Friday, February 11, 2011

This whole self-assessment thing actually works?

Russian essay draft
CC Image: quinn.anya
I have always struggled with the grading component of my classes because the highest levels of assessments tend to lead to the highest levels of subjectivity. Since I really try and structure my classes around such high level thought, I feel that I am stuck in this quagmire. Therefore, I am doing my students a real disservice when I simply write a letter grade or circle boxes on a rubric. This occurs because I just don’t have the time to write authentic comments for these assessments. The student doesn’t get any feedback and learning stops when the assessment is completed.

Inspired by many of the progressive educators I follow through my Personalized Learning Network on Twitter, I have seriously rethought my grading procedures. I have realized that it is necessary to include student voice in the grading process. Throughout the first half of my school year, this meant an admittingly superfluous student “reflection” on their project based learning experiences. While I took this reflection seriously, it was often unstructured and didn’t call for much student metacognition. Based on the wonderful blogs I read on a daily basis, I finally just decided to let my students grade their own work. I decided to completely let go and let my students really reflect on their work. Regardless of how many people claimed this worked, I was still nervous.

It wasn’t just me who was nervous; I could sense my students were apprehensive when I announced they would be grading their own essays. A final essay in 7th grade is a big deal and they were shocked when I revealed I was entrusting the grading process to them. I had numerous students tell me it was dumb and that everybody was going to give themselves an A.  I brushed these comments aside, took the rubric we created and handed it to them. I gave them 30 minutes to circle the portions of the rubric and write detailed comments on why. I then scheduled a time where I could have a 1-2 minute conference with them about their self-assessment.

What happened was truly one of the better experiences of my short career. First, the students were enthralled with the idea of grading their own essays. They were completely engaged in the process of reviewing their work and were brutally honest (if not too harsh) when assigning grades. When we talked about their grades it proved to be a wonderful learning experience. They told me strengths and weaknesses of their essay. They honestly explained what they needed to work on and how they planned to improve in the future. Many students told me that they wasted class time and could have used their peers and teacher to produce a better essay. In effect, the grading process and ensuing mini-conference ensured that learning did not stop when the essay was turned in. Instead it was the exact opposite. The learning process had just begun. Furthermore, I was able to “suggest” that students raise some of their self-appointed grades and this made students feel positive and excited. I think it also finally made students understand what I mean when I constantly say it is not about the grade but the learning. The students got authentic feedback (mostly from themselves) and realized what they need to do in the future. I even had students who wanted to start a whole new writing project because they finally figured out the things they had been doing “wrong” all along. It was awesome and I will continue to cede this responsibility to my students.

PS- It also proved to be a wonderful lesson on social skills. Students were forced to have an academic and profession conversation with the teacher. Because of this many had to overcome shyness and others began to see that I am really on their side. This type of mature conversation is a skill that students need to learn. This was an unintended, but equally important outcome. 

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