I have just finished conferencing with my Grade 7 students and loved it. This year I have commited to a portfolio based approach to grading using only criteria. In my case this is made easier by the fact that we are an IB MYP school and I have four mathematics criteria that I have to use: Knowledge and Understanding; Investigating Patterns; Communication and Reflection.
What I find fascinating about this change in my grading practice is how hard it has been to unlearn how to grade. In the IB system the first two criteria are weighted out of 8 and the last two out of 6 to reflect their relative importance. I however have only recently allowed myself to use them based on the IB weighting. As traditionally I am used to weighting Knowledge and Understanding almost exclusively I have (I am embarrased to admit) resorted to doing things like multiplying this criteria by 2 to artificially elevate it’s status. My reasoning for this was very sound at the time: when I looked at the descriptors for the Investigating Patterns criteria I would realise that I hadn’t prepared my students enough to be able to actually meet the criteria. It has taken me a year of struggling with this dilemma and changing my teaching practice and reflecting on the changes and then changing them again to finally feel like I am preparing my students to be honestly graded the way the IB wants me to grade them.
Conferencing with my students this morning was awesome. All my assessment was broken down by Learning Outcomes, so I could tell them exactly what skills they should be working on over the summer. But even more exciting was the conversations I was able to have. When discussing Knowledge and Understanding we weren’t just talking about whether the question was right or wrong but about what it means to really understand something. When talking about problem solving and Investigating Patterns we were able to pinpoint where in their thinking processes each student was, and focus on the skills they still need to develop.
Here is the thing though. It has taken me a year of struggling through all of this and believing it is the right approach to start to finally reap the benefits. It feels a bit like trying to explain Twitter to someone that thinks it’s all about what people had for breakfast. My standard reply now when I am asked about Twitter is that it takes about a year of investing time in it to finally understand what it is all about. It’s the same with criteria based assessment. It has taken me a year of struggling with the MYP criteria and language to finally feel like I understand it and understand what classroom activities will support my students in meeting these outcomes.
Most teachers are looking for something that works right away, or makes their lives easier. Changing grading practices is neither of these things. Initially things will get messier, and it will take more time. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it might not be readily apparent.
With Twitter I have found that being mentored can shorten the time it takes to really get Twitter, and as I look to next year where I hope to encourage more teachers to ditch percents and averages, I am thinking that providing good mentoring and examples of best practice is going to be very important.