“Let’s talk about the learning…not the grading” by Kelly Christopherson


“Talking about assessment and grades misses out on the important part of the story–the learning.”

View story at Medium.com

Since the beginning of my teaching career, I have grappled with the idea of grades and their place in education.  Grades seemed to motivate me when I was younger, but then again, they also intimidated me.  I was the kind of kid that wanted to do well, and getting a good grade meant that I was a “worthy” student.  But, when I got a less than stellar grade, something happened…I lost a little bit of confidence, I saw myself as just an “ok” student, and not a “great” student.  What was really going on?  I was letting grades define how I saw myself as a student.  The work was interesting to me, but what really seemed to tell me whether or not I was a capable student was what my final grade was on any given quiz, test or project.  To this day, I often describe myself as, “not a good test-taker” to help explain why I’m smart but don’t always “perform” well on tests.

Kelly Christopherson’s article, “Let’s talk about the learning..not the grading” focuses on better ways to teach kids that don’t result in a grade.  According to Christopherson, teachers have been moving away from grading for years.  They’ve started to use Student Led Conferences, flexible deadlines, rubrics, formative assessments, project learning and moved away from final tests and exams.  But, this shift tends to happen not when looking at where grading goes wrong, but instead focusing on what students need to know today and in the future.  When you move away from the direct talk of grades, and discuss what and how students learn, the shift away from grades happens naturally.

I agree with Christopherson, and in my many observations in schools around the area, I see great teaching and much of it has branched away from the more traditional classroom assessments.  However, it seems to me that there is still such a long way to go.  Is it possible for teachers to really walk away from grades, and yet still have to be held accountable to SOL testing?  If schools and school districts mandate assessments throughout the year, doesn’t this go directly against what teachers are trying to do in their classrooms?  As Christopherson states in his article, “many people and companies [and schools!] say they want people to be risk-takers and innovative yet they don’t reward people for being risk-takers and innovators.”  How can the members within the system change, if the system itself hasn’t really changed?

It seems to me, that we are trying to make everyone happy, and in the process, we aren’t really focusing on the learning or helping children be innovative, risk-takers, global learners, collaborative, etc.  Instead of all the talk, I think it would be helpful if teachers and administrators could learn about schools that are making these changes and that are finding success in doing it.  In education, we love to talk about the latest theories, but wouldn’t it be cool if more focus could be spent showing examples of schools implementing changes to embrace 21st century learners? Instead of just the talk, how can we experience the change?  I mean, really…how are workplaces changes?  How are cities focusing on innovation and creativity?  This change needs to infiltrate all levels of our culture.  And, there have to be classrooms and schools out there that are really pushing the boundary of future education.  I think it would be helpful for teachers to be able to see and learn about these changes first hand.


Digital Equity

“Access to the Internet is access to empowerment.”–Michael Mills

The overall message from reading the articles and watching the videos on digital equity is that currently there is a divide between those who have access to technology and the internet, and those that don’t.  Only one article, “Free Computers Don’t Close the Rich-Poor Education Gap”, seemed to say that providing the technology didn’t solve the problem.  This article seemed to say that for all the “good learning” that can happen with technology, there is also a lot of wasted time playing games and engaging with social media.

The big question, is how do we solve the problem of inequity around technology?  Comcast’s video about “Building the Digital Divide” mentioned the issue of access to broadband for all.  They even mentioned that, “30% of the population doesn’t have access to broadband.”  But after watching the clip, it’s still unclear to me how they plan on solving this issue.  Yes, holding computer education classes is one step, but I can’t imagine that this is making a significant dent in the issue.  And, if Comcast has significant control in this arena, do they truly want to have competition?

What I think seems to be a major issue is that there isn’t much competition between telecommunication companies.  In other parts of the world, I think this is less of an issue, but in the U.S. only a few companies have control and therefore monopolize the market.  It shouldn’t cost an American family between $30-$80 to provide internet access.  All Americans should have this basic access.  As Michael Mills says, “access to the internet is access to empowerment”, and this is huge.  (But, I think the same thing can be said about healthcare.  Shouldn’t all Americans have access to free healthcare?)  If internet access can’t be free, at least there should be more options for carriers and plans, which would help bring down the cost.

It seems to me that if we can help all families get access, then we can start on helping all families get the technology.  And, maybe this movement should start with schools.  Schools provide the tools, and students should have the ability to take them home to use.  And, maybe there can even be a plan that allows for families with students in school access to free broadband.

In my classroom, I think making sure all students, regardless of race or gender, feel that they have a place in the digital world is important.  I found it very interesting on the “Black Girls Code” clip that the earliest computer programmers were women.   But, now, jobs in technology are seen as more of a white man’s job.  As teachers, we need to empower both genders and all ethnicities to see the importance of being digitally savvy.  To do this, teachers need to use technology and find ways to inspire students through the use of technology.  And, I think schools need to provide computers and other devices for students to use.  Not only this, I think schools need to empower teachers (through classes, professional development, etc) to continue making technology work in their classrooms.

Speak Up’s, “Digital Learning 24/7”

“The ultimate learning experience is highly collaborative and yet, extremely personalized.”–Speak Up

Speak Up’s article on digital learning was an eye-opening look at technology and education.  For starters, Speak Up’s report is driven by student data; what technology works for students and what technology students would like to see more of in their schooling.  As the article states, students are the “digital advance team” for the rest of us.  They use the technology and report what works and what doesn’t.  Not only this, they also tend to drive the technology because they  aren’t afraid to use the latest technology advancements, and they are quick and eager learners.  Additionally, because students are consumers of the latest technology, they, in a sense pull (reluctantly or not), the educational system along with them.

