As promised, I am going to continue to honestly reflect upon our new grading practices in the English Department. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, where the hell have you been? Just my other two posts found here and here, and then come on back! I organized (I know shocking) the following into topics such as planning, assessment practice, feedback, etc. Then I further organized each topic (now you're further shocked) into AHAS, GROWING PAINS, and MOVING FORWARD. Here we go:
#1- Standards-Based Planning and Assignments
AHAS-Last year, we created Standards by Unit Binders where we mapped out every unit we taught and highlighted what standards we covered when. Going through our standards for each unit helped us to prioritize certain standards which also led us to effectively weight our grade book categories. If we hadn't done this last year, I think moving forward with the grading changes this year would have been difficult because most of our changes center upon standards-based practices. Furthermore, we have more guidance as to where we are going throughout the year as we plan each unit which informs us about what we have covered and need to cover moving forward. This also drives the assignments we create in order to prepare our students for the end of the unit summative, which is a product grade(s) (counts towards overall grade) in the grade book. 
GROWING PAINS-We found that some of our previous assignments throughout our units weren't clearly tied to any standards and seemed to be "fluff" which inflated our grade books and didn't really show us what students know. Thanks for the good ol' sucker punch to the stomach when you realize that the assignment you love so much isn't really tied to anything; it's just fun. Now I'm not saying that there should never be any fluff anywhere in planning, but it should definitely not be everywhere in a grade book creating the "Stay Puft Marshmallow Man" from Ghostbusters type of grade. 
MOVING FORWARD- As a department, our plan for next semester is to continue to discuss what standards we are covering within each unit, aligning our process and product assessments to those standards, and reflecting upon student performance on those assessments. Lots of work I tell ya, but so worth it!
#2-Assessment Practices
AHAS- Changing our grading practices has forced us to look at how we organize our grade books and what we put into our grade books. We have standards-based categories and under each category we have process assignments (don't count towards grade) and product assignments (do count towards grade). Further organizing our grade books helps us communicate with students about how they are doing throughout the learning process and their proficiency level for each standards category. Changing our grading practices has not only forced us to look at how we organize our grade book but has also led us to look at our formative (process) and summative (product) assessments with a big, fat, scrutinizing magnifying glass. We learned a great deal about what our products measure and how we can tweak them to better inform us about what our students have and/or haven't learned.
GROWING PAINS-The new set up of the grade book has some parents and students confused which means more emails and phone calls for the teacher. We have found that we have to explain why we don't include every assignment towards the actual grade which if you read my previous blog posts you will understand why. Additionally, looking at our previous formative and summative assessments was a bit painful for a couple of different reasons. First, once you think you have created a sound assessment, you don't want to have the realization that it's not. It's a proverbial pain in the arse to recreate or revise something you once had complete faith in. Second, you tend to feel like a damn failure, thinking 'What was I drinking when I created that question? Did I create this test after I indulged in weekend festivities? For the love of all things...' BUT this type of reflective practice is so amazing and forces us to question not only our instructional practices but our assessment practices as well which if not reflected upon can be detrimental to students and their learning. 
MOVING FORWARD- As we venture into the next semester, we have a better idea of what our assessment practice should look like since we have a semester under our belts. We are going to take it a step further by moving all of our assessments to either School City or Zip Grade in order to get a better idea of how our students are performing on each standard within our assessments. Don't strangle me my English Peeps; you know I love you! This will give us better data as we move forward in our planning, instruction, and assessment practice. We are also going to discuss how to create different types of summative (product) assessments that aren't just obtrusive assessments but also unobtrusive and student-generated that are standards based and reliable. If you think I'm speaking gibberish, then visit this webinar and fast forward to 14:54 for more information on these three different types of assessments. Try not to nod off, I promise it's good info. Anyway, I'm realizing more and more how important it is to administer different types of assessments because not all students do well on pencil and paper tests, but they can still show you what they've learned in different ways. Let's expose our students to different types of assessments, so they have different opportunities to show what they've learned. 
