Wednesday, October 11, 2017

First Unit Gradeless in 12U Chem, Part 2

OK, so it has been about a week since the last brain dump...time for another. Lots of turkey between then and now. :) I hope everyone had a restful weekend.

Last time, I left off explaining that my grade 12 students and I were going to come to a consensus about a grade that represents their learning in the first chemistry unit. For this to happen, the students and I each had some homework to do first:

  • Students completed a self-assessment based on the overall learning goals for the unit, assigning themselves a level (1-4) for each item. After that, they had the option of assigning themselves a grade or grade range) that they felt represented their learning so far.
  • Using my data (from product, conversation, and observation) I assigned each student a grade range based on their progress (75-80, 80-85, etc.) 

Students submitted their self-assessments to me so that I had time to read their comments. The majority of students in my two classes have submitted their self-assessments for the first unit. I will say that I was relieved that about 80% of the self-assessments were in agreement with my grade assessment. I had been nervous about this process, anticipating that I might have some debates on my hands. It turns out there was little need to worry about this.

I have chosen a couple of examples from the student self-assessments to share to illustrate points of interest.

This student (a high achiever) knows that they made an uncharacteristic (small) error on their test, and used their self assessment to tell me that they felt it did not represent what they had learned and advocate for another opportunity to show what they know. I liked the self-advocacy here. I am open to providing more opportunities for students, but need to make sure things remain manageable for me (time wise) and them (with each passing day we are more removed from this content, and I don't like the thought of them spending time preparing for another opportunity when they have new content in all of their classes every day).

This student is a good example of someone who has truly reflected on each of the learning goals. If you can read the text (I know you're all pros at deciphering students' writing!) you will see that she knows her strengths and needs. I agreed completely with her assessment of progress.

In this example, the student and I were much less in agreement. We had a longer conversation about each of these items - you can see that the student both over- and under-estimated their demonstration of learning. This student estimated their grade at about 65% while I had determined that they were in a range of about 70-75%. Certainly a more interesting case than the previous examples. This tells me that this student needs more support using the feedback and success criteria to self-evaluate.

This next example was the best one to illustrate student over-estimation; we were 10% off in our suggested grades in this case. I will say that this student does a much better job expressing themselves orally than on paper, and the levels I recorded reflect some conversations we had during lab activities. I agree with the student that their understanding is probably better represented by a higher grade, and am open to adjusting the evaluation if I have more evidence to support the adjustment. The issue we are running into is that we are in the thick of our next unit, and most of my conversations with students are about new ideas and concepts rather than things we worked on two weeks ago. I've been thinking about how to best address this; if this student wants to demonstrate their understanding again/differently we most likely need to be able to find time together outside of class time. Not a big issue, but if I imagine 50 students wanting to do so, the idea feels overwhelming. Something to think about.

And, finally, evidence that some students are taking this VERY seriously. Check out this detailed analysis...I had 3 - 5 with this level of depth - students telling me the whole story of their learning. I had a conversation with this student and got the sense that this level of depth was what they felt was required to justify the levels they assigned. I can understand their motivation to make a strong case for themselves, but if you read this one you'll see that the student has regurgitated some of their understanding here, rather than simply focus on their specific strengths and needs. Another indication that more guidance may be required to stay focused in the self-evaluation process.

OK, that's it for now. Next I plan to write about the next cycle and the adjustments I can make to improve the process.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

First Unit Gradeless in 12U Chem, Part 1

I would love to write a very long blog post right now, but just don't have the time, so I'm going to try to share what's been happening in a few 'shorter' posts (they won't actually be short, because I don't have time this week to edit them down to their I hope you don't mind if it feels more like a train of thought).

Student Point of View so Far

At the end of last week my grade 12 students had come to the 'end' of their electrochemistry unit having not received a single grade. I used single point rubrics to give feedback on their lab reports and written & verbal feedback for our quick quizzes and the unit test. On Friday my students were asked to complete a very brief survey with a single question.

What are your reflections about our gradeless classroom so far? Be honest and open. This survey is anonymous.

