A Gradeless Classroom for Distance or In-Person Learning

Quote

I decided to transition to a gradeless classroom in 2017 and it is the best decision that I ever made as a teacher.  My school is not a gradeless school so I still need to give students a grade at mid-quarter and again at the end of the quarter.

Fortunately my gradeless classroom transitioned really well to distance learning.  My students had the tools to reflect on their work and gauge their level of understanding of the material and it created some great conversations about their work.  I plan to be gradeless again in the upcoming school year if my district has in-person learning, remote learning, or both.

Here is my process:

 

1. Show Me What You Can Do

When I feel that the class as a whole has a decent grasp of a learning standard, I will give them a short assessment (often one question but sometimes two questions).  I call these assessments “Show Me What You Can Do.”

I use the Activity feature on Seesaw to assign the question(s) to the students.  They do their work on paper, take a picture of it, and upload it to Seesaw.  This, more than any of my other assignments during distance learning, gave me a very clear view of how well students understood the content especially.

screen-shot-2020-07-09-at-4.43.23-pm

2. Next Day Feedback

Seesaw has a feature that allows me to annotate the image of student work while recording my voice.  After my students complete the Show Me What You Can Do, I record myself giving them feedback on what they did well and what gave them difficulty. 

When I started my gradeless classroom, I only gave students written feedback but I soon found that when I returned an assessment there were always some students that did not understand what I had written no matter how careful I was to make it clear. That is why I decided to record myself giving that feedback.  With the video feedback students can see and hear me explaining the problem to them.  It has made a HUGE difference with students’ ability to understand their mistakes. 

I ALWAYS get them the video feedback the next day because there are educational studies that show that immediate feedback promotes learning. 

 

3. Self-Assessment

Students watch their video the next day in class (or at home during distance learning) and then they self-assess their understanding of the concept.  Here is the rubric that students use to self-assess.

Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 3.17.30 PM

When I started my gradeless classroom I used rubrics represented numbers (1 – need more time understand to 4 – I have shown understanding) but I have moved away from numbers because when some students were determining their grade they were simply finding the average of all of the self-assessment numbers.  I really want the students to think about their body of work as a whole and their overall level of understanding rather than simply averaging the numbers.

4. Retakes

I allow students to retake if they had difficulty in order to show me that they now understand the material.  The problems on the retake are similar but not the same.  Prior to taking the retake, I have the students complete some similar practice problems to show that they now understand the concept after watching their video (this is done online on a site called ASSISTments and I wrote a blog post about how I use ASSISTments to for homework which is similar to how I use it for practice before the retake).  If they are unable to show understanding on these practice problems, than I will spend time working with them on the concept before they do the retake.  If they still have difficulty showing understanding after the retake, I schedule time to work with them individually before they are allowed to retake again.

5. Gathering Evidence

Before each progress report and at the end of each quarter, students reflect on their work and gather evidence of their learning.  They use the images that are in their portfolio on Seesaw and create a Google Presentation of their best work for each learning standard.

Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 4.24.05 PMScreen Shot 2020-07-10 at 4.23.57 PM

6. Determining a Grade

Students use their evidence and self-assessments to determine the grade that best reflects their understanding.  I give them a little guidance if they are having difficulty determining a grade (this normally happens early in the year because the whole process is new to the students) but I mostly leave it up to them.  Here is what the summary page of their Google Presentation looks like.

Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 4.24.15 PM

Most students do a wonderful job determining a grade that reflects their understanding. There are, however, a few students either over inflate or under value their level of understanding. In these cases I conference with them to help them establish an appropriate grade.

 

 

Going gradeless has made my students focus on the content as opposed to grades.  I no longer field questions like “How can I improve my grade?” or “Do you offer extra credit?” Students understand that their grade is based entirely on their understanding of the material.  It has created a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom for not only the students but also for me.

 


I’m always trying to improve the gradeless process to make it more effective for me and my students.  If you want to learn how I started going gradeless and where I was with this process a year ago, check out my post How to Create a Gradeless Classroom in a School That Requires Grades.