AHAS-This has been one of the most exhausting semesters we have ever experienced because of the amount of feedback we have been giving students. With that being said, students have a better understanding about what they know and what they need to know or improve upon moving forward in a unit. Because they aren't necessarily "earning points" for each of their process assignments, they are learning that they have to reflect upon the feedback we give them in order to prepare for the product assignment that will go into the grade book. We are trying to teach students the value of what it means to learn content and certain skills sets instead of just counting points. Providing specific feedback to students has helped them grow as learners because they recognize areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. 
GROWING PAINS-Even though some students are getting used to the feedback process where comments are more valuable than points, some students still haven't caught on. We are trying to erase the idea that we do things for points and instead are trying to teach that we do things to learn. Since students don't receive points for everything they do, some students don't want to complete all of the process (formative) assignments. We never broadcast that we are going to take assignments for points or not, so some students chance it and don't do the process work. This later hurts them in the long run when they don't do well on the product assignment because they didn't take the process work seriously. This is a growing pain for both the teacher and the student.
MOVING FORWARD- We will continue to stress the value of learning the content and skill sets throughout process work which will pay off in the end when students have learned and their grade reflects this. Now that the students have experienced these new changes in every English class this semester, our hope is that they begin to recognize that they have to put in the work throughout the learning process, so they can show us what they've learned when we get to the product. We will find better ways to provide feedback to students in a timely and effective manner that won't burn us out. Send help if we don't figure this out. 
 #4 Collaboration
AHAS- As we navigated through our semester, we collaborated and collaborated and collaborated until people wanted to collaborate in order to figure out how to confront me in the parking lot. I joke, I joke! We worked together on planning, instruction, curriculum development, assessment development, and we held each other accountable. Throughout the semester we conducted grade book check ins with our colleagues who teach the same English courses. This held us accountable in ensuring that we were sticking with our plan regarding what product assignments we were putting into the grade book. Holding each other accountable also ensured that a student sitting in so and so's 10th grade Honors English class was having a similar experience while sitting in the other so and so's 10th grade Honors English class. This does not take away autonomy because how you get your students there is your choice!
GROWING PAINS- There were times when we felt too tired on a Wednesday after a draining day to have effective discussions about what we were doing. Or sometimes other meetings would get in the way of our collaboration which would derail some of our plans. Furthermore, the grade book check ins we completed made us a bit uneasy because we couldn't believe that we didn't have 100 assignments in the grade book. We constantly questioned if what we were doing was right and at times we agonized over it. 
MOVING FORWARD- Our collaborative efforts have been strong, and we plan on continuing to use our PLC time wisely and productively to continue to support one another and challenge each other to be better professionals. Have I mentioned that I work with the MOST AMAZING English teachers? Say otherwise and I'll fight you. Joking, but not really. 
 #5 Exceptional Learners
AHAS-We have learned a lot about the kinds of supports we must provide for our exceptional learners and all students in general. Our new grading practices, which affects planning, instruction, and assessment, is now forcing us to have really candid conversations about what are sound accommodations and additional resources we need to provide for our exceptional learners. We realized that we have to have efficacious communication with case managers about what our expectations are and how our new system may impact students. This is just the beginning, but we are currently collecting student work samples of "approaching" and "proficient" work to give to the SPED Department, so they can help support our exceptional learners in our SSTS classes. We are looking at other areas in which students struggle and trying to come up with ideas on how we can further support them. We are also asking our administrators for more resources for our students with special needs such as more push-in support in the upper-level classes, as well as requiring seniors to take an SSTS class so they can receive additional support from teachers. Even though we should have had these conversations earlier in the year, I'm so glad that this new system of grading is guiding us to advocate for our exceptional learners more so than we have ever done in the past. 
GROWING PAINS- Even though we are striving forward in getting our students with special needs more support, it can be a slow process and we truly lack the  resources we need. Our SPED Department works double overtime each week just trying to manage caseloads of students that are mind boggling. We would love to have push-in teachers at every level for every English class, but it can be a scheduling nightmare. This has to become our number one priority until we get it right. 
