Reflective Practitioner....If you've been in education long enough, you've heard these two words, but how often do you actually practice reflecting upon your teaching practices? Today I'm going to walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk, and I'm going to be open and honest about making my grade book and grading practice more fair, equitable, and reliable. If you missed my original post on this, you might want to visit my previous post (click here). Once you've read my previous post and you're spitting nails, come back here to continue on with your rage.

First, let me give praise where praise should be given. The English Department I work in is INCREDIBLE. Did you hear me scream that? I mean it! None of the changes we have made to move towards a more fair, reliable, and equitable grade book would have been possible without the incredible collaboration on behalf of this department. We have spent hours, and I mean hours, discussing the 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (this guy should start paying me, LOL). Yo Ken, how about a shout out or some moolah? I digress, I digress...Anyway, because of my colleagues I have been able to wrap my head around all of these changes and do what we believe is right for students. We are reading the entire book this year as a review, and each PLC we discuss what is working and what our concerns are. This post will be the first of many of what we have learned throughout the year. BUT before I get to what we've learned so far, here are the changes we have made:

1. Every English course at every level is in complete alignment when it comes to curriculum and summative assessments (aka products). Our standardized, grade books almost look exactly the same; I say "almost" because at some levels some teachers have different process assignments in the grade book, but they are worth the same amount of points as their course-alike colleague's process assignments and count for a very small amount. This is mostly at the younger levels such as freshman English where these students are trying to figure out the high school world after spending three years in middle school (bless you middle-school teachers). The process assignments do not exist in the upper-level English classes. The summatives we chose to put into the grade book for each category were discussed, analyzed, and reflected upon before we decided to use them. This is key! You don't want a summative that doesn't align with standards or the formatives you gave along the way. Speaking of standards, each grade book is set up with reading, writing, language, speaking and listening categories. Each category is weighted the same throughout all course-alike classes. For example, all English 1-2 teachers weight the reading category at 30%.
2. We have gone through all the 15 Fixes for Broken Grades and discussed them ad nauseam, which we are currently doing again this year. This helps to remind us of what we used to do and why we aren't doing it anymore. We have agreed upon no extra credit, no penalty for late work, no group scores, no penalty (on the academic side) for plagiarism. Wait, don't get your panties in a bunch just yet. We created a rubric for citizenship where things like late work, plagiarism, and unwanted behaviors are accounted for. Instead of having these types of behaviors count against students on the academic side which would give us an unreliable grade book, they count on the citizenship side. Citizenship is no longer based upon whether or not you like a student but on responsibility, accountability, and behavior.
3. Each teacher has sent home a letter to the parents explaining what standards-based grade books and grading practices are and why we have switched. Many teachers went over this information during parent night where I'm sure the parents were enthralled with the information especially after realizing they were supposed to be in Culinary Arts and not English 1-2. Shout out to Mrs. James. Girl, who wouldn't get confused when you have eight kids?!
4. We created what we call The English Academy where students who have "missing work" have to attend a lunch session on Wednesdays where they will complete that missing work with an English teacher. I know what you are thinking, 'I ain't given up my lunch hour for no kids," but if there are ten of you in a department and you rotate each Wednesday you most likely will only have to do this 4-5 times a year, if that. I don't do math. We created an attendance log in Microsoft Teams (don't groan WCSD people) where we keep track of the students who are assigned to each English Academy Session, what teacher they will go to, and what work they will complete. Did I mention the people in our English Department are angels?

Five weeks into school, and here is what I have learned and experienced:

1. I am refreshed. All of these changes and have changed the game for me, and it's like I'm looking through a different lens. I look forward to seeing what these student-centered fixes can do for kids.

2. We have created a different environment in each of our classes. It's as if there is more room for students to make mistakes and not feel like they are constantly being penalized for everything. I'm having more one-on-one conversations with kids about their performance and what they can do better in order to become proficient. On the same note, our classrooms have become more equitable and fair.

3. I've been getting "Is this for a grade?" or "Is this going into the grade book for reals?" but my response is "I'm not sure" when you damn well know I know. I follow it up with "Instead of focusing upon the grade, let's focus upon the skill set we are learning and why it's important." I'm trying to train students out of doing things for a grade instead of doing things to actually learn something. We trained them into this mind set, and we can train them out of it.

4. The feedback we are giving to students on formative assessments (process work) is helpful and allows them to perform better when it is time for the summative assessment (product). I will say that I'm giving more feedback which is more work, but it's so much more rewarding. Through my feedback I've also been giving students a second chance to show me what they learned by redoing assignments, and some actually take me up on the opportunity.

5. When it comes to missing work, giving students a zero or giving students a 50% skews the grade book either direction and makes the grade unreliable. The best thing to do is to write the word "missing" as a comment in the grade book and assign them to the English Academy until the assignment has been completed.

6. It is important to still input process assignments into the grade book as long as we check the box "not included in grade calculation." This appeases administrators who are hell bent on making sure we put things into the grade book; it shows parents student performance on process assignments which is usually a good indicator; and it helps us keep track of students who may need additional support.

7. During academic warning time, some teachers did not have any academic warnings because they did not have any product assignments for a grade in the grade book yet. One of my colleagues, who is amazing, came up with the idea to instead write emails to the parents of those students who had not been doing well on the process work. Thus avoiding any issues with not communicating with parents about student performance.

8. Building relationships in the first few weeks of school is so important to this process. I think putting in the hard work to make connections with students and showing them that you truly care about them and their learning makes this system run smoother. I let my students know that this is not a punitive classroom but a classroom where mistakes can be made, and we'll work together to learn the skill sets and content.

9. This is not something you can just jump into all of a sudden. I'm still learning as I go along, and if I wasn't a part of a dedicated department who effectively collaborates, I would struggle working through different issues of my transition. This takes TIME, and I mean lots of it!

We realize that this system is not flawless, but it has changed our practices in ways we never imagined. I know it's the beginning of the year, and we are going to have a lot of good and bad learning experiences, but so far it feels pretty damn good to do what is best for kids.

Keep on stressin' on,
Michon Otuafi

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