 


Andrew Burnett – 7th Grade Math Teacher, Newton, MA

I can be reached by email at burnetta@newton.k12.ma.us or on Twitter at @andburnett123

 

Group Work at the Whiteboards

Quote

If you spent a day in my classroom you would most likely see group work using the “Thinking Classroom” model that was developed as the result of research done by Professor Peter Liljedahl from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Through his research he found that when students work in visually randomized groups while standing at whiteboards they are more apt to get on task faster, take risks in their learning, and discuss the math with their peers.

I first came across the concept on a Twitter post by Laura Wheeler, a math teacher in Ontario.

 

I was particularly interested in the Building Thinking Classrooms Sketchnote from that post because it gave clear steps on how to implement the Thinking Classroom .

Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 1.55.57 PM

Here is what it looks like in my classroom:

1. Present the Problem

I give directions to the problem verbally and I project any images that cannot be easily verbalized (data, diagrams, etc.).  I repeat the verbal directions two times and then I ask for a volunteer to repeat back to me the directions.  Here is an example of what I would project and the verbal directions.

Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 9.30.33 AM

“On the first receipt, what sales tax percentage? Use the sales tax percentage to fill in the other receipts.”

2. Visibly Random Groups

Visibly random groups are groups that are developed at random in front of the students rather than predetermining the groups.  Students know that if they don’t like their group today, they will be in a different group tomorrow and that dynamic contributes to daily participation in the activity.  I use Flippity.net to randomize my groups.

Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 2.23.12 PM

I used playing cards prior to using Flippity but some students would trade cards to switch their groups when I wasn’t looking .  It isn’t possible to switch groups when it is projected for everyone to see.

3. Group Work Expectations

I have a sign that I created that it is hanging on my classroom wall and I refer to it often to help students follow the expectations when they are working in groups at the board.

Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 2.28.34 PM

Having only one whiteboard marker at each board forces students to discuss the problem and work together.  Once students start working you will see that there are three types of students in the group dynamic.  The first student starts by talking to their group members about how to solve and shares the responsibility of writing and discussing.  We love this first student!!  The second student is the one that grabs the marker and just starts working without talking to the group members.  If you see this, walk over, take the marker away from this student, and hand it to someone else in the group.  I tell the student that was not collaborating if they know how to solve they need to talk out their solution with the group and someone else will write.  The third student is the one that does not get involved with the group.  If you see this, walk over, take the marker away from the person that is writing and give it to this person so that they can be involved in the group work.

Here is what it looks like in action (note: the prompt that they are working on in this video is not the same one listed above).

4. Add on to the Initial Prompt

When groups finish with the initial prompt, ask them to compare their work with the other groups.  When they are confident that their group is on the right track, you can add on to the problem.  Here is how I added on to the prompt from above.

  • “The group with the first receipt actually pay $52.99. The additional $7 is a tip for the server. What percentage of the subtotal is the tip?”
  • “The group with the second receipt gave a $5 tip.  How much is the percent?”
  • “The group with the third receipt gave a 20% tip.  How much did they leave?”

I gave these prompts one at a time and once I had given the first additional prompt to one group, the other groups could then go to that group to get the new prompt without always having to talk to me.

Some groups will work really slowly while others work really fast so plan to have a minimum threshold that you want all groups to reach. That way you can move onto the reviewing stage of the group work feeling comfortable that the students have all had a chance to discuss what you want from them in the lesson.  For the prompt above, the minimum threshold was the initial prompt and the prompts above were added for those groups that worked faster.

Here is what one group had for their final work:

IMG_9666

5. Reviewing Student Work

In the closing minutes of the group work, find groups that may have approached the problem differently, groups that may have made a common error, and/or groups that showed work clearly.  These will be the ones that you will use to review the student work.  After choosing which boards I want to highlight I have students move back to their seats.  I then ask students from different groups to stand in front of their boards and present their work.  I also point out common errors that groups may have made.  We always end with students seeing the correct response and a proper way to solve.

The Thinking Classroom model has been a game changer for me because it creates the most effective mathematical discourse amongst students that I have been able to facilitate in my eighteen years of teaching.

 

Andrew Burnett – 7th Grade Math Teacher, Newton, MA

I can be reached by email at burnetta@newton.k12.ma.us or on Twitter at @andburnett123