This past week we made some changes. And in case anyone was under any delusions, change is hard. It pushes people outside of their comfort zone, takes away their status quo, and generally makes us “un”…uncooperative, uncertain, unconvinced, and a whole bunch of uncomfortable. But the message I kept repeating (to myself too!) is that there is no growth without change.
Try to imagine a situation where there is growth but everything is stays precisely the same…I googled it…it’s not possible lol. Growing always means changing. It’s whether you choose to look at that change with a growth mindset or not: is this an opportunity to set new goals? Have higher hopes? Just reset and start again?
I made a big change in terms of assessment in ELA for progress reports this year. It was not without a lot of “un” words too! I had aspirations, then doubts, then regained confidence in the process. More than anything, I know it allowed for growth. Here’s what we did:
Essentially, my students prepared a portfolio of evidence around five main ELA goals to determine their January progress report mark. Everything else in my gradebook was set to ‘feedback, not for marks’ and then we sat down for a one-on-one interview. In it, we went through each goal and discussed strengths, things to work on, and agreed on a 1-4 assessment level.
I can’t even begin to put words to how powerful those conversations were.
I’m pretty confident that I generally give fair assessments…lots of opportunities for student choice and voice in their writing, but I also encourage videos, presentations, sketchnotes, PowToons, and other ways to show their learning. We do a standardized reading assessment that breaks down areas of main idea, recalling facts, vocabulary, inferences, and author’s approach. We explicitly show how we use reading strategies by annotating text. And more.
But the difference here? It’s not just me marking their work. It’s not just me looking at their evidence.
It’s them explaining their thinking. Detailing what they liked about their writing. Describing their process as they look at a brand new piece of text. Going through their reading test and seeing if it was a variety of small errors or a big area to focus on.
Not me. Us.
Hearing them describe their work in their own words was something else, and it made them think deeply too. We moved away from the ‘I put a lot of effort into this so it’s my best’ into more specific and detailed answers with a few ‘how does effort show in this piece then?’ and ‘why is this stronger than something you’ve written earlier?’ questions.
Suddenly, we are analyzing descriptive language and dialogue. We are discussing the use of transitions in between video clips and photos, and what they would have done differently so their sketchnote would make more sense to someone else. We are talking.
When I think about triangulation of data, having the formal interview with students and bringing in their strongest recent work, I am only missing documenting my observations of students throughout the term. You’re probably wondering, ‘Don’t you already do that while students are creating those pieces?’ Absolutely. There’s a ton of side-by-side work and formative assessment happening in the moment. But I plan to set up a notebook with our five big goals in it, and have a quick record of what I am seeing occasionally as well.
We also did interviews in Social 8 and it was even more striking to me how effective this format is. For the main areas around culture and identity, I used the curriculum outcomes and Concentus.ca to compile a list of 16 questions for students to consider. They weren’t simple. They were complex questions that required detailed answers. Some students required a bit of ‘tell me more’ prompting, but most of them blew me out of the water with thoughtful responses that I would never have gotten from them in any sort of written format. I gave them the option to bring in a cheat sheet if they wanted. Some did and some didn’t. Only one student even looked at theirs, and really just for confidence. They didn’t have to answer all 16 either as I was hoping for quality of understanding over quantity. When they came in, they drew out five numbers, corresponding to the numbers on the questions, and when given an opportunity at the end to answer a question that they didn’t pick, no one hesitated.
None of this was my own. I totally took Erin Hill and Brett Kirk’s ideas of final interviews and projects. They have been doing amazing work in this area for a while. I even literally used their rubrics and format, and adapted them to work for me and my students. And as we prepared for our interviews in the week before, the questions that students had for me were already helping me re-shape what these will look like when we do this again at the end of June.
Here’s where it really hit home.
I only did this for certain classes and subjects. Not across the board. Many of the subjects, like Social 7 and Arts Ed were still an average of their assignments and tests across the two terms. So the student who didn’t complete those first two assignments in September, or did poorly on them, asks the question all students ask when they see their mark: why did I get a…? even though his most recent work is stronger, more detailed, and completed. I know that some educators solve this problem by weighting assignments or terms, but to me that just muddies the assessment waters even more. And even when I keep my PowerSchool as simple and straightforward as possible, it’s software, and sometimes I’m even baffled by what their algorithms do to generate a mark. How much clearer it was for students to be a partner in their assessment – no surprises, just honest collaborative conversations.
So what were the challenges? Yah. There were a few! First, it’s hard to do this quickly and meaningfully. I set a timer on my phone to keep (myself and) the interview on track, but every single one went longer. Which was okay. I used up every period of the day whether it was ELA or not, plus the whole noon hour, and yanked kids out of another class during my prep period too. I was lucky to have the support of a substitute teacher that was available to help supervise students after his exam was done. Of course, Murphy’s Law had it that several buses didn’t run due to weather and so I spent the next day(s) trying to finish up.
I teach a split class with the Social 8, so I have fewer students and was able to have longer conversations with them. I really tried not to do a disservice to the process, but it was definitely starting to feel rushed towards the end. I also know through our talks that we will be doing a lot more around the area of self-assessment and goal setting, which means I’ve got some reading to do myself lol.
This was top on my sheet to students: Why assessment conferences and reflection? Because you are more than just a number…because not one piece of writing can show everything…because your ELA abilities are defined by improvements and needs, not averages…because reading and writing skills are lifetime of work, and much more than a checklist.
In June, I’m adding …because there is no growth without change, and you have both grown and changed this year…this is where we show it.
Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome. Tawâw.
Stay warm this week!
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.