grades, Personalized Learning, student choice, student voice

What Does An “A” Mean – Thoughts From My Students

We have been deep in grade discussion today as throughout the day I have asked students to define the letter grades that I have to give this semester.  I wasn’t surprised at the in-depth discussions this prompted, but more at the harshness with which the students defined certain grades.  Each class got a letter to define and then the other classes added their input.  Tomorrow, students will select their grade and then provide reasoning on a sheet for why they belong in that category.  I will then meet with each student to debate the grade with them and we will set goals for the future.

So how did the students define their letter grades?  Behavior seemed to play a large role which lead to many interesting conversations, since we grade behavior separate from part of understanding. These are their thoughts….

To get an “A” in English, a student is:

  • Participating on topic (large group, small group) even if not called upon
  • An active listener (engaged, awake, doing what they are supposed to be doing)
  • Consistently trying to go above and beyond and shows interest in topics
  • Getting consistent 3’s or 4’s (even with re-takes)
  • Turning work in on time and completed (95%)
  • Consistently puts in effort
  • (Works well with others/respects others/teacher/classroom/materials – nice attitude)
  • Reads at least 6 out of 7 days 20 minutes or more outside of English
  • Furthers the understanding in the classroom through written or spoken work
  • Showing a deep level of understanding of content covered

To get a “B” in English, a student is:

  • Getting scores that are consistently 3’s with a few 2.5’s mixed in
  • Reading 5 out of the 7 nights outside of English class
  • Interested most days, as well as engaged in class
  • Putting in best effort
  • Doing required work but not always going for 4
  • Most of the time working well with others/showing respect and helping the class move forward in learning
  • Participating
  • Completing almost all work, as well as handing it in on time
  • Showing a thorough understanding of content covered

To get a “C” in English, a student is:

  • Getting mostly 2’s or 2.5’s
  • Reading 3-4 days a week outside of English class
  • Mostly turning in work on time and work is mostly completed
  • Mostly engaged but only some participation (large/small group)
  • Homework is almost always complete and mostly turned in on time (2 or more lates)
  • Group effort may depend on students in group
  • Effort depends on topic/subject
  • Mostly prepared for class but does forget items at times (book, pencil, notebook etc) leading to inability to complete tasks
  • Not always spending time in a in productive manner

To get a “D” in English, a student is:

  • Getting mostly 2’s
  • Reading 2-3 times a week outside of English class
  • Not always on topic and often distracts others
  • Not always prepared for class
  • Shows little engagement/time not spent productively
  • Has little participation even in small group
  • More than 3 missing assignments
  • Students shows little effort
  • Does few re-takes
  • Shows little understanding and does little to improve it
  • Choices made can harm the learning environment of others

To get a “F” in English, a student is:

  • Missing more than 5 assignments (summative and formative)
  • Getting 1.5’s or IE’s
  • Only reading one night or none outside of English class
  • Putting in little to no effort in class
  • Distracting students and teacher resulting in wasted learning time for self and others
  • Often not on topic
  • Has little to no participation
  • Does not do any re-takes
  • Is never prepared
  • Has selective listening that results in many misunderstandings

Have you asked your students to define their grades before they are given?  If yes, how did it go?  If no, why not?

assessment, education reform, grades, Personalized Learning, student voice

Before You Give Letter Grades, Please Ask Your Students

I have had a problem with letters grades for a few years now.  I used to write about it all of the time, and then stopped because I felt like all of the words had been written.  But now, I am back facing having to give letter grades for the semester as my district transitions from them to standards based grades.  All of those old thoughts of why letter grades say so little about a students knowledge, effort, and accomplishment have been hounding me throughout my days as the deadline for giving them nears.  But then I remembered; I need to ask the students what grades they should get.

It is rather simple process.  As a class we discuss what makes an “A?” What should a child be able to do in class and out of it to get that elusive top grade?  What does “A” thinking, writing, reading, discussion, and doing overall look and sound like?  We go through each letter grade this way as a class and determine our definitions.  We publish them to our website so parents can see.  The standards based scores they have received are also part of it but they are not averaged and they are not the only component.

Once the students have created a group definition, they evaluate themselves.  On a small sheet of paper they are asked which grade they feel they deserve and why.  The why is important here as I need to see their thinking.

Once they have completed the sheet, we meet.  We have to have a face to face discussion of what grade they think they should receive, what my thoughts are, as well as the path forward.   Often I find I agree with a child, but if there is disagreement whether the grade should be lower or higher, it is of utmost importance to have a face to face discussion.

For too long students have felt they have little say over how they are assessed.  They feel that grades are done to them, rather than something they determine.  While we as teachers may think that students understand that their grade is a reflection of their effort, time and time again students have told me they don’t understand the relationship.

So if you have to give letter grades, or even just scores, I implore you to please involve your students.  Don’t just rely on an average.  Don’t just rely on your gut feeling.  Don’t just rely on tests, homework, or whatever other assignment that you have given.  Bring the students in.  Give them power over their learning, give them voice in how they are assessed.  They will thank you for it, or at the very least start to understand how they ended up with that B….