I currently have about 50 students in this course, and the responses from students varied. Here are some of the responses, categorized by me.

These comments expressed some of the negative feelings I expected. I was intrigued by the high level of uncertainty students are experiencing; the feedback they are getting doesn't seem to have had much meaning for them (either that, or by 'progressing' they mean 'numerically progressing'). They were also very honest about their anxiety and fear:
  • I do not like the graceless classroom because I like to know how I am progressing in the class
  • I like it because it’s different but I would also like to see marks on my tests so that I know where I’m at
  • I think a gradeless classroom has benefits that I fail to see, because I'm having trouble knowing if my study habits are producing the mark I want. I would rather be graded.
  • Terrible idea because grades are everything for university
  • I dislike it. I like to know where I am in the class and know what areas I need to improve on so I can work on them out of school
  • I want to know some grades that are put in for my final grade so I know what to work on more. Knowing grades would make some things less stressful.

And, some more positive reactions; I was surprised and pleased by some of these reflections, particularly that students are appreciating that assessment has become more of a dialogue:
  • I like it because it prepares us for university. As well it doesn’t discourage you when you don’t necessarily do as well as you hoped because instead of seeing a 89% on your test/assignments all you see is what you did wrong and what you need to work on
  • I believe it makes people feel better when they get their tests back. It makes me better to not see a mark rather just see how i did by myself
  • i like it that way i'm not always freakin out about a test or lab i can just focus on me and what i think i know and how i think i'm doing instead of being told what i know and what i don't
  • It's definitely different from what I'm used to but I'm honestly open to something new in the terms of how we're are graded. I'm very open minded to a gradeless classroom
  • Grades are an easy way to gauge the effectiveness and quality of answers on tests and quizzes, however taking some of the stress off of grades seems to be beneficial. As long as there is open communication between teacher and student, I see it as an effective way to refocus ourselves on process and not just results.
  • I like knowing how I am doing in the course, marks wise. But I like how you are not basing our grades strictly on tests. i like how you mark on the improvement more than just how you did on one task.
  • I like it. It provides more dialogue and allows myself and other students to prove we know the content.

These fall under the category of 'good idea, but please not us!!':
  • I think it is a good idea, and I see how developing this skill would be beneficial for university, but it is also our grade 12 year and these marks are very important for getting accepted into universities. Knowing where you stand in terms of a mark tells you if you need to continue what you’re doing or push yourself harder.
  • I think it's a good idea, but I certainly don't think it should be applied in a 12 U science classroom. It's important to know how you're doing in a class this year before university to see if you should be working a lot harder, or not in order to maintain your desired average.

And, one of my favourite comments:
  • It’s weird but if I can negotiate my way to a good grade I don’t mind.  

My Point of View so Far

In the background, I have been recording levels of achievement based on all of the evidence I have for student learning, including the products I mentioned above, conversations with students, and observations made during the lab activities. All of the information is being recorded in a spreadsheet with individual assessment 'items' coded by overall expectation. A snapshot of the spreadsheet looks like this:

I can easily see patterns here, and sort the data by expectation for each student to see if they have made improvements over time.

I haven't yet found an ideal way to record conversation information data on the fly, since conversations are often on multiple topics for any number of students in a short period of time. I know I don't have to record all of them, but I am still looking for a way of systematizing this process. There are times that I recorded levels for conversations, and other times that, based on a conversation, I changed a students' level of achievement for a written assessment (counting the conversation as an opportunity to improve upon the written work rather than as an assessment in itself). Getting there.

Our First Assessment Cycle: Assigning Numeric Grades

This week, students are completing self evaluations for the first unit of study. I have taken a look at the data I have collected and determined what I think to be a fair mark range (70-75, 75-80, etc.). The next step is to compare the student self assessments to my notes to see if they agree with each other. I know I won't have time for a long conference with each student, and plan to have short conversations with those students whose self-assessments agree with my assessment and longer conversations with those students whose self assessments don't line up with mine.

