Friday, January 2, 2015

Who Makes the Grade?

What do you want for your students? I'd like to share an email with you. This appeared in my inbox.

Hello Mrs. Ramsay, I am very concerned about my grade on the argumentative essay. I am confused on how I got some things wrong. I have worked very hard on trying to make my essay as best as possible. Looking at my essay, I noticed you had changed my font. I had capitalized everything in my essay, but I think the computer had changed it. I am wondering if you could look back and reconsider with that in mind. One other thing I noticed was the fact you had commented about having a lot of evidence, but I did not share with the reader on how the tree was strong. I really don't understand that and I worked very hard and I put a lot of evidence like connections from OFTM and how it could connect with my life. I was looking at all my comments from previous times and Mrs. Cabb had said that she really liked how I gave examples and really explained how the tree was strong. Leesil had given the same comment. I had followed the suggestions you wanted me to add to make my piece better. Another thing is about the transition words. I did not think that an argument would need transition words because we are proving a point and giving examples and evidence, usually in an argument you are not saying FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, AND LAST. I thought that we needed to prove a point instead of making it like a book report using transition words. Last, I was worried about not having a concluding sentence because I was sick that week and had no time to add that last bit. Sorry to bother you about this, I really am confused and I am worried because I worked so hard and I really want a good grade in your class and to understand what I was missing.
Thank you for your help,
(Names were changed; the prompt was whether the Giving Tree was strong or weak which came about because of our participation in the Global Read Aloud and reading One for the Murphys.) 

The email above was sent from one of my sixth grade students. Yes, that's eleven year old sent that email to me...without any prompting.

We had just sent home progress reports. It felt like a mad dash to complete assessments and provide meaningful feedback to my students.  For all of their projects, we confer at least twice a week either face-to-face or through Google Drive. We have multiple conversations about their progress. I ask many questions and I listen...a lot.  Many of our conversations relate to what grades mean (a communication of their level of mastery). My learners understand that grades aren't final. There is always room to grow, but often they are hesitant in asking for an opportunity to show further growth.

As teachers, we want for our students to take on ownership of their learning. We want them to drive the decision about their learning. However, there were some teachers who found this email very disrespectful. "How dare a student question her grade?" My response, "Well, it is HER grade." I was elated. Nicole took the initiative to question her grade. She cited evidence from the feedback on her argumentative piece. She relied on past learning to justify the choices that she had made...not to mention that she made a pretty strong argument in this email.

Instead of responding to the email, she and I set up a time to have a conversation looking at her argumentative piece. Nicole drove this conversation. As she spoke, I had her show me in her writing where she felt like she would have scored higher on the measurable, student-created rubric. What she discovered was that there was in fact room for growth. She hadn't taken the specifics in the rubric into consideration before submitting her final draft. She knew she could improve. Through our conversation, she outlined her plan for showing further mastery....which she did....far exceeding mastery of those standards.

Fast forward three weeks. My learners were putting their final touches on their semester benchmark projects. Nicole requested time to address her peers in class.  In those few minutes, she shared her experiences with her argumentative piece and how important it was to look back at their rubric to ensure success. Through this exchange, Nicole not only became an advocate for herself, but also a leader for her peers.

Should students question their grades? Should they request an opportunity to grow and retake assessments? Absolutely! Nicole explained to her peers (and anyone else who asks) that she learned so much more from her "failure" than she would have if she had just accepted her score the first time. And, that is a recipe for lifelong success.

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