Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Feedback - #TTOG Update

When midterms popped up on us unexpectedly two weeks ago (already?!), students gave themselves As, mostly for "effort."

We discussed it the next day, and here were some of their responses:
   "_____ bumps our grade up if it's hard for us to run the mile, but we still try."
   "_____ gives us extra credit for not using our bathroom passes. I have to try to not use them."
   "_____ gives us a point for being prepared in class - isn't that just effort?"

So... they shot down my idea that grades are not based on effort. We didn't go down the route of SHOULD they be based on effort - we'd have to take a ton of time for that discussion! These students are aware that I do not "give" points, and there are no opportunities for extra credit. I do offer revisions for all of our work, and also let them use the washroom when they need...

I had to explain that in this class, effort PRODUCES product (their grades) - success or not. If we do not put forth effort, we will not be as successful.

This is not how I expected it to go this quarter. I expected to have students documenting on a spreadsheet or some other tool each day. I expected to have technology in the room as well. I had the tech for the first 2-3 weeks, but we were still building classroom culture at that point. Now that I have to reserve a cart for technology, we do not reflect on a consistent basis. Without this documentation on their part, I feel as if I haven't guided them much as I thought I would be when I planned for this class over the summer.

Students need help seeing what is "A" material, and what is not. So... I did a little backtracking this week. While the other two classes were revising their response to "A View from the Bridge" (by Cherokee Paul McDonald) because they didn't like the grade they earned, this class was not. The written feedback I'd given them - with language exactly from the rubrics - was not persuading them to revise. Nor did it let them know that they did not have "A" quality work (according to the rubrics). Backtracking for me meant to go back into each of their documents and highlight where (on the rubrics) I noticed they were at this point in time. Then, instead of just one revision suggestion, I gave one for EACH rubric we used (claim, quality of evidence, analysis of evidence, grammar/conventions). And then I decided to make it independent practice (a.k.a. homework) for them to revise this writing assignment. Sadly, they were not inspired to do this on their own. I think it is because I wasn't specific enough in my feedback.

As part of our learning process, each class evaluates themselves at the end of each week. (This idea is from Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz - His 5th graders evaluate themselves daily; we do this weekly.) A student stands at the front of the room and draws a T-chart. On the left is a "plus" sign, and he/she asks for suggestions on what we did well that week. On the right is a "delta" (triangle) sign, and he/she asks for what we could / should change for next week. We are still working on what is student-driven, vs. what is teacher-driven. For example, students will say, "We did a lot of reading and writing this week." Well, yes, this is true, but I have to ask them HOW they did it, as it was MY plan that they read and write, not theirs. They change their language to something such as, "We read quietly without many interruptions," or "We were really focused when we were writing." An example from the "things we should change" side - students say, "We should do another fishbowl discussion next week." I remind them that those plans are the decisions of the teacher team, and they should focus on what THEY can change. (Blog post on how this has been going coming soon!)

This week, each class evaluated themselves again. However, things were a bit different in block 9/10. I had a roster of their names, and I told them I'd be tallying when they contributed to the discussion. They can use this documentation (that I'll continue) as part of their proof for the "speaking and listening" portion of their grade. Suddenly, we had more ideas than in our previous four discussions.
This evaluation was great - they took the time to think about what they did well and what they could change. I believe this was a result of me taking tallies. Seeing this in green and blue, I realize they are still focused on the grade, which is NOT my intention. I started this journey with little guidance, however, and it wasn't working. So... I'll try to guide them more, then maybe by fourth quarter some, most, or all of the guidance can dissipate.

My language is slowly changing, as well, and I like the changes...
     Homework -->
          Independent Practice (and no, I still do not check it in)
     Revision assignment -->
          Revision suggestion
     "Turn in your half sheet when you're finished." -->
          "Turn in your half sheet when you're ready to receive feedback from me."

Next... I need to plan how to guide them towards creating their (up to) five-minute video reflection explaining their grade. Our grading period ends October 30th, so I'd like these the weekend prior (October 24/25). That way, if I feel there's a discrepancy, I can schedule a conference with the student and we can have a discussion in that last week. I will provide a list of the work they can show to prove their grade, and show them how to organize prior to beginning their video. I, too, have been keeping notes on feedback I've given students, so I'm not in the dark when it's time to provide a final grade for the report card. (This is another name I'd like to reframe - I need to start using the name "progress report," in order to emphasize progress, not finality.)
     Report card -->
          Progress report

Another plan... I will create my own 4-5 minute video on how I believe I'm doing with this process of students grading themselves. I will share the preparation for the video, and then share the video itself. We can then create time in class to prepare for their explanation of what their grade should be.

We still have a ton of work ahead of us. What bums me out is that all of this is still leading up to that arbitrary grade. That grade is still the carrot hanging in front of these kids. I'm simply doing what I can in the constraints I am currently up against.

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

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