Monday, October 31, 2011

Grading Moratorium: Justin Nanu

Justin Nanu has joined the Grading Moratorium. Want to join? Here's how.

Justin Nanu
Grade 3 & 4
Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada
@jvnanu is my classroom blog.

I’ll preface these answers by giving a bit of background about myself. I’m 23, and in my 2nd year as a full time teacher. I’ve been in school since I was 4, and will continue to be in school until January 26th, 2041, as my pension fund recently informed me. Beyond the 2 (or 4 in university) month summers, I have not experienced any break from school since I started kindergarten. I guess that among my colleagues, I’m one whose experience in education is more closely related to that of my students. I teach a grade 3/4 combined grade, and I myself was in grade 4 only 15 years ago. I would have hoped, entering the profession in 2010, that things had changed since I was a kid. In many cases they have not. For this reason I started doing some research and finding books, articles, blogs and edchats in an effort to learn about what others were doing. I feel that as a new teacher my new teacher colleagues and myself are in large part responsible for affecting the kind of progressive change that we see outside of education. So now for the questions that you provided:

At what stage of the abolish grading game are you?

I guess I’m emerging. I’m only 2 months in as of the time I’m writing this, and so far I’ve given one math test. It somehow felt wrong though. There are a few students who didn’t get their “level 3” on the test and I’m giving them opportunities to conference with me and tell me what they know. I’m also using what I know of the kids from their conversations in class, problem solving work, inquiry work etc. to develop the report card grade. It’s not just the test.

Why do you want to or why did you abolish grading?

Kids focus too much on the grade. There is so much pressure from home on getting the grade. Kids will do whatever it takes to get the grade, and parents aren’t helping when they offer grade-based incentives at home. The focus should be on learning, and learning doesn’t stop with a grade. The idea of a grade just seems so wrong. So what… I got a C in geometry… does this mean that I’m done? We’ve moved onto something else and I’m stuck with a C in geometry? It perpetuates the idea that students only need to remember the material until the test rather than understand the material and be able to apply it for the rest of their lives.

What do you do in replace of grading?

Right now I’m using anecdotal notes of student conversations, conferencing (1 on 1 conversation) and descriptive feedback. I also want to use some Flip cameras to create a reflection center where students can tell me what they’ve learned, rather than me tell them what they’ve learned.

How do you establish a grade if you have no grades?

For me, grades are curriculum based. We don’t give students a letter or a percentage but rather we give them a level. Level 3 means that they demonstrate competence in the curriculum expectations; a 4 means that they’ve gone above and beyond; a level 2 means that they’re approaching the provincial standard. I’m bound by this curriculum… legally, so when it comes to report cards I’m going to have
the expectations on one side of the computer and all of my anecdotal records, descriptive feedback etc. on the other side to decide on a grade.

What fears did you have about abolishing grading?

Mainly I fear the pushback from parents who have been expecting grades over the years. I’m also a little weary of the inconsistencies across classrooms. How much does it benefit a student who goes through JK, SK, 1, 2 and 3 being graded, comes into my grade 4 class and receives this differentiated type of feedback, and must then go back into a grade 5, 6, 7, and 8 class using grades?

What challenges do/did you encounter with abolishing grading?

I anticipate some concern from administration who likes consistency within a grade. If we have 3 grade 4 classes then traditionally the teachers have been sharing assessment tools for all units and using common assessment. One class being different would raise questions within the community.

Are you willing to provide contact information for others who are interested in abolishing grading?
@jvnanu is my classroom blog.
Personal blog coming soon.

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