On Monday, we discussed grades and standards scores in our classroom. As the end of the semester is here, it is now time for my students to assess themselves and somehow turn that evaluation into not just a standard score, but also a letter grade. I meet with them individually to discuss as well, but the initial work always starts with them. So on Monday I asked them, “What does a “1” mean to you?” as a way to get our conversation started. I was surprised, to say the least, at their answers…
“It means that I have failed…”
“It means I am bad…”
“It means they didn’t try…”
Receiving a “1” on standard score did not mean they were at the beginning of their learning. That they had not yet mastered something. That they had some knowledge but still had a way to go. No, it meant failure, no effort, that they were stupid. Even in our classroom where students self-assess all of the time. Where we have actively tried to change the conversation from a score to feedback. Where I have tried to put students in control of their learning. They still think that if they get a “1” they are bad kids.
So rather than move into the definition of letter grades (they did this after) we stopped for a moment and discussed what each standard score really means. What they need to do when they give themselves a “1” or a “2.” How a “1” does not mean they didn’t try but that they do not understand yet. That a “2” does not mean they are bad at English but that they still have teaching to be a part of. That those scores certainly can have something to do with effort but must of the time it does not. That those scores do not determine how smart they are but are really just an indication of what they have shown me so far.
The sigh of relief in our classroom was nearly visible as a new sense of understanding dawned on the kids. These scores were in their hands, these scores were meant as signals, these scores were meant to guide not punish. I thought they already knew that, after all, this is not their first year with standards based scores, and yet the conversation showed me otherwise.
So have you had this conversation with your students? Do they understand what their grades mean and not just from a project standpoint? Do they feel in control of how they are assessed? How they are seen by themselves and others? I encourage you to ask, I encourage you to have students set their own grades. I encourage you to reframe the narrative that they may have when it comes to scores and assessment. Assuming they know what they really mean means you are probably wrong. I know I was.
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 . Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.