those tweaks and changes, but if someone had asked me, “Why did John get a C in your class?” I’m not sure what my answer would have been. I’m not even confident I would have been able to give a “good” answer. Sure, I could have talked about what he did and didn’t do throughout the semester, but that is really more about behavior rather than learning. This semester, however, I knew what my answers would be. Even after those 5 days, I am confident that I could communicate why a specific student received a specific grade. Why? How? Because in room 220 it’s now about learning, growth, and progress. These conferences provided me with the opportunity to understand more about each of my 127 students. I know what they learned. I know how they did. I know how hard they worked. I know the progress and growth they’ve made. But I also learned how students feel about our grading policies.
We prefaced their input with statements such as, “Our grading policy is not going away.” and “We, as teachers, have already made additional changes for next semester.” but we still wanted to hear their thoughts. After all, it’s all about them. They are our customers. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about what students would say. I was pleasantly surprised. My kids love what we’re doing. Many said they didn’t have any suggestions or recommendation because of that. Some, when I asked specifically what they like about their grading policies, were able to provide answers. Below are some of the highlights:
“I really like this grading system because it allows me to show I really have tried. LA has always been difficult, but I never had my work acknowledged.”
“I like the fact that it has to do with how much I have improved and not how well I did on each assignment.”
“I love your grading system, and I like getting to choose the grade that best fits me!”
“I just want to say you have made my LA class feeling go way up so just keep doing what you are doing.”
Customer reviews are powerful. So powerful that they are talking to their other teachers about our grading policies. So powerful that some of those teachers have expressed interest in learning more about what we’re doing. So powerful that I am beyond excited to journey through the next 88 days with my 132 students.
Do. Reflect. Do Better.