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


How Do You Assess Without Grades – 5 Tips to Ease the Transition

When I transferred my blog from Blogger to WordPress, not only did I run into domain name problems but I also had posts that didn’t transfer.  This post is an oldie but still speaks to me.  

Two great questions came my way yesterday in regard to assessing without grades and then communicating that information.  We are so used to the ease of a letter grade that gets recorded in a book, averaged out and then translated into a letter, that moving away from that can be daunting and just a bit overwhelming.  So two years into my process I thought I would share some tips I learned the hard way.

  1. Discover your goal.
  2. Whether they are based on district standards, common core, school outcomes, or even those listed in the curriculum, figure out what the goal is for each thing you teach.  These can be large or small (don’t do too many small ones though, trust me) and then figure out what the outcome should be.  Everything you do should have a learning goal because without that there is no point to the lesson.

  3. Determine the product.  What does it look like when students have accomplished the goal?  What is finished?  What is just another stepping stone?  How will students show that they have mastered the goal?  I love to have this discussion with my students, they have amazing ideas for this.
  4. Determine assessment.  Will it be written feedback?  Will it be a rubric?  Will it be a conversation – great tip; record these with a Livescribe pen and you have it for later! Or use Voxer to send it straight to the stduents if they are over 13.   Once again, ask the students, what type of assessment will help them?  How do they learn best?
  5. Keep a record.  This has been my biggest hurdle.  I have had charts, Google Docs, grade book notes, relied on my faulty brain, and yikes.  This year I am bringing my iPad in and using Evernote to keep track of it all.  Students will each have a portfolio in Evernote with conversations, pictures of work, links to blog posts, as well as videotaped events.  This way, everything will be at my fingertips when needed.
  6. Communicate!  Assessment is not helpful if kept to yourself so have the conversations with students, take the time, write things down, communicate with parents.  All of these things need to be taken care of for this to work.  The allure of letter grades is just that; the ease of communication, nevermind that they can mean a million different things.  So when you step away from those make sure you replace that with communication.  Give students ownership of their goals and have them write a status report home, send an email, make a phone call.  Something.  Everybody should know where they are at and where they are headed throughout the year.

My 5 biggest tips for today and something I continue to work on.  Whatever your system is, take the time to reflect upon it, refine it, and make it work for you.  Ultimately stepping away from letter grades should lead to a deeper form of assessment, not a larger headache, but for that you have to have systems in place.

assessment, being a teacher, grades, Student

Do Our Students Understand Our Standards?


I could see the disappointment creep through the room like a fog enveloping us all.  Those kids who had been bright and cheery when they entered our room now sat there sullen, shoulders dropped, barely meeting my eye.  I tried to explain again; I thought you needed some honest feedback…I know I have high expectations…it is not too late…

My students had done halfway through the quarter reflections and some of them had really missed the mark on their own engagement and work quality. Or maybe I had missed the mark as a teacher, but something was not lining up between their perception and reality, something was not right.  Thus Tuesday’s conversation; a quick “If grades were handed out today” sheet and now lots of broken hearts.  Sometimes being a teacher just sucks.

That night, when I couldn’t sleep, I realized what we needed to do, ashamed that I hadn’t thought of it before; we needed to deconstruct the standards.  Tear them apart, put them in our own language, but most importantly discuss ways of showing mastery, so that they could be in control of their 7th grade learning journey

So today we started with our very first standard.  The students and I reworded it, spoke about what it meant, and also spoke about my ideas for second quarter; show me mastery in your own way.  Tell me when you are ready to give me evidence that you can do these things.  Yes, you can choose to do a written assignment, and yes there will still be certain milestones that we have to reach,  but you can also show me in another way; sculptures, videos, conversations, blogs, whatever we can work out, whatever you can dream up.

After today, I feel like it finally makes sense.  Not just to my students who function under the scope of these standards; but to myself, the wielder of the assessment.  I hadn’t thought to do this because I made the assumption my students had figured it out themselves.  That they had figured out the standards.  That they knew how they would be assessed and how to show me their growth.  Why I would assume this I am not sure, but I know I cannot be the only one.  I know others like me must have assumed that students know what they are supposed to learn, know what they will be assessed on.  That’s a mistake I will not make again.

After the day was done and the new standard hung on our bulletin board, I have hope.  Hope that my students will start to understand what I take for granted in their learning journey.  Hope that my students will see that they there is room for all of their abilities and not just the ones determined by me.  Hope that my students will embrace the push for personalization, hope that it will make them understand more where they need to go and how they need to grow.  I should have done this day one, I am glad it is not too late.


I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

assessment, grades, students

Why Do I Ask My Students to Grade Themselves?

Keep Learning, Keep Growing- 11x17 typography print, inspirational quote, teacher gift, university, dorm decor, modern wall decor, christmas
image from etsy

I first gave up on percentages the day I found myself overriding a student’s average and changing their grade to something else.  Mind you that average was calculated by me on worksheets I had assigned.  I remember erasing the letter I had written, so meticulously calculated, and then arguing with myself over whether I had the right to do so.  Would anyone know that I had changed the grade to more accurately reflect what they knew and that it was no longer based on an average?  Would I get busted for this?  I felt like such  a fraud.

