If you read my last blog post, you know how much I am struggling with giving out letter grades this term. I received some great advice and many blog posts to read in relation to this very topic. It was exciting to read other people’s ideas. If you happened to be a fly on the wall when these posts were being read, you would have heard me talking to my computer screen. “Exactly!” “Yes!” “Great idea!” were some of the words/phrases you would have heard. It was like these fellow educators were in my head and saying exactly what I have been thinking for the past while. I wasn’t alone. In fact, I was in pretty good company!
Today was one of the days I teach my two Health and Career Education classes – a Grade 5/6 class and a Grade 6 class. I knew I had to address the topic of letter grades with my students now – even in just a some small way. So, I went to class today with a list of the 3-4 Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s) we’ve been working on this term (they have already seen these earlier this term, but I wanted to remind them and have all the PLO’s on one sheet for them).
I started each class of the two classes asking the students if they knew how I felt about letter grades. OK, maybe not the best way to start. It was interesting though because even though I had not discussed letter grades with them per se, they seemed to know how I felt about them, probably because none of their work this year had a score or letter grade – just comments. (Well, except that Edmodo “quiz” they did – but I had explained to them that that was a “quiz” to assess their knowledge to determine where we should go next, not as an end of term “quiz”). I had some responses like, “You don’t like letter grades, Mrs. Henriksen.” “You never use letter grades, Mrs. Henriksen.”
I went on to tell them how I thought each and every one of them had gifts and strengths and areas to work on. It didn’t feel right to me to be the one to tell them (the learners) what their grade would be for the term. While I still haven’t figured out exactly how I am going to handle the letter grades exactly, I did say to them that I thought that it would be a good idea if each of them had the opportunity to look at the PLO’s for the term, think about and look at the work they completed throughout the term, think about all they learned this term, then look at the descriptors of each letter grade. The next step would be to determine by the amount he/she has learned and the type of work he/she has completed which grade would best describe the letter grade they earned for the term. I went to tell them that I wasn’t sure how this would look, but that I wanted to share my thoughts with them.
At that point, I asked the students what they thought of this idea. During our discussion, many students looked at me nodding and were actually indicated that they didn’t want to receive letter grades at all. Others looked at me with puzzled looks and said things like, “I’ve never been able to help decide what letter grade I should get. The teacher has always just done it.” It was then that I really realized I was on to something. Our students need to take more ownership over their own learning. They need to stop having letter grades “done” to them. They need to be a part of the process.
Now, I know I am looking at this with rose-coloured glasses, perhaps, but I am excited about the prospect of what this year will bring. I know it isn’t going to be easy, especially with my schedule, but it is so important. The students need to take ownership over their learning and not ask, “Is this for marks?” or “Does this count?”. Their learning needs to become more internally motivated and sustained.
This is only the beginning.
Tomorrow, I will talk with the two French – Grade 5 – classes I teach. Should be interesting.
Wish me luck.