Before reading this, if you haven’t read the reflection I wrote after the first two days of assessment conferences, you can find that here.
My first-quarter assessment conferences are over. In all, it took me four days to meet with everyone, two days for reading, two days for writing. While the process is still not my ideal—that would be eliminating letter grades completely—it was still a massive upgrade over the way I used to calculate grades. While I had done assessment conferences before, this was the first time each student’s grade was being decided in this conference, so this was something new for me. As a result, the way I approached the conferences changed quite a bit from my first one on Monday to my last one on Thursday.
When I started on Monday, the first few students and I went through every criteria on the list and talked about the grade they thought they earned and why. I quickly realized this was going to take way too much time, and I’d never get through everyone, so I quickly altered this approach. Starting with my fourth or fifth conference, I started collecting students’ planning sheets when they first sat down, compared what they wrote to what I had in my notes, and then chose a couple criteria for the student to talk about, often focusing on ones where the student’s initial assessment didn’t match mine. We still finished each of these, though, by discussing the student’s overall grade.
Then, on Tuesday, when I wrote my first reflection, I mentioned that one thing I didn’t like about my conferences so far was that there were things I wanted to ask students regarding the reading they had done first quarter, but I didn’t always feel like I had time to talk about them if they weren’t going to impact their final grade. After writing that, I kept thinking about it more, and I decided to take a different approach on Wednesday.
I decided that for many students—those who had earned an obvious A or those whose assessments were pretty close to mine—it wasn’t necessary to actually discuss the grade itself. Instead, we talked about other things about their first quarters as writers: what went well, what was hard, the topics they’d chosen to write about, strengths, and areas for improvement. Some of these were areas that were factored into their final grade, but in probably 80% or so of my writing conferences, we didn’t need to actually discuss the grade. If there was a major difference between my assessment and a student’s, we discussed this at the end and came to a final decision, but it was nice to have so many of these conversations without bringing up grades.
Over the course of the week, I also thought a lot about what this process will look like second quarter. Each student will have a series of reading and writing goals on which they’ll be working during the upcoming quarter, some of which are set by the student, some of which I will add. My original plan was to still have some of our first-quarter criteria be a part of our assessment too, but I changed my mind about that this week. I’ve decided that the rest of our report card grades will be solely based on students’ progress towards their goals. Below, you can see the categories in which students set goals:
- their work as a poet (based on something from Some Things a Poet Does When Trying to Write a Good Poem, a list we created in our writing-reading handbooks)
- their topic choices
- their purpose for writing and sharing their writing with others
- using our craft lessons
- their process as a writer (writing off-the-page, drafting, or revising)?
- their work with editing and their mastery of conventions (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization
- their productivity and pace (number of books, number of pages a night, time spent reading)
- their book selections
- expanding their tastes as a reader (their experiments with authors and genres)
- their letter-essays, roundtable prep, or roundtable discussions
- their booktalks or making recommendations to other readers
By having these specific categories, it means that many of our first-quarter criteria will be addressed in some form in other quarters. However, since some students will only have one goal in each category, they won’t all have their letter-essays or paragraphs they write in preparation for reading roundtable discussions factor into their grades. I’m now okay with that, though. Since my preference would be to eliminate grades completely, I realized it was alright if we didn’t factor in certain things. Students will still do the work, still get feedback from me, and still have opportunities to redo work when needed. The grade is secondary to all of this, and I don’t think it will have an effect on how students perform in these other areas. We’ll see.