“Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.” – Seth Godin
I totally stole my first blog title from Brian Nichols post earlier today. As I read his thoughts, I realized how I’ve been looking to find a map to follow, instead of just creating my own. Like any directional device, if it’s not updated, I am not quite sure how to use it or I enter the wrong information, following its given turns may lead me down a dark path. I know where I want to go and I am researching different ways to get there, but in the end, it is my first step that will lead to success in my classroom.
In May 2010, I was handed A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor. It was a small book, so I thought it would take only a few days to read it. However, those few days turned into a couple of weeks. To be honest, I was angry at times and had to put the book down. I found most everything I had practiced as a teacher being questioned by this guy. As the ideas began to seep into my brain, I realized I was wrong about many, many things. (#1 let’s get this straight – I am a good teacher, who cares about my students and my ultimate goal is to help them get closer to their own goals.) However, I had given zeroes for missing and incomplete work – thus deflating a student’s grade so much, there was little hope of recovery. I had given bonus points for participating in events like a food drive – don’t get me wrong, service projects are good things, but should not be connected to student grades; at times students were rewarded with points for effort – not learning – in the name of wanting to help them succeed. I had to redefine what a grade was – its purpose was to communicate learning – not how well a student behaved, how hard they worked or how many extra credit projects they (& their parents) were willing to complete to get the golden “A”!
After sharing the book with other colleagues, we all agreed, things had to change. We would not go about the grading business as we have in years past – though some of this was going to be quite difficult, maybe even uncomfortable – to break out of the known, our comfort zone. We made efforts to get rid of the fluff, the inflated (& deflated) grades and truly let our grades become a tool to communicate student learning and in walks formative assessment. We’d gone through some afternoon PD’s during faculty meetings and knew what it was – yes, I’ve always used informal assessments to guide my instruction – but it didn’t really sink in the changes that were needed until after I read 15 Fixes and started sharing my thoughts with my colleagues.
With the blessing of our administrator, we started our year with new grading policies. It was an unknown path for us. We were learning as we went. We were drawing our own map. Nearly every week, we would discuss questions / issues that arose – How/When do we reassess? Is there a limit to how many times we allow a student to reassess? What happens when the student does worse, does that mean their grade is lower? Our students and parents were not used to the “no bonus points or extra credit” policy. It was an adjustment for everyone involved.
We are a little more versed, still reading and looking for models – but on Monday next week, we are sitting down to draw our own maps as we outline our policies / plan for this school year. This journey will be shared through “the radical rational”…happy trails to you!