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, February 14, 2016

Hacking Assessment

I'm already "hacking assessment" by asking one of my classes to grade themselves. How could this book help me improve? I was excited to get my copy from Starr Sackstein to see what gems I would be able to use...

Validated what I was trying...
     Ask students, "What did you learn...?" (25)
     "How we spend our time in class is indicative of what we prioritize in education" (78).
     "...make sure that all assignments are purposeful and aligned to a standard" (46).
     "...keeping notes about progress...in a grade book that only a teacher sees seems counterproductive" (88). Make the learning transparent! Do this for students and parents.
     "Check in with students..." on a regular basis (91). We are now doing this every quarter of each quarter - thanks to students reflecting enough to be able to ask for it.
     "It doesn't really matter what I thought, so much as it matters what you [the student] learned (29).
     "If the teacher doesn't agree with the student, then a longer conversation needs to happen. ... If in the end, the student really believes he or she deserves a particular grade ... let him or her have it. After all, the grade itself doesn't mean very much" (113-114).
     From Sarah Donovan (who shared a story that sounded SO MUCH like mine!): "...by not focusing on grades, there was more learning and achievement" (38).
     From Aric Foster: "...this process...encourages learners to take risks and challenge themselves, as they know there will be no punitive words or numbers for their performance - only observations and suggestions for revision. ... No longer are learners trying to earn points or 'get a 3.0.' Instead, they are trying to Answer the Question and Use Style and Cite Evidence to Support a Claim" (53).
     We need to change our vocabulary. When I was reading Choice Words by Peter Johnston in 2014, I started shifting my vocabulary to be more precise. Instead of saying "turn it in so I can grade it," I now say "turn it in if you would like feedback from me." Starr writes about a "no-grades vocabulary." I have already started adding these words to my repertoire. Bonus - I then noticed students starting to use the same vocabulary. As Starr states, "...words are powerful, so I am starting by changing the language we use to talk about learning" (41). This is a great place to start.

Made me think of Genius Hour which was the catalyst for all we try in class...
     "...conversations were invaluable" (19).
     "Teachers need to involve students in choices and provide opportunities for them to modify a teacher's assignment or to create their own. When we say 'Yes' to our student ideas, we encourage autonomy and empower them" (44).
     "...their decisions help drive their learning" (45).
     "...honor student input" (45).
     From Adam Jones: "...you've succeeded when you...know the students no longer need you" (93).

Reminded me of why I'm doing this...
     "Grades are [too] often used to motivate or punish..." (114).
     "Grades ultimately end up being a power tool that serves the teacher but not the student" (37).
     "...we were talking to students about a system that they had no control over" (40).
     "All learning is subjective..." (50).
     "The scores, which are often averaged, give a poor explanation of what students know and can do" (121).
     "...just because work hasn't been completed, doesn't mean learning hasn't happened" (115).
     "...there is a deprogramming process that still occasionally causes me to pause" (16).
     "...change is challenging, but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile" (27).
     "Attention gets focused on the learning..." (37).
     "...not worrying about grades made them [students] more excited and eager to try things" (30). In my case, I'd say it made them less stressed, and complaints about doing the work were few and far between. They know they don't need to use every piece for proof of what they know, so they feel free to try it without fear of judgment.

When it's challenging, I need to remember...
     "With daily informal conversations and formal conferences, assessment and feedback loops naturally develop" (85). And then we start all over with a new group of learners...
     "...routines facilitate success" (81).
     From Adam Jones: "All assignments are opportunities to practice, receive feedback, and refine" (95). "It is an essential component of enduring learning that students revisit their work" (96).
     "If we are going to tell students this is an important activity, we can't assign it and expect them to do it on their own. Make time for students to work independently, with classmates, and with the teacher to ensure a more successful experience" (124).
     They know I care about their learning. (85)

Pushed me further...
     When introducing reflection, find out what students already KNOW about reflection! Ask THEM what it looks like and what it should include! Take time in class to allow them to create or add to a checklist to be included in a reflection. (101-102). Then make reflection time a routine. I've just started to implement this with D.I.R.T. (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time).
     Portfolios, Joy. Portfolios. I need to stop using the excuse of not having 1:1 tech for not having students organize their work. (Oh, how spoiled was I last year to have that iPad cart?!) I need to reserve those laptops and give students TIME in class to gather and organize evidence. Yes, using a class set of iPads and something like Fresh Grade or Seesaw would be a dream, but I can do without - since I need to - and it's good for the kids. With that being said, "Teacher comfort is important; it's a matter of finding a tool that will easily collect and transfer artifacts each year" (123), and a tool that teachers in grades below and above me would use. Even though portfolios are not for the teachers, students in middle school probably won't revisit them unless the teachers ask them to.
    Do you know Mike Stein? (Meaning - Are you connected to this teacher via Twitter or some other media?) He teaches English at the high school level. His students experience Genius Hour. His students grade themselves. He's now considering adding a gamification piece to his year. What if? What if? What if? How could it all go together?

This text, along with Mark Barnes's Assessment 3.0 and my original favorite regarding grades, ROLE Reversal, shows teachers WHY and HOW it CAN BE DONE. Yes, there will be pushback, and yes, it will be tough. Why not try it anyway, if you know of the effect it has on learning?

Go ahead - make the process transparent. Let others in on the conversation. It's how we grow.

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