Students received feedback on their lab reports yesterday, so only a few of them have handed in their self-assessment (all high achievers!), but here is one (sorry for the bad quality; I just used my webcam & my shaky hand to take it!):

I can see that this student actually looked at and considered the feedback they received, because they have mentioned specific detail about what they know needs improvement. The mark range I had personally determined as appropriate for this student was 85-90, so I am very pleased that our assessments overlap.

It is unbelievable how easy it has been for me to separate myself from grading culture. I mentioned in a previous post (or maybe in a Twitter conversation?) that my decision to determine a grade unit-by-unit with my students is for two reasons: 
  1. I know that university applications are coming and that I have turned these kids' world completely upside down by not giving them grades. I don't want my decision to shift my pedagogy to have negative influences on my students' mental health, and I think it is fair that we assess conceptual understanding as we cycle through each major topic. There are other aspects of my students' learning that will be assessed over the course of the entire semester (communication, scientific investigation skills, etc.) a subject I have not yet broached with them but that they are now ready for, I think.
  2. Determining marks unit-by-unit will give the students and I five attempts at the self-assessment and grade negotiation cycle. I appreciate the opportunity to refine this process over time, and am looking forward to having the ability to tweak it each time.

OK, that was a good brain dump. More to come soon.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Knowing my students and focusing on feedback

Getting to know my students

Three weeks in and I am feeling at home in my classroom. I have had one-on-one conversations with most of my students to find out about their expectations and concerns related to Science class. I asked students to provide me with a range of numeric report card grades that would make them feel successful at the end of the semester. I plan to use these ranges as a reference for me throughout the semester so that I can let students know if they are on track since they will not be getting grades on their assignments. 

I had a few difficult moments during these discussions. A handful of students (in grade 9 and 12) expressed concerns about being in the 'right place,' in some cases questioning whether they were 'smart enough' to be there. I asked questions to find out the reasons for their concerns, and tried to push back as much as possible without discounting their concerns completely. I always struggle a bit with this early in the semester, when we have yet to develop the kind of trusting relationship that is necessary to effectively tackle important issues. The best I could do was to assure them that they were in the right place.

There were some lovely highlights in these conversations, too; one of my grade 9 students, when asked what their goals were for their final mark, told me that they thought marks were pretty meaningless and that they would feel successful if they had learned new ideas and skills. Imagine the grin on my face. :) 

Finishing up our first 'no grades' unit in 12U Chemistry

Considering the fact that the students' grades are extremely important this year for admission to post-secondary, there have not been any issues related to the fact that I haven't yet given them any numeric feedback. The two remaining pieces of evidence of their achievement in this unit will be the unit test (fairly traditional!) and their lab notebooks. The lab notebooks are a record of their process during our electroplating lab last week. (Students had three class periods to research, plan, and perform an experiment and used the notebooks to record their thinking, observations, and results.) Evidence from observations and conversations (Wed-Fri last week) will be used along with the lab notebook to assess their ability to apply their electrochemistry understanding in this new context. 
On test day, I plan to give students a template they can use to self-assess their progress in electrochemistry. We will use this in conjunction with my notes to come up with a numeric grade for this unit of study. Students will also be made aware that they have a chance to improve this electrochemistry 'grade' between now and the end of the semester. I'll share examples of the templates next week. On a personal note, I need to figure out a better way of tracking assessment during observation/conversation. I'll share something in a blog when I find what works for me.

Here are some of my tweets from this week...

The daily grind

Although my return to the classroom has been pretty smooth in most respects, I have been struggling with the number of interruptions to my classes these first three weeks. In the first 14 days of class with my homeroom grade 9s, I lost 4 full periods to assemblies, evacuation drills, guidance appointments, and picture day. Losing 4 out of 14 classes has been difficult for me as we try to develop classroom routines and find some 'academic momentum.' I don't intend this to be a complaint, but rather an acknowledgement of a common barrier teachers face in their classrooms. Each individual interruption is important, but having so many in quick succession is something I think schools should do their best to avoid. I'm looking forward to a much quieter week this week!