Why collaboration is so important when you’re gradeless

As you have all already figured, I really like standing up on my soap box, preaching about all the positive aspects of growth mindset and going gradeless. But, my favourite part about being on this journey isn’t just raving about it, it’s working on it with my teacher candidate and my colleagues. The last week has been mind-blowing for me. I’ve seen light bulbs go off and I’ve learned a lot about my own goals along the way.

The first part of week began with my Hum 8 student teacher. Her focus has been on the curricular competency, Recognize how literary elements, techniques, and devices enhance and shape meaning. The students had been taking notes and applying various literary elements to short stories, and to culminate this particular skill, they completed a storyboard. Together, in the span of about 45 minutes, my ST and I created a learning scale that she could use to assess the storyboards and we developed it before she taught to it:

That experience gave me the unique opportunity to see if the creation of a learning scale could make sense to someone new to the profession. Also, it allowed me to see, first hand, if the language could be accessible to someone new to the profession. What I discovered was that by creating the scale, this TC could get behind the skill and be sure they carefully laid out a path for students to get to their goal. Contrary to that, she could use the work handed in and the assessments to reflect on her practice. How accurately did I teach to the scale? What are my next steps? Additionally, the TC could provide feedback and adjustments to allow students to level up if the goal hasn’t been met. They can provide another learning opportunity with a new assignment or one on one assistance to further the learning. The TC could allow any of these to happen by focusing on a SHOW-DO-TELL direction for her students. There are so many wins here! She is a sponge when it comes to learning about my assessment journey and her willingness to work and try out the language is really wonderful. I’ve been quite captivated and proud of this process.

I’m also fortunate enough to have been asked by my administrator to create a SALT team in my school (SALT stands for Secondary Assessment Learning Team). The team gets together about once a month (sometimes more) and we discuss learning scales, gradeless, and the book, Tom Schimmer’s Standards Based Learning in Action. We’ve also be watching Tom’s ministry developed assessment webinar series. This week, despite being a little shorthanded, those of us who managed to make it to our SALT meeting used it as an opportunity to work…and I mean really work.

For many teachers, putting a pedagogy into action takes not only a leap of faith, but a hand up to get there. Talking about action is one thing, but doing it is quite another. It’s an uneasy feeling, to sit on the sidelines and watch others do it, but quite another to gather up the nerve and strength to do do it. So, it was an eye-opening, thought-provoking week giving that “hand up” to a couple of my colleagues and what was created was not only very cool, but also instrumental in that gentle nudge to put it into action with students.

Deneen Sawchuk (District Curriculum Coach and all around fabulous person) and I worked with two equally fabulous teachers, Maytel and Steven, both who have a keen interest in using gradeless learning scales in their Foods and Social Studies classes. We held a work session. We talked and talked. We worked on paper. Then, we gathered around the white board and hashed out a scale. It felt like a breakthrough moment, at least from my point of view. I could see Maytel’s and Steven’s load lighten. It’s not that they didn’t understand the scale or gradeless before. Now it was extremely practical, geared directly to their needs and their students. Deneen and I both felt pretty enlightened by the process, helping them work through their frustrations with language, goals, and stretches. It was hard work, but that collaborative effort was so important to their journeys.

Take a look at what Maytel worked on. After working through one scale, she found the confidence to build two more. To boot, she turned around and used it as a self-assessment with her Foods class. (Cue…mic drop) That was so awesome! She will gain so much feedback from her students. She’ll also be able to work through any hiccups as she begins assessing with the scale. The beautiful thing about learning scales and that they can be tweaked. When I make them, I have years of experience behind me to help me categorically place students on a makeshift scale to start with. In other words, it is, without a doubt, easier for me to envision how stretches on a learning scale might work for students because I’ve taught so many or I’ve taught a course for so long. New teachers don’t have that luxury, which is why collaborating is so important.

Steven’s scale will be one he’ll use for years to come. What I got out of this experience with him is not only the clarity of the scale, but the way in which he is planning to use the scale to explain the assessment to his students. Instead of showing students what each level looks like, he plans to show them this simple drawing which would be probably assessed at a Beginning level. He’ll then get students to show him how he could improve upon it, or level up, to Developing, Applying and Extending, before they begin their own assignment on their French Revolution unit. What a fantastic way to foster engagement, explain the learning scale, and promote a growth mindset. I helped build the scale, but he schooled me on how to use it with students. Love that! (Totally stealing that Steven!)

I love being on my soap box. I hold onto my convictions with a sort of death grip. There are a lovely group of teachers in my world who have let me in, and I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgewise if it wasn’t for their open mindedness. I think the important thing to remember is, no matter how firm your gradeless beliefs are, be willing to open yourself up to others’ points of view. Applaud every step forward in this assessment journey. You can remain firm in your convictions, but also step out of the limelight and absorb what new and future teachers have to offer. Help them build their scales and rubrics. Talk to them about your experiences. Besides, it will be much more fun to talk about gradeless in years to come with a slew of us on the same soapbox. #mygrowthmindset

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