Friday, January 17, 2014

Reflecting on Then and Now

My students have had their Chromebooks for nine days. Although they were already accustomed to using the Chromebooks in my classroom, somehow it has become an entirely different experience since going 1:1. Now the device is theirs.

In the first couple of days, all students wanted to do on the Chromebooks were the same two activities: customize the wallpaper and play online games. So, after a little bit of thought, I decided to let them. I figured they needed to get it out of their system.

After a few more days had passed, the Chromebooks were no longer viewed as a shiny new toy. Students started coming to my class asking if I would post homework through a site called, which integrates with an app appropriately name "myhomeworkapp." Usually teachers beg students to use an assignment notebook, so I got a kick out of listening to the students beg me to use the app with them. I love how organically this all occurred, but I knew my students needed to begin viewing their device as more than just a homework organizer.

By the end of this week, something changed. The learning began outshining the device, because the device was helping students participate in activities that were previously impossible. I've even overheard students recall the days before we went 1:1, and they recognize how different their learning experience has become.

As I reflect on today's classroom as compared to my years of teaching before 1:1, it fascinates me to see how much has changed.

My students used to write in journals with a one-person audience, today they blog for the world.
My students used to collaborate by crowding around one computer screen, today they collaborate using online tools such as Diigo and Google docs.
My students used to brainstorm by raising their hands until I called on them and wrote their ideas on the board, today they collaborate in real-time on sites like Padlet and everyone is involved.
My students used to take paper and pencil assessments that sat in a filing cabinet once they were graded, today every assessment is given online so that I access student data at any time.
My students used to watch videos as a full class while furiously scribbling notes, today they watch videos online at their own pace, stopping whenever necessary to take down something of importance.

Amazing how much can change with one little device and this is only the beginning. If you are using 1:1 devices with your students, what changes are you noticing in your classroom?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

How Should We Grade Our Students?

As the grading period comes to a close, I am faced with the challenge of entering grades into report cards. What makes this process particularly challenging for me has a lot to do with the fact that we are still using a traditional grading tool in my district, where we assign letter grades to students to demonstrate their performance in each class. While this grading tool works well for many teachers, it is not very meaningful once educators begin delivering a standards-based education to students.

I have a couple of choices when it comes to student grades:

  • Option A: I can give a grade showing whether or not students have mastered the learning targets being taught.  Keep in mind that mastery of most of these targets is not expected until the end of the school year, so earlier in the year, the grades may look alarmingly low to students and parents.
  • Option B: I can give students higher grades, and then explain that the grade is a reflection of student performance at that particular point in the school year, and expectations for students will continue to rise. Essentially, Optional B is saying that earning an A later in the school year is harder to do than earning an A earlier in the school year.

Here's the problem with both options...what do these grades even mean!?  So, Johnny got an A and Susie got a B this quarter. Great. What can Johnny do that Susie can't do? 

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer about how this should be handled. I want to accurately report what my students can or cannot do at a particular point in the school year, but right now, I am stuck assigning a series of point values that are automatically calculated into a percentage value which then gets converted into a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F.  

So, when Susie gets 8 points on a 10-point rubric showing mastery of certain skills while others still need development, Susie's grade gets calculated into an 80%, which is a B- to most people. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could just report that "Susie is progressing at an appropriate rate for a 6th grade student and is still developing the skills taught in class. She has shown mastery of  __________ and will continue to work on __________ as the year progresses." 

As I wait for a standards-based grading tool to make its appearance in my district (which I suspect will happen in the very near future), I have decided to pilot a standards-based report card in addition to using the report card already in place.  Although it is a lot of extra work, I want to be as transparent as possible about student performance in my class.  

What do you think? Are you in favor of keeping traditional grades or ditching them? Share your thoughts!