Today I asked my students to once again assess themselves.  Assign 4 through 1 to their learning in all subjects and then hand it in to me.  The numbers are not my invention but rather my district’s take on standards based grading and so that portion is out of my hands, it is the end of the trimester so report cards must be written.  I gave them their previous report card, also filled out by them.  I gave them an explanation of what the categories meant and then I gave them time to evaluate.  They thought, they asked questions. and then they handed them in.  Yet some people may wonder why I bother?

I don’t have them write their own grades because I’m lazy.  It is not because I don’t know how I would assess them.  It is not to give them a fake sense of control.  Or a fake sense of ownership.

I do it so it is their voice that is heard when they are judged.  So that their input determines where they are and where they need to go.  I do it because every time there is a surprise.   A child always evaluates themselves differently than I would, and it is in that difference that some of our most revealing discussions take place.   This is where a child reveals their broken self esteem, this is where a child reveals their confusion, their lack of belief in their own capabilities.  This is where a child shows that they perhaps are less clued in then they have led me to believe.  Or where they prove to me how much they know but were too afraid to share.  It is within these conversations that my students truly take control of their learning journey and set the goals.  It is where they find their mistakes and take ownership.  It is where they realize what they have mastered, how far they have grown.  It is where we celebrate their successes and think about our failures.

I may not be a believer in grades, but I will always believe in the power of a good conversation.  These conversations shape the next trimester, the next month, the next day.  These shape the journey my students continue to take.  My students know that I am not the only one assessing them, they have someone else that is much tougher than me; themselves.  And they don’t want to let that person down.

Be the change, grades, reflection

My 5 Year Old Schools Me on Grades

image from icanread

Thea ignores me.

“Here it says that you don’t know your letters, numbers, or shapes.”

Thea continues to ignore me.

“What letter is this?  (As I point to a big D).

Thea glances up.  “A?”  My heart drops.  “It’s not A, it’s D.  D for daddy.  We have to practice this!”

Thea walks away then yells, “I don’t want to learn my letters!” and leaves the room.  She told me.

Welcome to my biggest parenting fail to date.

You wouldn’t think that I cared about report cards.  You wouldn’t think that I would skip right over the “3’s” and “4’s.”  Hurriedly read the positive comments her teacher meticulously typed.  Skim down until my eyes found what my heart knew would be on there, the “2’s” – the ones that means that she is not where she should be, the ones that means she is not as good as the other kids.  Yet that is exactly what happened on Friday afternoon.  Never mind the great things Thea has accomplished, never mind all that she can do.  My parenting eyes went straight for what she doesn’t know and then got stuck on a tangent until my darling 5 year old left the room.  End of conversation, mom.

So why do I share this story?  Because this is exactly what happens in most homes when we send home a report card.  Parents eagerly skim until they see the negative, the mark that isn’t as good as the others.  We skim over the great remarks, we notice the good, but we really focus on the “needs to improve,” the area of supposed deficit.  We hone in on that, it appears to be instinctual,  and that becomes the topic of conversation, that becomes the point of contention. Then we harp on our kids until they wither leave in protest or defeat,  Mission accomplished, we have parented them well.  But it shouldn’t be this way.  The numbers or letters that tell us what our child still needs to work on should be the biggest point, bring the other stuff into the conversation but don’t make it the main event.

I know this and yet I fell right into the pattern.  I know that a 2 does not define Thea.  I know that a 2 just means she has to work on something.  And yet that afternoon I couldn’t help but feel that she was not doing enough, that she was not good enough as compared to the other kids.  That  I haven’t pushed her enough to learn something so simple.  That I shouldn’t give up when she refuses to learn, that I haven’t set high enough expectations.  That I have failed my 5 year old already as a parent.  That she will never learn her letters, that she is now forever doomed.  Yes, all this from a progress report from 4K.

And then the teacher in me that hates grades kicks in.  The teacher that sees what grades do to warp learning conversations in the home.  The teacher that sees the damage that happens when we try to quantify and compare our students.  My rational side catches up to me and reminds me that a “2” means something to work on.  That Thea is quite capable, yet stubborn as a mule.  That Thea is a quick learner when she is ready for it.  That a report card from 4K is not setting the path for her future.  That this is not the whole story of my little girl and it should not be allowed to be.  And I breathe and I go back and I notice the “3s” and then the “4s” and then finally the comment that says that she cares about others and is a great friend.  And I smile and I know she will be ok.  That I will be ok.  That there are bigger things to focus on than numbers.  That there is more to my little girl than a report card.  Even if I forgot about it for a moment.  She is ok, I am ok, and the piece of paper is just a snapshot, not her whole story, not her future path determined.

Why do we forget that?  Why do we give grades so much power?  Why do we think a grade can define our child?  I know better, we know better, yet how do we change grades and what they mean?   How do we shift the focus from the number to the learning?  From the deficit to the potential?  Or do we all need a 5 year old to leave the room and refuse to learn until we see the harm report cards can do?

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.