Last year I heard Kelly Gallagher speak at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. Many of his remarks stuck with me, but the one that I have thought about the most is this one:
If you grade everything your students write, they are not writing enough.
I’ve thought a lot about that comment over the past eight months. The other idea rolling around in my head was that whatever ways I had my students respond to their reading this year, I wanted them to be authentic. Translation: if it wasn’t something I would do when finishing a book, I wouldn’t assign it. In the past my students have had a day each week to turn in a reading response letter to me. I wanted to open that up and have them respond more often. If they wanted to respond to their reading daily, so be it. The question arose, naturally, of how I was going to assign grades. I couldn’t possibly grade every single way they responded, and according to Gallagher, if I could, then they weren’t writing enough. So, I decided to let them choose what I graded.
Choosing What to Assess
We began by creating a list. In what ways would we respond to reading this year? The list we came up with is below:
- Writing a Goodreads review
- Writing a blog about our reading
- Creating an Audioboo book talk
- Sharing a book recommendation with a friend
We talked about the fact that this list was not exhaustive and that more ideas might occur to us as the year progressed.
We created a similar list for writing. What could they share each week that would show how they were growing as a writer?
- A blog post
- A tweet
- A review
- An entry from their writing notebooks
- A document started in Google Docs
What to Choose
Then we discussed why an item might be selected and “turned in” for a grade. You might blog daily, tweet daily, or write a review once a week. Which item would they pick to turn in each week for a grade and why? An example a student in the first class shared was a tweet he had sent to James Patterson. He thought it would work to show how he responded to a book and how he grew as a writer. His tweet thanked Patterson for writing The Maximum Ride series. Colton said it showed how he grew as a reader because this was the first “thick” chapter book series that he not only understood, but also enjoyed, which he had told Patterson in his tweet. He thought that worked for his reading grade. He also thought the same tweet could work for his weekly writing grade because he has been struggling with spelling and capitalization of titles. In that tweet he had no errors of either type. He had proofread it himself (and found a capitalization error) and had a friend proofread it before he posted. This showed he was putting forth an effort in his writing and realizing that writing was a form of communication and should be clear to his audience.
As a class we also decided that if you selected a tweet one week for your assessment, you should select a longer piece of writing the next week.
Turning in Our Work
We have nine iPads in our classroom, so most of these items will be turned in electronically. For example, the URL for a blog post can be sent by email. A student can take a screenshot of a tweet and send it by email as well. A nightly writing notebook entry can be photographed on the iPads and the photo emailed to me. We had one entire minilesson on screenshots, email, and placing their name in the subject line so I would know whom the piece was for. (All iPads are linked to the same email account.)
I also ask that students write a few sentences in reflection on the back of their weekly English/language arts reflection sheet. This way I understand why they have chosen the pieces they have to represent their growth as readers and writers for the week.
We’ve been at this now for a couple of months. Overall, I see more engagement in my students. I think they feel in charge of their learning and their grades. We’ve talked about how sometimes as writers we know a piece just works and sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t. This gives them the opportunity to select their best work to be graded on. What I have been impressed with is the pieces they select that I wouldn’t have seen possibility in, mainly tweets. Through this type of assessment I have learned that they are invested in what they put out on Twitter and it is very important to them. By allowing them to have a say in their grading, by allowing them a chance to reflect and tell me about their learning, I have gained new insights into my students, and that benefits us all.