Category Archives: Competency Based Grading

Experimenting with reading portfolios

Fake reading and readicide have been well documented as the enemies of English teachers everywhere. The workshop model does a nice job of thwarting each by offering students choice and ownership over their reading lives. In a previous post Shana suggested that if the reading is authentic and student-centered that it can even be independent from grades. Finding the balance of autonomy and accountability is still a challenge, though–how do we turn students loose to explore books while still gathering evidence of their mastery of the reading standards?

This year I resolved to rely less on quizzes or study guides that are averaged into a grade as a way to solve this dilemma. The last few years I’ve been moving more toward a combination of one-on-one conferencing and informal reading check-ins that gave students space to respond to what they’re reading while also demonstrating some skill mastery. This year I decided that I would experiment with reading portfolios in my junior English classes and ask students to gather evidence of their reading in one place that would comprise a quarterly reading grade. It is a more holistic approach to considering their reading work. This is the rough progression we’ve followed:

Goalsetting

At the top of our collection doc I asked students to consider their reading lives and to set a goal for that quarter. You can see a quick example here:

A student’s reading goals from Bell 1
A student’s reading goals from Bell 1

Delineate the types of reading

  • Volume (independent reading, pleasure reading) skill focus: development of ideas and themes
  • Speed (for ACT-type scenarios) skill focus: comprehension
  • Depth (close reading, annotations, classroom discussions, etc.) skill focus: comprehension, style analysis

Each type of reading requires something different from readers. The task was to find good evidence of each type from each unit. This allowed students to choose our reading check-ins, pieces we annotated or discussed together, or to build other ways to interact with their independent reading. The goal was to learn what strategies make sense for each type of reading that we do and to develop strategies for annotating short works versus tracking information in longer works versus reading to find test answers. 

Gather artifacts and experiences

Once we understood the different types, I was able to better organize classtime to meet those goals. Our reading workshop time was mainly spent on volume, but occasionally we’d do a check-in that asked students to reflect on their books that they could use as evidence of depth. 

For speed we would periodically test our comprehension using ACT or AP Comp/AP Lit practice passages. We simulated the pressure of time and discussed test-taking strategies, test-making strategies, and what it means to read a short text with rigor. I never counted these as actual scores, only as experiences they needed to complete. This took some pressure off and enabled them to engage with learning how to learn.

Finally, when we read poems, articles, or other short texts together as a class I always point out that if they choose to annotate or reflect on the piece that they can use it as a piece of evidence for depth. Most will take me up on it. This gives some choice and ownership over the annotation tasks instead of me requiring post-it notes on every chapter of Gatsby. In reality I can tell from one or two artifacts whether or not a student is actively engaging the text in effective ways. You can see a few images below of how one student collected the artifacts:

Discuss quality of the artifacts

Because I didn’t want the portfolio to simply be a completion grade we tried to attach some traits to strong reading responses, specifically for depth. I essentially trusted what I saw in daily reading workshop times and some informal check-ins for volume, counted the practice tests as completion for speed, and then used depth as the category to focus on assessing. I used an informal rubric that focused on the specificity and complexity of their interactions since those are the two words/skills we’d been focusing on, but you could adapt to the specific traits you’re hoping to capture in their reading work.

The end products are not pretty (Student example from Q1; Student example from Q2)–I’m sure there are better technology solutions to explore–but they do offer me a decent picture of what each individual student is up to as a reader in a way that I wasn’t able to see when I collected and averaged quizzes and study guide questions. It’s improved the vocabulary of our discussion about tasks. And ultimately it has helped continue the shift of ownership over their reading life from me to them, which is the end goal of workshop. 

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. He is excited to start reading the final installment of the Wolf Hall trilogy.

8 Ways Listening Leads to Learning

not-listeningWe teachers often talk too much. Research on listening suggests that adults spend an average of 70% of their time engaged in some sort of communication; of this average, 45% is spent listening compared to 30% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing. I would argue that this data does not represent teachers in the classroom. We tend to talk more than we listen.

I wonder how many of us have thought of teaching as communication.

Think about this definition of communication: “Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange information, news, and ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places.”

Now, think about how much richer our classroom environments could be if we planned, prepared, and presented our lessons through this lens of communication — with the goal of reaching mutual understanding, exchanging information, ideas and feelings, and creating and sharing meaning. To do so, we must listen more than we speak.

