Grades – A Measure or a Rank from It’s About Learning along with an impromptu tweetup with @occam98 have prompted me to question the value of the comments I have written to accompany my grades this semester.
For a little background, I am required to write a comment for every student in October and March. Additional comments are required in September, November, January, February, and April for any student failing or having a significant drop in their grade.
I have chosen to write a comment for every learner every time I have reported their grade. My goal was to add context to the single number that is supposed to convey a summary of a child’s learning (achievement?, mastery?) up to the given date.
Only one parent has given me feedback on these comments. On October 28, 2010 she wrote
“Dear Ms. Gough, Thank you for providing the detailed comments regarding [my child] as a student in your Algebra 1_J course this past grading period. The information shared was insightful.”
The tweet (after my tweetup with @occam98) shown below spurs me to seek feedback. Am doing the right thing or wasting my time?
I am to report grades again next week. I’ve been wondering if I should write another comment for each learner, and asking does my comment tell the learner, the learner’s parents, and other interested parties anything? Is there added value by having the accompanying comment?
What follows is a case study, the series of grades and comments, for one of my learners. If you are willing, would you please read through the series and give me feedback?
September 20 – Grade reported: P
(P for passing; we were not ready for a number.)
In Algebra I, we identified eight essential learnings for first semester. As we continue to learn new material during the semester, we will revisit all identified essential learnings to help all students retain and improve these skills and concepts. Details concerning the essential learnings can be found at http://www2.westminster.net/faculty/jgough/AlgI/First_Semester_EL.html.
Our first unit focused on students learning to solve linear equations, linear inequalities, and graphing on the Cartesian coordinate plane. As is our practice, the first test is scored with no partial credit awarded. The student’s job is to find and correct any errors on this test as well as learn from their mistakes. Each student is then offered a second-chance test opportunity to demonstrate that they have learned from the error-correction process as well as to improve their grade. Please remember that our focus is on learning; it is okay for students to struggle with the material on the first test if it helps to focus their effort and improve their understanding.
AS has consistently demonstrated her effort to learn algebra by engaging in the deep-practice method of working and learning from homework. AS has begun the process of self-assessment of her algebra skills, and she can describe her strengths and her challenges. In her latest report, she says “I need to work on equations in which the variable is on both sides.” I am very pleased that AS can express needs in mathematical language that focuses our work to help her improve.
October 18 – Grade reported: 81
To date, we have been investigating and working on six of the eight essential learnings for the first semester of Algebra I. After the midterm exam at the end of October, we will begin our study of solving systems of linear equations and systems of linear inequalities and their applications. The theme of this semester is solving equations, finding patterns, and using linear functions to solve application problems. At the end of the semester we will work on pattern-finding and computational fluency as we move from linear functions to irrational numbers and the Pythagorean Theorem. Details concerning the essential learnings can be found at http://www2.westminster.net/faculty/jgough/AlgI/First_Semester_EL.html. Students’ self-assessment of where they are for each learning target has become a routine. Throughout each unit, students assess and reassess their learning. These assessments are strategically designed to help students identify their current level of understanding and know where to focus their efforts. We continue to use error analysis and correction to build skills and knowledge.
In her first journal, AS wrote “To understand Algebra better, I will need to pay more attention to small details and remember to write the formula for the equation each time. I really enjoy having real-life examples, so keep doing that! I think that every week we should have a quick check in with you to make sure that we understand the material. This can vary from a checklist to a short assessment (not for a grade) with you.” I hope that I am meeting AS’s needs with regard to real-life examples and assessments. The formative assessments are one way that we communicate our expectations, and they are a way AS can prepare for our tests with confidence. AS has done a good job with her self-assessments. She says “A significant moment for me was when I actually understood how to do equations with negative numbers. I finally realized that a negative sign is the same as a subtraction sign. I also learned that negatives can’t go in the denominator, which cleared up many of my questions.” As I look through both of AS’s tests, I can see that working with Integers causes many of her errors. I am pleased that she has identified this problem and is working to improve her work. AS has a good attitude, and she is willing to help others learn. I applaud her good effort and work ethic.
November 11 – Grade reported: 81
In Algebra I we have covered five of the eight essential learnings of the semester: solving equations, understanding slope, writing equations of lines, solving inequalities, and using linear functions to solve application problems.
At http://www2.westminster.net/faculty/jgough/AlgI/A1_chap03.htm you will see several formative assessments. Our team designs these formative assessments to offer remediation and enrichment for all students. The goal is that every student self-assess using these assessments and determine the level at which their work is most consistent. The target level for Algebra I is level 3. The level 4 questions are offered to challenge and further the learning of students that work at a slightly accelerated pace. The level 1 and level 2 questions are provided to help students when they are struggling with an essential learning. These assessments also give students specific language to express where they need to focus their work. They are great conversation starters. Students not performing on target are expected to seek help and improvement with their team and an algebra teacher during Office Hours. Students performing on target are encouraged, but not required, to challenge themselves to enrich their learning and problem-solving through the struggle to rise to level 4.
AS’s preparation for the initial testing for the second unit shows much better results than for the first unit. Her original test score is much higher on the second unit test. I want AS to push herself to do more independent practice to prepare for the second chance test. I think this additional effort will add to her learning and her confidence. I am pleased that AS has been coming to Office Hours to check in and work on her homework.
January 4 – Grade to be reported 88
Do you want more information than the reported 88?
We all know that a single number cannot convey the accomplishments and learning of a child in a class. It was my hope to provide everyone involved with additional context concerning the reported number.
Quite frankly, it is time consuming work and if no one cares, if it does not provide additional, important information about learning to all interested parties, then I will use this time for other meaningful work.
So, I would like to know what you think. Do these comments provide needed context or just more stuff to read? Should I write a comment to go with the grade I’m going to report in January, or is my time better spent elsewhere? Would you take my survey and/or leave a comment?Please tell me what you think.