I will say that I found this article to be a biased at times.  Speak Up used surveys to convey what they thought students wanted/needed, but I also felt that they were pushing their own agenda at times.  For example, when the article stated, “And while students in grades 6-12 have a lukewarm response to the idea of new graduation requirements of any kind”, I sort of lost a little respect for the writers.  As a former middle school teacher, I know 6th graders, and they don’t understand graduation requirements any more than they do the importance of mingling at a social function.  This sounded like subjective information to me, but I still agree with the vast majority of the article.

For the most part, I think everything I’ve learned so far in ED 554 supports what Speak Up wrote about in their report.  Students want mobile devices in school, these technologies support their learning outside of school, and children are naturally curious and want to learn.  Technology, and blended learning opportunities specifically, allow students to learn in a way that is both accessible and beneficial.  But taking it a step further, Speak Up addresses what really needs to happen in education, and that is:  It needs to evolve.  As of 2014, “30 states had an online school” and that “50% of all high school courses will be offered online by 2019”.  Education is changing, and if it isn’t changing, then it should be.

This article was a reminder to me that I want to be riding the wave of change, and not simply find ways to incorporate a few pieces of technology into my curriculum to look “with the times”.  But how?  I agree with all that Speak Up had to say, and yet I worry about how I’m going to be able to stay ahead, let alone with, the curve.  How can I keep students motivated through the use of technology?  Part of it, I believe, is continuing my own education.  I also need to get out there and try new techniques.  See what works and what doesn’t.  Practice.  Take risks.  Explore.  Try new things.  In a sense, do everything I’ve always told my students to do.  I want to be a part of the change, not someone resistant to it because she hasn’t really mastered it.  Technology based teaching is in, old school classrooms of the past are out.  I totally get that.

Ken Robinson’s “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley”

“Education is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system”–Ken Robinson

No Child Left Behind is leaving behind millions of children–Ken Robinson

Wow.  Ken Robinson is my new hero.  This was such an amazing TedTalk, that I’m still trying to process just how powerful it was, and how it totally confirms my feelings about the educational system in America.

As Robinson says, humans are diverse and curious.  He makes the point of saying that when children’s curiosity is sparked, then they naturally learn.  But schools in American today are not sparking students creativity.  Every child has different strengths and talents, and schools in America don’t differentiate, and don’t place equal importance on all of the disciplines, thereby not allowing all students to find success.

In our country right now, there is an enormous number of kids who are disengaged.  10% of students are being diagnosed with ADHD, but as Robinson says, why wouldn’t they get “fidgety” when they are being asked to do low level thinking that requires no creativity?  Additionally, 60% of students drop out of high school, and 80% of Native American drop out of high school.  This is not only damaging to these students, but it hurts our country, as well.  This is happening because the American eduction system is flawed!

Robinson says that education is a creative field, and that teachers are the “life-blood” of the profession.  But, the way education is set up today, teaching is more about testing than it is about learning.  We have developed a culture in which testing is dominant.  How can we change this?  What are other countries doing to make their educational systems so strong?  Three things:  they individualize the curriculum (because all students think and learn differently), they place a high status on the teaching profession and invest in their teachers’ and in professional development for their teachers, and they put the bulk of the responsibility of education on the individual schools (instead of the government or other leaders).

BAM! Radio Podcast

I explored several of the BAM!  Radio Podcasts, but the one I found most insightful was titled, “Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo:  The Differences between Project-based, Problem-based and Inquiry Learning”.  I have heard these terms many times, but wasn’t exactly sure of their nuances.  This podcast taught me that the broad umbrella of not knowing something but wanting to understand it, is Inquiry Learning.  Inquiry Learning takes place in many classrooms. Students have broad-ranging or essential questions, and they want to discover answers to these questions. This interest in learning more is Inquiry Learning.

Problem-based learning is based on open-ended questions that usually stay within the context of the classroom, and are explored anywhere from a few days to several weeks.  They are shorter projects, tend to have more constraints, and are used to develop deeper understanding of a subject or question.  Students typically end their problem-based learning with some sort of a summary of what they’ve learned.  This knowledge can be conveyed in a number of ways.

Project-based learning seems to be the most specific, and to also have the most lasting impact on the students.  Project-based learning is not confined to the classroom, it extends for several week or even a semester, and students actually create a project or do something with the knowledge they’ve gained.  Again, this knowledge can be conveyed in any number of ways, but it can included going out in the community and implementing or sharing the new knowledge.

As the speakers discussed these three types of learning, they made suggestions for small things that teachers can do to put project-based learning to use.  One of the many suggestions is to have students explore open-ended essential questions.  For example, one speaker said that before he taught Romeo and Juliet, he had students brainstorm and explore the question of what “makes or breaks a relationship”.  Students used this question to guide them in looking at a number of materials.  They fully researched and explored possible answers to this question before they ever started Romeo and Juliet.

I think that podcasts are a great way to get information on education in very manageable chunks. On the whole, the podcasts seem to run under 15 minutes, which allows teachers to listen to them before school, after school, or during a planning period.  Additionally, I think they are a great place to turn to when you’re pondering a question related to education, or are interesting in trying something new in the classroom.  Before launching into unchartered waters, see if you can find a podcast to give you further information.  How cool is it to have experts in the field of education share their wisdom?

Big Huge Labs…is Big Huge Fun!


Doing a unit on Greek Mythology?  Or, maybe you just want to help your students find creative ways to explore characters in a novel you’re reading in class!  Big Huge Labs can help!  In this picture above, Big Huge Labs has allowed me to create a magazine cover.  I selected Athena as my cover model, and added some interesting headlines about her history.  What a clever way to have students share their knowledge of the Greek Gods that they’ve been studying in class!