MOVING FORWARD- We have a much better idea of how we can further support our students with exceptional needs, and we will continue to ask for additional resources for our students ensuring they are getting the supports they need. Our communication with case managers about student performance and additional supports has to be better this semester, and we will work hard to ensure this. 
#6 English Academy
AHAS- The English Academy (academic detention at lunch) really helped some students who had missing work. Each week, each English teacher looks at his/her grade book to figure out what students are missing work. Then we assign those students to attend the English Academy (EA) on Wednesday at lunch. We took turns hosting (doesn't that sound nice? LOL) the EA each week which helped our students learn material and complete work. Some parents were thrilled about this academy and encouraged us to sign their kids up for it. We created a log in Teams that allowed all English teachers access to add students to an English Academy List each week. This is how we kept track of who attended by highlighting the students' names if they attended.This list was helpful in so many ways and helped us to keep an electronic paper trail of who we assigned to EA and who attended which was great documentation for many reasons. 
GROWING PAINS- It's not easy to remember to sign students up every single week, and it's also just "another thing" to do as a teacher. Many of us forgot to do it every week because we felt swamped. Imagine that, teachers feeling swamped! We also experienced a few Wednesdays where we had over 50 students on the EA list but only really had room for about 35-40. Also, not all students attended when they should have which resulted in more paper work for us because then we had to assign them a behavioral detention with our discipline office. 
MOVING FORWARD-We now know that we have to be diligent about assigning students to the EA each week, and if that means falling behind on things like the Teacher Tool for attendance then so be it. Please don't be mad the powers at be. We will also work to continue to document who we assign and who attend the EA using our Teams Log which provides a good track record for us as a department. 
#7 Communication
AHAS- I know this is going to be ground breaking and there will definitely be some minds blown after I make this statement...Communication is EXTREMELY important when you break away from what is traditional. I know, wasn't that ingenious? But seriously, I didn't realize all the different ways we would need to communicate all of these changes to everyone, and I mean everyone and their mom (literally), until we crossed each communication bridge that was on fire and about to crumble into a million miscommunication pieces. We discovered that we had to send letters home to parents and students about our changes to our grading and grade book practices but that still didn't make everything we had done clear enough. We even put it in our Grizzly Growl, our monthly parent newsletter, which we know all parents anxiously wait for its release on pins and needles. But still...How is it possible to change everyone's way of thinking about grading practices and more with a two paragraph letter? This is a complete paradigm shift for anyone who is going through or has gone through the traditional education system. Let me just erase the last 1000 years of grading practices. No biggie! Not only did we have to communicate with the parents and students but I also had to have meetings with the administrators, counseling department, SPED department, school psychologist, registrar, and any other person who deals with our students. 
GROWING PAINS- Although every meeting was incredibly beneficial and led to some great discussions about educational philosophies and supporting students, I am "meetinged out." There have been times when I felt that I had to vehemently defend why we as a department were doing what we were doing, but I was always met with trust and support at the end. Bottom line is that I work with professionals who want to do what is best for students; therefore, of course they are going to question change and I'm glad they do. We all make each other better.
MOVING FORWARD- We are now trying to be proactive about who we need to communicate these changes to and that means we have to communicate with the students who will be attending our high school next year. My next plan is to work with the counselors who will be signing 8th graders up for traditional and honors English within the next few months. I am also working on creating handouts for 8th grade parent night that explains our grade books and grading practices. This will be created during the rest of my winter break.What's time off to a teacher anyway? That's rhetorical, damn it! 

See, a lot has been learned and there is still a lot more to be learned. Once all grades have been posted, I will also include some data points comparing previous fall semesters to the one we just completed; stay tuned...
If you are interested in making changes to your grading practices, which affects EVERYTHING you do as a teacher, then I ask that you please start slow and don't jump the gun. We have been discussing some of these changes for years, and we still had some major growing pains this semester and will continue to have them until we work all the kinks out. I would love to come talk to any department or school because the changes we made this year have led to the most amazing discussions I've ever had in my 13 years of teaching, and I've grown as a professional in many different ways. If you'd rather not see my mug than I highly suggest all three of these resources: 

As always...keep on stressin' on,
Michon Otuafi

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