I’ve had the gradeless mindset for a while, but it wasn’t until my principal got behind it, this past September, that our school went gradeless in grade 7-9. Now that doesn’t mean that teachers went gradeless in their classrooms. With respect to them, taking the plunge into gradeless assessment is a huge, complicated endeavor, so all teachers were obligated to do is assess the curricular competencies, using the below learning scale, at interim and report card time. At the end of the course, they culminate their assessment procedure with a letter grade. This task has been a steep learning curve for many as it was a big change from norm. It has also been a wonderful opportunity, a sort of permission, to be gradeless in their classrooms in their projects, assignments, and lesson plan designs.
It’s been a journey for me as well. As I said, I have been a proud gradeless advocate for a few years now, but before the backing of administration and shift in my role to being one of the gradeless leaders and allies on staff this year, I confess that I have gone back and forth between using some gradeless assessments and some traditional assessments in years past. This year, I am proud to say, I have been almost 100% gradeless. All my lesson plans have a learning map, all my assignments and projects have learning scales, and I spend a lot of time providing descriptive feedback on FreshGrade for both parents and students in addition to using the scale to foster a growth mindset in the students.
As much as I am really proud of this scale that I developed (which is adapted from our school district one plus some new language), I have found myself sometimes stuck for alternative ways to explain the language to parents and students. One can’t write lengthy emails like the one to “Mack’s” parents, mentioned in my Day 8 post, all of the time. I had to think of a way to explain the scale in a visual and approachable way.
(Drumroll please!) Introducing my cups!! I rolled these puppies out about month ago. Here’s how they work:
So it began with using the cups analogy with students. I found myself referring to each of the five columns on the scale by using cups. In class, I found myself naturally explaining to my students that Developing was like a cup almost filled to the top. I explain Developing to staff as being “Proficient,” so for students, I tell them that it is just enough to satisfy me. It is the amount they’d fill the cup with and still be able to get it from the fountain to their seat without spilling it. It isn’t completely full, so they haven’t shown me a complete understanding yet, but it is enough to satisfy their thirst (aka me) and to do fine at the next grade level.
Applying is filling the cup completely. I tell students that at this level, they’ve shown me a complete understanding. I can see that they have a full understanding of the concepts. Beginning is below Developing, and not considered proficient. As you can see, the cup has just enough to, perhaps, “quench one’s thirst,” as I tell my students, but it is not enough. While it would technically be in the “passing” zone (for those who insist on knowing the grade that goes with each level), it is not at my expectations for the competency and students who attain this assessment for a curricular competency at this level are encouraged to come in for support to get to at least Developing.
Emerging is a cup with a bit. This shows students that they may have been around for the order and they have the cup, maybe even an idea of what drink to fill it with, they haven’t put a drop (or maybe just a sprinkling) in the cup. I tell them that it’s like when their sibling leaves the milk container with a swallow amount in the fridge. You pour what’s left in the cup and groan, thinking why bother drinking that? It’s not even enough to wet one’s whistle. But it is something. It is a start and for those students who could chose not to attempt the competency, Emerging stands for a start and jumpt to Beginning is an great one to make! That’s Emerging.
Extending is the most difficult to explain. I prefer not to explain it as “exceeding expectations,” as I feel that exceeding one’s expectations means, as a teacher, I have expectations and students need to figure out how to exceed them. Extending is a cup with bubbles flowing over because the teacher has provided thoughtful stretches and challenges for them to add to their current learning. It is still a function of the particular competency. (IE: if the competency involves synthesis, it is an extension of synthesis.) It isn’t extra glitter glue or colour or pretty paper or PowerPoint instead of paper.
I use this language and the cups with my students. Just last week, students were working on projects in Humanities 8 (the one mentioned in my Day 3 blog post). When they asked me what I thought of what they were prepared to hand in, I asked them, How full is your cup? Have you given me all you have learned? When they told me that there was room in the cup for more. I told them to fill’er up! Then, they went to work. This past weekend, as I was assessing these projects, I commented, on FreshGrade, using the cups analogy and gave those who gave me empty cups, to fill them’up! I love it!
That got me thinking…why not use cups with parents? Thus, my cups symbols on the learning scale was born. Woot woot! Instead of just putting the learning scale language on FreshGrade, I put the scale with the cups. I’ve had positive feedback, especially from those parents who were confused by the scale and were overwhelmed by the language. It really does help give a snapshot of the learning journey.
I love learning new or innovative ways to communicate student learning. Feel free to share my cups analogy with your parents and students. It’s so simple! #mygrowthmindset