Parent-Teacher Conferences: What Do We Talk about If We Don’t Talk about Grades?

Last night, we held our first parent-teacher conferences of the year, and for the first time, I didn’t have any grades to talk about. My school has used online gradebooks since I started teaching, so parents have always had full-time access to their kids’ grades. This year, however, I haven’t been grading individual assignments. Instead, the scores have merely represented completion, and the point values are so small they’ll be meaningless when it comes to the students’ quarter grades. These will be decided at the end of the quarter after students self-assess and we meet for an assessment conference. If you haven’t read it, I talk more about this plan in an earlier post.

Our school has conferences before first quarter ends, so there weren’t any grades to discuss. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know for sure how parents would react to this. While I sent home a letter outlining my plan for the year, this was going to be the first face-to-face test of what parents thought of this policy. Would they be okay not knowing what grade their child had? I wasn’t sure.

I didn’t need to be worried, however. In many cases, the lack of grades never came up, and when it did, the response was overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been using the notes section of our gradebook to enter shorthand versions of the feedback I give kids on each assignment (many thanks to Joy Kirr for this awesome suggestion). Multiple parents commented on how much they liked the information this provided.

Another mom and dad, whose daughter places lots of pressure on herself to get good grades, told me that they had shown her my parent letter about assessment so that she could see I wanted her to relax and focus on learning, rather than dealing with the pressure of trying to achieve good grades. It was so nice to know parents were reinforcing this message at home.

The best thing about the night, at least from my perspective, was that I didn’t have to talk about grades one time. So what did we talk about? We discussed how kids were progressing as writers, the books they were reading, how they were fitting in socially. In other words, we talked about the things that actually matter.

I was also able to show parents the writing students were doing and the progress they had made over the last several weeks. This also gave me a chance to show them where students were getting feedback on their work. For example, when students write their prep for our weekly roundtable discussions, they do this in the same Google Doc each week, so opening that document allows parents to see every paragraph the student has written as prep and all the feedback the student has received, giving them more detail than the shorthand comments in our online gradebook.

I still have one night of conferences next week, and it’s certainly possible that someone might not understand or support the approach I’m taking. However, for one night at least, I was thankful for the chance to talk about student progress without grades getting in the way.

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2 thoughts on “Parent-Teacher Conferences: What Do We Talk about If We Don’t Talk about Grades?

  1. I just read parts of this to my husband. (He knows my whole “not-grading” story.) He said, “The parents probably like it because it takes the robot out of teaching.” I think he means how the computer will average old learning and new learning – so unfair. I’m SOOOO glad your conferences went well – I wish for mine to go well on the 18th and 19th of this month! ;D I bring the comments printed out, so parents can see all of them, even if they haven’t taken the time to watch the video I created on HOW to see the comments – they’re tucked so far away in the online system – eek! You’d think they’d ask their children how to find them… THANK YOU for sharing, Eric! Glad this post is on the LiveBinder for more teachers to see and learn from, too! Your words matter!

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