As I continue along my Grading Moratorium journey, and having my students take more ownership over their learning (and the grades they receive for the term), I am surprised often.
I am surprised at the honesty, self-reflection, realism, and insight of my Grade 5 students. I was concerned that everyone would say they deserved to receive an A for the term. That is so far from my actual experience. So far, out of the 46 students with whom I have conferenced, only 1 student indicated that she deserved an A for her grade for the term. 1!
Here is the breakdown of letter grades for the term for 46 of the students in my 2 Grade 5 French classes (with about 10 more conferences to go):
A : 1
B : 20
C : 5
C- : 4
While I would prefer to not even have letter grades on their report cards, having students reflect on their own work, as related to the Prescribed Learning Outcomes, has proved to be very powerful.
I had one student write in her reflection, “I think I deserve a C+ because I didn’t hand in one of my assignments.” Wow! We had a great discussion during her individual conference about how her grade was based on the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s) and her ability regarding theses PLO’s. Of course, I want everyone to complete all their work, but really, if they are capable of demonstrating their learning associated with the PLO’s, shouldn’t that be our focus?
After discussing the upcoming self-reflections and individual conferences with my Grade 6 students in the Health & Career Education classes I teach, one student’s response tugged at my heart. Joseph (pseudonym), responded in anger,
“Mrs. Henriksen – YOU are supposed to GIVE me my grade. I am NOT supposed to decide my grade. YOU are the TEACHER not me!”
Joseph is right, I am a teacher, but he is mistaken in thinking I am his only teacher. Our students need to be taught to take ownership over their own learning and not rely on us to DO their education TO them, or GIVE them their grades. They need to be taught how to reflect on their work, how to make their work better, how to best express their learning, and how to determine their strengths and use them to their advantage.
The real difficulty with Joseph is he thinks that he is not a bright student. He struggles with school and the traditional ways of representing his learning. He has a great deal of difficulty focusing and actually producing work that he can hand in to be marked. So, the reason he doesn’t want to participate in this self-reflection, I think, is he doesn’t want to face himself and his views of what a good student ‘should’ be.
I am hoping that I will be able to help Joseph understand a little more about himself and his learning during our individual conference. While Joseph has not handed in a great deal of “work”, when examining the Prescribed Learning Outcomes, (which are what our reports should be based upon, right?), he is able to verbally represent good, concrete examples of his learning and knowledge of the subject area.
I am hoping that during our individual conference, he will be able to see that he knows a great deal about what we’ve been learning this term. It is my hope that he doesn’t shut down, but instead, participate in the process (this may take time). It is my hope that I will be able to break through Joseph’s shell just a little to have him understand and begin to believe in himself as a learner. And in that process, it is my understanding that he understand that he may just need to demonstrate his work in a different way than he is used to. And that is okay! In fact, it is better than okay, it is awesome and imperative to his future success as a student.
While I am still having to type a letter grade on each student’s report card, I am feeling so much better about the whole reporting process. There is a long way to go, but this is the start. I am excited about the learning this year (my student’s and my own) and how students will begin to take more ownership over their learning for the rest of the year, having been through this process together this term.
I will be having Joseph’s individual conference tomorrow. Wish me luck!