At the start of this year, I wrote a blog titled “Grading for Mastery and Redesigning My Gradebook,” which detailed my desire to rethink assessment in my classroom. I was tired of students always asking me about points and grades, instead of asking me about how they could improve their skills.
I wanted feedback and assessment to be an ongoing conversation. Too often students complete work at home in isolation. Then the teacher collects that work, takes it home, and grades it in isolation. This traditional workflow does not encourage face-to-face conversations about where each student is at in terms of his/her journey towards mastery.
Too often the time a teacher spends leaving comments and edits on student work is never used to improve those pieces. Students are often unsure of their own strengths and weaknesses. And many do not know how to improve on the skills they are struggling with. This is where conversations can be more powerful than grading.
For the last 3 class periods, my students have been engaged in either a Station Rotation lesson or independent work on their digital portfolios. As they work, I have conferenced with each individual student to discuss their most recent argumentative essays. Prior to these conversations, I synchronously edited their work on a shared Google Document. I provided detailed feedback and comments on their writing throughout the writing process. Then when they submitted their final drafts, I did not add any additional comments to their documents. Instead, I completed a simple rubric for each essay. The time I normally would have spent adding another round of comments to accompany the rubric was spent conferencing with my students.
During our face-to-face conversations, we discussed their specific areas of growth and I highlighted areas where they needed to continue to develop. I pointed students to videos and online resources I thought would support them in improving in these areas. I also ended every conversation by asking, “Is there anything you want to ask me?” It was interesting to watch their expressions as they contemplated this question. It was clear this isn’t a question they are asked very often. Many of my students asked about an aspect of writing they were confused about. Some asked about a comment I had previously made that they didn’t understand. I realized that many of my students will never ask these questions unless I create the time and space for them to do so.
As I conclude this year and reflect on what worked and what didn’t, I believe spending less time grading and more time having conversations with students about their progress has been one of the most rewarding shifts for me. Next year, I am determined to move assessment back into the classroom where it belongs!