Book notes: 2 of 2

Last time, I shared with you the thoughts and discussions my colleagues and I had around the book  Ahead of the Curve.  The book is a series of essays about formative assessments and grading.

We got a lot of interesting ideas from the book.  However, we were left wondering, and fearing, how we might make some of these suggestions real in our classrooms.

Trying things out

Many of the teachers in our book club are interested in experimenting with student-created rubrics and assessments. At the same time, we were wary about the amount of instructional time it’s going to take to allow students to brainstorm categories for rubrics, analyze exemplars of products, and then differentiate and describe various levels of achievement. From my own experience, I can say this takes about three full hours. Some teachers are hopeful that a student-created rubric might be used for multiple assessments. This way the teacher can earn more student buy-in since they created the rubric.

The other idea that many of the teachers in my reading group wanted to try out was grading on a 4-point stace rahter than using the traditional number correct divided by number possible system used in most classrooms.


Our group was also concerned about the balance a teacher needs to find between planning, assessing, and giving students feedback (or feed forward). Each of these steps takes time. We all agreed that analyzing student results and using that information to inform planning was going to create more work in the evenings for teachers. Doing this analysis takes a lot more time than simply grading for correctness and assigning a number or letter. Frankly, if we were to do this then the days of using last year’s lesson are over.

For the high school teachers around the table, the idea of using student-created rubrics to give feed forward and next steps for 150 essays is incredibly daunting. The idea of carving out the days necessary for students to create the rubric and for students to give themselves and one another feed forward is equally daunting.

Therefore, something has to give.

In our perfect world, we would have a lot more teachers teaching far fewer children. Designing high-quality assessments, using those assessments to gather rich data, give useful feed forward, and plan for what’s next along the learning journey for, say, 25 students would work.

We think we still could maintain high-quality teaching for 150 students. We could have the students design their own assessments. We could have time for students to analyze their works in progress. Students could give themselves and their peers feed forward. We could use the data we gathered about our students’ learning to the plan the next unit. We could do all those things, if we only had four or five major ideas or standards to teach per year.

However, we do not have 25 students; we have 150. We do not have four or five major ideas or standards that we need to teach this year; we have dozens. Something has to give. Unfortunately, too often, it is the quality of the instruction, assessment, and feedback that gives.

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