I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

I Lied - My Students Aren't Grading Themselves

I teach 7th grade ELA. I used to write all over students' papers - telling them everything they need to correct. Then I shifted to only leaving one positive comment and one comment regarding a revision suggestion. I then became much more specific with my comments. I thought I was doing well. Now my last class is giving themselves a grade at the end of each quarter. I'm learning so much, constantly reflecting on so many aspects of it!

This year, I began to leave video feedback using Explain Everything or Screen-cast-o-matic during second quarter. I had one student say he really liked the video feedback. "It's like you're right here talking to me." I had another that, when it came time to give himself a grade, didn't know what he has earned because he "never looked at the links" (to the feedback).

I checked one of my videos this morning, and I saw that students had not watched the video feedback I diligently left for them. I came up with this conclusion: I need to provide time IN CLASS for students to watch the video feedback I've given. Here is my proof - NO VIEWS on 80% of this sampling:

Which made me pretty upset. Just ask my husband, who had to spend an hour in the car with me after I noticed these stats.

I've taken the time to create the feedback and upload it. The time it takes to give the feedback is actually the same as the "old" way - leaving a positive comment and a revision suggestion on Google docs or even on paper takes 5 minutes. It's the uploading that makes video feedback take twice the time on my end. And then copying that darn link and pasting it on the student's document, my master document, and in the online gradebook = more time than I've taken previously.

And then I got to thinking some more...

  • If students don't look at the video links I leave for them, do these same students ever look at the Google Doc comments I leave for them?
  • The ones that had been viewed multiple times have been REVISED multiple times (which is the goal).
  • I'm a fake. I say my last class is grading themselves... I lied!

I need to stop here and explain. I figured something out. I figured out something that Mark Barnes in Assessment 3.0 had already told me last year.

** I cannot leave ANY type of "final" "grade" on any assignment I expect them to revise. **

Here's what I do lately...

  • Give feedback on an assignment (video, on a Google Doc, or even in person) - what the student did well, and suggestions for the student to work on / revise.
  • Highlight on the rubric where the student's assignment currently resides ("needs improvement," "developing," "proficient," "mastery").
  • In the box for the grade online, I have been putting the link to the video feedback, or simply copying / pasting the typed comment.
  • ALSO in this box for the grade online, I have been putting the rubric feedback (ex: "Developing: Describes some explicit or inferential parts of evidence, but not both. I have to make some jumps to follow your reasoning.").

That's my problem!!

Students are seeing a "grade" of sorts online and on the rubrics! Why look at the feedback, then? Why do I expect they'll WANT to revise?! As Hubby says, "Revising is hard!" DUH! Every year we have students who revise because they're grade-driven, and then we've got students who really don't care about the grade or doing the work, so they don't revise. What makes me think that would change?! I haven't been able to change their mindsets about grades (yet), and I've been blinded by my own visions.

In order for students and I to truly shift our thinking to "It's not about the grade; it's about the learning," I need to only give them information on what they did WELL, and suggestions for improvement. NO "needs improvement," "developing," "proficient" or "mastery." (Well... maybe I can leave "mastery" on work that is at that level!)

Here is what I NEED to do...

  • Include in our curriculum articles about grading and mindset at the beginning of the year. Really set it up and have students discuss and reflect.
  • In each assignment, give students a summary of what they did WELL. What did I notice?
  • In each assignment, give suggestions for improvement (biggest impact stressed; minor suggestions can wait).
  • Change the feedback loop I created in December. I realize now that that loop was another STEP in the right direction, but still not focusing on learning, learning, learning.
  • Write grade-related information (NI, D, P, M) in my paper gradebook in case the student is not mature enough to grade him/herself at the end of the quarter, or in case we need "numbers" of some sort for problem solving or benchmarks.
  • Ask students to revise all work and turn it back in for more feedback.
  • Leave the summary and suggestions for improvement on the online program that kids and parents see (whether this is video feedback or written).
  • Make sure students know they can come to me at any time to assess together how they think they're progressing.
  • Give time in class for students to watch / read / listen to feedback.
  • Give time in class for students to revise and resubmit.
  • Ask students to reflect on what they learned from assignments - about themselves, their habits, their beliefs, or their learning. (How often would this be needed?)
  • Continually ask -->  "What did you learn...?"
  • Leave a week (3-5 days?) at the end of the quarter for one-on-one conversations with students about their grades (since they will virtually have NONE).
  • Plan for another activity to take place during that week (one idea is to move Genius Hour to one week at the end of each quarter, another is a reading or writing project of choice).

