Learning matters…

#Edchat is a lively, informative, stimulating discussion on Twitter, organised and facilitated by some of the most inspiring educators I have come across. The topics are voted on beforehand by educators worldwide and are guaranteed to be relevant  and thought-provoking. Yesterday was one of the rare occasions when I could participate, in spite of the the time difference. (Most Aussie educators are either sleeping or teaching at the two times it’s on!)

The topic was: If the time has come to move on from traditional grades, what are the alternatives?

Jay McTigh (Understanding by Design) says that assessment should include the 3 P’s:  performance, process and progress and students should be acknowledged for success in each of the three.

These are the some of the meaningful assessment and reporting processes that we have in place at our (PYP) school:

  • Formative assessment informs teaching and learning. It might be planned as part of collaborative unit planning by teachers, or incidental through what takes place in the classroom. Formative assessment is rarely through a test.  It can occur through any learning experience or task or even by listening to the conversations of students as they engage with their learning.
  • Teachers are encouraged to keep anecdotal records of student thinking and questioning to keep track of  their development over time.
  • Students have portfolios which contain examples of their learning. The portfolios demonstrate the ‘process’ and the ‘progress’ as well as the ‘performance’.
  • At 3 way interviews, students talk their parents through the portfolios. They share their strengths, weaknesses and goals and their learning is celebrated.
  • Our written reports, in addition to the compulsory (and ridiculous) comparative grades demanded by government, also include narrative comments in which the the 3 P’s mentioned above are discussed, as well as evidence that the student is displaying the attributes of the IB learner profile.
  • Students reflect on their own learning regularly as part of the learning process, and also in a written reflection on their report cards.
  • And… it was great that when the Naplan (National Assessment Plan ) tests were underway, our head sent staff an email acknowledging all the wonderful learning that goes on in the school which isn’t reflected in the Naplan.

I know there will be those who are shaking their heads and thinking, ‘What does she know? She’s a primary school teacher.’ Here’s what I think I know…

I think I know what meaningful learning is.  I think I know that grades don’t reflect meaningful learning. I think I know that grades are a convenient way of quantifying performance for comparative purposes.  I know that outside of school type settings, no-one gets graded for learning. I don’t believe that grades  motivate students to learn, although they might motivate them to compete or to get grades! I know there are teachers and students who see a grade as the end of learning.  I know that the idea of ‘teacher as sole judge of student worth’ goes with an outmoded view that the teacher has control of all learning.  I know that in the world we live in, grades do count a great deal (for now). But I also know that the world is full of smart, creative, talented people who didn’t get the highest grades at school. I know that if we care about learning, the focus shouldn’t be on an A, B, D or F…

Grading


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7 thoughts on “Learning matters…

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on learning and breaking away from traditional assessments! We have worked for a year now on a new report system for learning at our independent boys’ school and are planning to implement school wide next August. I really was interested in the last paragraph and will write more later. Our school is about to close for summer here in the US and it is crunch time!
    Thanks so much!

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  2. I really appreciate your thoughts on this topic. It was a very lively discussion last night that has poured into today. I think you have captured the concepts being discussed quite well. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  3. I have, luckily, never much been involved with grades or standardized tests.
    Working at a PYP school is such an honour when it comes to assessment. Most of my assessment is formative, and even the summative assessment is formative to some extend.
    Being in the middle of student-led conferences, it just shows how much the students have grown, and there is no scale, and often there are no words to measure this.

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  4. Our school is moving towards standards based teaching and reporting, meaning that kids need to show proficiency at each level in order to “pass.” This has caused us to also look at leveling- effectively dismantling the current practice of 6th grade this and 7th grade that. Rather than ranking by grade level, they will be put into a more fluid situation where they are grouped by readiness levels (for lack of a better term). As they progress, they move back and forth from level to level and teacher to teacher. For example, a student might move up several levels in math but only one in reading.

    It’s a tough battle. It eliminates honor roll, “top 10” lists, and parents have no frame of reference for it. However, I think it’s the right move and there’s no better time than right now.

    The question remains- what to do with the student who is very content to stay at the same level in all subjects all year long?

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