It’s been a particularly busy start-up for me since I’ve switched schools and have taken on a new teaching load in English after several years of special ed. But, I am excited about the change because it means I’ll have new opportunities to incorporate assessment for learning into mainstream classes.

A few things I’ve been trying out so far:

1. I haven’t assigned any grades or scores on student work yet.

Some students are still puzzled by this. The first week or so, several students in each class would ask whether something was for marks. This past week (after three weeks of comment-only feedback), only two students asked.

I think my message is geting through — that everything they’re doing is practice for when I finally assess, and when I assess work for a grade, I will let them know ahead of time.

What I’ve been doing instead: giving targeted feedback in person or in writing, reviewing student work for whether it’s acceptable/unacceptable, sharing student work samples so that everyone can see what “the right track” looks like.

I am a little scared and uncertain of what might happen when I finally assess. Will students hopefully have a more realistic understanding of their skills so far, and therefore not feel the grading was a mysterious act? Or, what happens if every student submits work that results in an “A” because they’re familiar with the criteria and can demonstrate it? (And what will other teachers think? That I’m giving out too many top marks?)

Next step: introducing peer feedback/self-assessment. I’m still doing too much of the evaluation and I want to shift that balance before students start relying on me too much.

2. I’ve informed students of what the goals and objectives are for various activities, so that they don’t forget the purpose.

I’ve been trying to let students know which of the four focus areas various activities are linked to (see previous blog entry on rethinking assessment in my English classes).  I have a feeling this information may still be too broad for them, so I’ve started to narrow it down when possible, but I think I will need to work on expressing goals as specifically as possible.

3. No marks for homework.

I’ve assigned only two homework assignments in all of my classes so far, for completion. Students who haven’t handed in the homework still have to do the work. (Inspired by Douglas Reeve’s idea that the penalty for not doing the assignment is to Do The Assignment.)

I’ve told the students that the objective for those assignments was to continue to practice reading and summarizing, and that getting my feedback is important for when I will assess the skills in about a week. I did cartwheels in my mind when one student asked me if I’ll hand back the latest assignment so that she can get feedback before the final assessment.

Considerations: I’m limited in the types of homework that I can assign since there aren’t enough texts to send home with all my students. So I am still deciding on the place and importance of homework in my courses since students are reading and writing almost every block. Also, part of me is worried about plagiarism and cheating if I send assignments home (ie, how will I know a student didn’t rely heavily on a tutor or someone else to produce his/her writing?)

However, I also realise that not every student can produce work on demand within an 80 minute period. I know as a student, when I read something for the first time in a class or seminar, I need time to process and think before I can possibly generate a coherent response.


Other ideas:  

-What types of technology/online resources can I integrate to support student learning & engagement during class time? (I’ll have to do some planning once wifi gets installed at the school at some point this year.)

In the meantime, what options should I explore for student-use outside of class time? I will have access to plenty of tools on Desire to Learn, the course management software that the Vancouver Learning Network (online school) uses.

-Communication: should I create a website for students and parents to find what each class is working on?  Or use Moodle? (though only students would have access.)