Here's what I still WANT to do...

  • Make every "assignment" relevant to the world - something students can put on their blogs for the world to see.
  • Give feedback in chunks - which means not one assignment coming in to me from all students at the same time. A year-long project would be great for this. Again... another idea from Mark Barnes in ROLE Reversal...
  • Have students truly grade themselves (since a final grade is still expected).
  • Get my coworkers on board.

Teaching is tough. I just want to know what to do and how to do it right. And yet the challenge is what keeps me coming back for more. I've jumped in to this glorious mess. I am still learning.

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


  1. Aaahhhh! I want to go get coffee with you, somewhere with wifi where we can spend a couple hours sharing stories, pulling up examples, brainstorming. I go back and forth between "this is the right thing to do" and "what the devil was I thinking?". I'm having a hard time determining where my feedback ends and their reflection and self-assessment begins. And finding time in class for reading/viewing feedback and/or reflecting? Might as well cut some of the fantastic activities you had planned because that takes time. For everything I think I'm doing right, I find that something is wrong about it. I'm in a funk, and I relate to your quandary.

    1. I'm with you, Sister. The thing is, though... this is SELF-INDUCED! We did this to ourselves, because we believed it was the right thing to do! I still believe it is. And I'm ready to give them some time each week in class to look at feedback, get more from peers, and then revise. We give time in class for what we believe is important, right? Kids will then think it's important, right?? I'm almost (dare I even say it?) willing to move Genius Hour-type time to other mini times throughout the year, because I believe so much in them focusing on learning rather than grades. Then I think towards their 8th grade year, however, and how things will go right back to the way they were. Ugh. I wish you weren't in Oklahoma. I'm glad we're not alone, though.

  2. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for writing such an informative post. (Your "What I..." structure is helpful.) You are not alone in this experience. One thing you may want to try is having students comment on and/or evaluate their own work (in any form you want). Then you could respond (to that document/video). You could hold students responsible by having this feedback loop build by requiring students to write or record a writing plan for their next assignment that includes your response comments from the previous assignment. So the iterative process would look something like this: Provide rubric > Ss Write > Ss self-evaluate > T responds to self-evaluation > Ss write/record writing plan for next assignment > Ss self-evaluate > T responds to self-evaluation > continue feedback loop. This may take a while, but it gets at intention, evaluation, and iteration (learning, learning, learning). I'm glad you asked me to comment on your post! I might even do this! (This comment is definitely an example of "Do as I say, not as I do.) Thanks, again, for sharing. Keep up the good work (and fight).

    1. Thanks for making me chuckle - I was wondering how you have the time to do that process! I definitely need to incorporate more time for students to peer review, revise after the review, and self-assess. So many steps. It's good we don't have that many "polished" pieces of writing to revise. That makes the time spent looking at one piece more thorough. Thank you for your thoughts, Andy! Much appreciated!

  3. This is such an amazing post. I'm struggling to try and find a helpful avenue that you haven't already considered.

    But, after reading it a couple of times (you are a great writer who packs so much useful information into your paragraphs), here's my immediate response:

    -Have you considered actually relaxing the feedback and assessment a bit? I kept thinking about Penny Kittle's notion that students should be writing and reading four times as often as we can assess them. Perhaps you could consider doing more with fewer assessment/revision/feedback opportunities?

    Again, not exactly a powerful suggestion on my part I know. I wish we could talk in person about this, as I think we'd have an enjoyable conversation. And I'd be able to pick your brain on any manner of things!


    1. Yes. I agree with Peter: It's hard to find something your haven't already considered and if we can comment on everything they write, they aren't writing enough!

    2. Odd that I'm just TODAY seeing your replies, Peter and A.B.! As I am getting ready to reflect on this entire year, I know that next year I need to provide more opportunities for STUDENTS to give EACH OTHER feedback. I need more of these BEFORE I even get to see the piece....

  4. Joy, this is a beautiful mentor text for teachers who are eager to begin blogging for reflective practice. Your thinking is so transparent and so carefully detailed. It's hard to provide any recommendations on your approach, but I will say this much: the fact that you can collect data on whether or not students are reviewing your feedback is pretty powerful and will inspire a level of change that none of us were capable of attempting before these tools enabled us too. Very cool.

  5. Joy, it is always a struggle to provide an environment that focuses on a growth mindset when numbers and grades are involved. I have continued to find that once a grade is given, even if it is formative, the students feel done or they just want to know "what they have to do to change the grade." The focus instantly becomes about the grade and not the learning. I'm learning a lot from reading your reflections! Keep fighting the good fight :)