What about the time, we may ask, what about the content knowledge we must impart?

When we exchange our need to talk with our students’ vital need to have us listen, we

  1. transform our teaching by looking for ways to invite students into conversations
  2. better utilize the time we have with our students, meeting their needs in one-on-one and small group discussions
  3. deliver information in new ways, other than students listening to lectures or taking notes from slide presentations, or completing worksheets
  4. break down walls many adolescents have built against school and against authority — they know we see them as the unique individuals they are, and they respond
  5. provide opportunities for students to learn from one another so we may listen as they share with one another
  6. help students discover and take ownership of their needs, both personally and academically — talk often works as a lead into deeper thinking
  7. facilitate communication that leads students to take on the characteristics and behaviors of readers and writers — or in a biology class as scientists, or in a history class as historians.

Fostering room for more listening is the first move into creating a culture of conferring.

Does it make us vulnerable? Yes! and facing our vulnerability is where our growth as teachers takes root, taps into strategies that nurture our learners, and eventually blossoms into the instruction and learning experiences we want for all students.

How do you make room for listening in your classroom? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

Fitting Self-Assessments into Competency Based Grading

fotolia-33988899-xs-photogalleryThis year my school shifted to competency based grading.  For those unfamiliar with this, grading is centered on students’ mastery of the Common Core competencies.  While I have found it differs from state to state, our school has integrated competency based grading by requiring all classes to follow a grading percentage of 80 percent summative assessments and 20 percent formative assessments.  In addition, students are allowed to retake summative assessments as many times as they would like assuming they initially approached the assessments having prepared with good effort.

For me, as an English teacher, this process of retakes and revisions isn’t new.  That being said, the idea of 80 percent of my students’ grades being summative assessments is most certainly a shift.  In the past, while their final product has always served as a large portion of their grade (over 50 percent), it hasn’t counted quite as much as it does now.

I value formative assessments; I cherish the time my students spend cracking apart texts, mimicking authors’ craft, and simply reading.  For many of us, high school was a formative experience.  The time we spent exploring who we were paid off long term, yet competency-based grading values the final product more than the process.

To a degree, I take fault with this.  I understand that once students enter the workplace they are assessed based on their final products.  In the same breath, I also believe that high school must provide a platform for students to explore their interests in a safe and supportive environment that values process.  My life has largely looked like the reverse of my gradebook—80 percent of my time is spent reading, writing, brainstorming, drafting, discussing, and working, while maybe 20 percent of it is actually publishing, sharing, or posting my work.  I learned this process in high school.

Because summative assessments count for so much this year, I hate (even more than usual) applying a specific number to my students’ work.  In turn, to compensate for this competency based grading, I ask my students to assess themselves.

Every time my students hand in a paper or summative assessment like a notebook check, they grade themselves, writing a brief “metacognition analysis” in which they explain their writing, thought process, and reasoning.  In turn, instead of being blind sided by my grades, they have a say in how and even whether or not they met the competencies of the assignment.  Typically, they’re spot on with their grading.

FullSizeRenderNicole wrote, “I think my essay deserves that grade because I worked really hard on it.  I ended up printing it 4 times because every time I printed it I would self edit and have someone else edit it so that it came out just how I wanted it.  Just like always, I put a lot of my personality and voice into this piece.  I wanted people to laugh when they read it.  I added lots of detail about tiny situations and background.”

Ryan, had a similar assessment, “I think I did well with my development of ideas/organization and cohesion, and my ending.  I was proud of all of my writing because I thought it was one of the best things I’ve written.”

Ultimately students are also willing to honestly discuss their shortcomings.  Maddie targeted areas she hoped to improve in future pieces: “I feel I did well but could’ve been better.  I struggled with creating sensory details, but I feel I wrote this piece pretty well.  I would like to try and make this story more vivid, putting the reader in my position.” 

While I’m still addressing these changes and gauging my own understanding of competency based grading, self-assessments are the single most important change I’ve made in my classroom this year.  After I’m done reading rubrics, circling boxes, and checking off competencies, their voice is the resounding voice I hear.

Do you have competency based grading in your school?  Have you shifted to the 80:20 grading system? What changes have you made to better meet the needs of your students?

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