There is a new trend in town that can be found on Twitter as hashtag #ttog meaning, "teachers throw out grades". While new on Twitter, this is not a new concept to me. As an educator, I have never really liked giving grades ( nor homework but that is for another blogpost). Luckily as a librarian, that battle has crossed my path only a few times, and it has been a battle I have won.
Ironically as a student, both as a child and an adult, I defined my worth through grades. I lamented if I received 95% rather than a 100%. That is true to this day. However the thought that this would make me work harder is disproved due to the fact I was already giving all I had. That may not hold true to other students but it impacted me to think beyond the number with my students.
Several years ago, in my classes, I decided to implement something called a t-rubric. My students are asked to prove growth and understanding of skills and concepts through presentations and projects like many other classes. Assessment can and does define growth and was utilized, however, the traditional "grades" never went beyond the class, and students just wanted to know if they were getting a 1 (unsatisfactory) or a 4 (proficient). They did not ask for more than the number even if comments were provided. How could they grow or learn if the focus remained on the grade? T-rubrics provide the same high standard as the regular rubric. I have included a link to mine below. You can organize them how you would like and each can be personalized to every student. I create them with the center being the proficiency standards. On either side I can provide rough commentary or notes individual to my student. The beauty is that if s/he does something well or concerning but is not specifically on the rubric, I can choose the domain and write my thoughts. Using these rubrics helps me focus on where each student needs to grow. Students appear to like them as well and actually spend time reading them.
Another change in how I assess students came when I implemented a blended learning station rotation unit for grades 5-8. I chose the units I found boring to teach but are imperative for the kids to learn. I created 3 modules within Blendspace. The modules, in order, were: Copyright, Plagiarism, Creative Commons. Each module had a Blendspace with videos, documents, links, and a short quiz that I had created. The other stations included, printed documents to read, worksheets, games, or discussions with each other or myself. Students were given a checklist of questions for each module. They were encouraged to work at any or all stations and could collaborate as much as they liked. They could even collaborate on the quizzes if they wanted. They only way to pass the module and continue to the next was take the online quiz and then individually meet with me to discuss the check-list questions. They were given a loose time-line to complete the modules but that was always up for discussion if need be. The students were completely shocked when I told them there was no way to cheat. I even kept it written on my whiteboard. I was looking for comprehension of concepts and skills and the more they collaborated, even with the quiz, they more they grasped this dry, yet necessary, material. When everyone finally completed all the modules, we met as a class and overwhelmingly, students chose this way of learning. While the majority of the students accomplished my goals, several did not so I will continue to work with them using this process.
At the end of the modules, I asked each student to anonymously fill out a Google survey garnering feedback on this process. One of the questions I asked was:
Check the top 3 things you found most beneficial to help you learn the concepts.
I could talk w friends and/or Jill when needed 71.6%
Work at my own pace 65.7%
There is no cheating 59.7%
Choose your own station 38.8%
Lots of choices 31.3%
I could test out 22.4%
Immediate feedback on quizzes 22.4%
No lecture 20.9%
The techniques that rose to the top all had life-skills embedded in them. Collaboration, self-pacing, and a deeper understanding of skills and concepts are all abilities needed outside of the academic setting. Students freely chatted with one another. This also led to students choosing to mentor each other rather than rely solely on me for information. Some students were uncomfortable with this type of learning, BUT most of them completed the modules being able to do something other than regurgitate the concepts. It had meaning that applied to them. The online quiz was a measurement to let him/her know what still needed to be understood. Meeting one on one with me gave me a good assessment of where each student was; we could discuss thoughts and misunderstandings. The utter beauty of this is that, with further implementation, my students will enhance life skills that are necessary and learning becomes individualized. A disclaimer: my school values small class size so this is doable. While I had 82 students working through the modules, my largest class was 19 kids. There is room for lots of improvement in my methodology, but I know the most of my kids left with much more than a focus number.