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.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Conference Musings

Seventh graders - what a mix of minds!

I've conducted thirteen one-on-one "grade" conferences with students this week. I need to meet because even though I've gone all quarter without points or scores averaged together, I still need to put a final letter grade in the online gradebook. The end of the term is next week Friday, so I've reserved five days to have 5 min. conferences with students. Some go faster, and some go slower, and they leave a paper trail for students to take home and explain to parents. The first conferences about grades are always tougher than the rest of the year. Students have never done this before, and it's quite the learning curve for some! We use this document (the first two pages) to discuss evidence so far.

Here are some snippets (all names are changed)...

Evelyn - 
     I see, on our documenting sheet, that she has earned an A. It's solid. She's gotten proficient or mastery on her writing skills, and she's got 90% or higher on her reading comprehension checks. I ask, "What do you think your grade should be?"
     Her response - again and again - "I don't know."

Cassie - 
     She knows she should get an A. I ask, "What is your evidence?" She can't find it. We need to look through everything and write it off to the side, so she can see what I see. We end up deciding a B- is more representative of her learning right now. I look at last year's grades when I have time. Uh oh. I might be hearing from parents. She had all As last year...

Jimmy -
     He starts by saying, "I've never done this before, so I'm going to do my best, but I might make mistakes. So...." and he goes on and on about his skills, how he's doing, where he could improve... He's got three goals for next quarter and wants to narrow it down to one that will have the most impact... I don't have to say a thing.

Norman -
     Has been in trouble this year. Only once from me. I "let him get away" with things that do not impede other students' learning. I pick my battles, and I think we have an "okay" relationship. He seemed scared, yet put on his tough face. He seemed surprised to know I agreed with his assessment of himself and did not bring behavior into the mix. Behavior doesn't belong in a grade. If it did, however, he'd have an "A" for looking me in the eyes the entire time we talked.


We have different seating options in our room. I make sure to sit on a chair that is the same height as the student's chair. I want them to know this should not be scary. It's just a conversation about how they're doing right now, and where they can improve. I LOVE these conversations. Some are tougher than others, but I feel like I learn so much about the students, and I feel that we build more of a bond of trust with each other. If (when?) we do go to standards-based grading, I'd love to keep these conversations going at the end of each term.

My "gradeless" 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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