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Before You Give Letter Grades, Please Ask Your Students

20 Jan

A great post reminding us of something that is important to think about BEFORE we get to grading time… These conversations about success criteria are powerful ones to have during the learning process. Why do we feel we need to leave talking with kids about assessment until the end of the semester when it’s almost ‘too late’ for them to work on the things we are reporting on? Student-led formative assessment supports students in developing self-assessment skills as well as helping them to see purpose in their class work as they work towards goals that they have personally identified. I think my own blog post on this might need to happen in the not too distant future.

Pernille Ripp

I have had a problem with letters grades for a few years now.  I used to write about it all of the time, and then stopped because I felt like all of the words had been written.  But now, I am back facing having to give letter grades for the semester as my district transitions from them to standards based grades.  All of those old thoughts of why letter grades say so little about a students knowledge, effort, and accomplishment have been hounding me throughout my days as the deadline for giving them nears.  But then I remembered; I need to ask the students what grades they should get.

It is rather simple process.  As a class we discuss what makes an “A?” What should a child be able to do in class and out of it to get that elusive top grade?  What does “A” thinking, writing, reading…

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Classroom Reveal

27 Jun

It has been SUCH a long time since I’ve posted anything.  I guess it just goes to show what a demanding, busy job teaching is.  I am having a lovely year with my beautiful little class and (especially now that reports have gone home) can’t wait to spend a fabulous term 3 with them… Term 3 is my favourite – no reports, great relationships and lots of fun!

I have a couple ideas for things that I would like to share with you during the holidays but in the meantime I would love to share with you some pics of my classroom.  It’s my favourite place in the world!

Below are some pics of what I started with…

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And here are some recent images 🙂

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Do you have pictures of your special space? I would love for you to head over to my facebook page and share them 🙂

It’s always great to be inspired by other peoples classrooms!

Kath Murdoch on: Planning for inquiry (reblog)

26 Jun

A wonderful blog post by Kath Murdoch dealing with a subject close to my heart – collaboration and planning within the context of an inquiry approach to teaching. Yes, we are student lead and cannot expect to stick rigidly to a plan BUT quality inquiry teaching – where we as teachers are challenged and sharpened by one another – requires that we take the time to plan, reflect and question with one another.


It’s mid-year planning season in many Australian schools. Each term, around this time, I  find myself more often working with small teams of teachers around a planning table rather than in a classroom or at a podium. I admit, it’s one of my favourite things to do. I love the creative energy that inquiry planning demands of us. I love the challenge of connecting the children’s questions and interests with the resources we have, the curriculum and the teacher’s bigger picture view of where he/she wants to taker her students. I also love the fact that, in the schools I am fortunate enough to work in, teachers are prepared to have real conversations about the concepts the children will be exploring. We take time to ask ourselves what WE understand…over the last week I have had fascinating conversations about the nature of ‘work’, the true meaning of sustainability, what the…

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A Joyful Day – Back to School

4 Feb

How would I describe today? JOYFUL!

Well, the words that I started the day with were NERVOUS EXCITEMENT but 5 minutes into having my beautiful class in our room the word was JOYFUL.

I regret that I didn’t do a first day reflection post last year so I have decided to do a quick brain dump for future posterity.

When you receive your class list, they are students that you learn about and make name tags for but when you call their names in assembly and see their smiling faces ready to go and they become ‘yours’.  There is something magical about students walking through the door of their new classroom with their parents – eyes lighting up when they see their name tags and activities to begin the day.

A school tour (even in the freezing winds) was a wonderful way to have a bit of an adventure, give new students with important information and practice working as a team to move quickly and quietly around the school.

A game that I love to begin the year with is “Find someone who…”.  Not only is this a great get-to-know-you activity but it also provides an opportunity for me to suss out students literacy skills, reading and writing.  There is no pressure on students to get things ‘right’ and they just loved interviewing one another.  It was a beautiful chance for my older students to take the younger kids under their wing – helping with spelling and finding people to interview.

We finished the day by brainstorming what we would like the year to look like – things we would like to learn, things that will help our classroom run smoothly and words that we use to describe what our class should be.  I just adore hearing students’ ideas and feeling their growing sense of one-ness.  This is such an exciting conversation to have; knowing that these expectations, expressed by the students, are what will support them in doing their best and being successful in their learning.  The team vibe grew so quickly today and I just cannot wait to nurture it as we create a supportive classroom community.

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So, I am buzzing after a day of laughter, friendship forming and pleasant surprises.  Future self – please remember this day…in all of the nerves, sleepless nights and restless anticipation – remember that meeting your new class is joyful (and exhausting). I love how my dear teaching friend describes it: “It’s like Christmas for teachers; you are given 20 presents to look after for the year”.

PART 2: Why I say No to rewards

1 Feb

My post, Why I say No to Rewards generated some questions from my readers (YAY!) so I thought it was worth while posting a Part 2 to explain some points in further detail.  This is a tricky thing to explain well (if only we could all just visit each other’s classrooms to get a true sense of what is going on) but I will do my best and please remember this all depends very much on  your teaching style, classroom culture and individual students in your class.


Did your class ever ask why the other classes were getting rewards and they weren’t?

My class last year never seemed to notice that we didn’t do rewards.  I never made a big deal about it and there was never a ‘we don’t do rewards in this class’ speech so I suppose it didn’t occur to them to wonder about it.  Even after having relief teachers who did use rewards, students didn’t ask why things were different.  Maybe in a context where the whole school approach had a heavier focus on rewards it would be more difficult to do things against the grain.

How do you handle negative behaviour in a class like this?
  • I praise behaviour which meets our class expectations explicitly and often, including details about why that behaviour is helping to support our positive environment
  • I give regular whole class reminders (their first “warning”) about expectations relating to specific kinds of activities (ie. whole class floor time, small group work, independent activity, combined 1/2 events etc)
  • A second warning (a reminder of expectations) is given if necessary and this is often combined with asking the student to move to a place where they believe they can successfully meet expectations
  • When a third warning is given, the student is placed in another classroom or away from the class to finish their work and consider how they can meet the class expectations when they return
  • If an issue occurs on the playground or is dealt with by another teacher we sit as a class and use circle time to help us to problem solve and find alternative strategies for dealing with such issues and ways that we can support others to meet these expectations
  • I also put in place strategies for individual students if necessary, these include social stories, successful behaviour photos on their desks and spending time with students to discuss their behaviour and ways that they can restore the supportive environment

Do you give out stickers and stamps when marking student’s work?

I do use stickers and stamps to indicate when students have produced high quality work – this is usually in conference with the student; discussing with me how they know they have met our success criteria and what they could do to improve their work in the future.  This relates to individual goals set for the student and the aspects of our success criteria that they have been focusing on – so their work may have spelling mistakes but if our focus is on punctuation and the student has correctly used punctuation, they have achieved quality work.  I also use a strategy that a wonderful teacher shared with me (Thanks AH): I write a strength of the students work (this is very specific and targeted towards our class focus as well as individual learning goals) and then an area for development.  I workshop the area for development with the student – having them share with me what they believe to be the area that they could improve upon.  At times I also give students a few star stickers to use independently to mark their own quality work – self assessing against the success criteria and their understanding of their own learning goals.  The use of explicit success criteria, formed as a whole class, support students in reflecting on their work in a constructive way.

Final Thoughts

Having just completed my first year of teaching I have only had one opportunity to put into practice my thinking in this area.  I look forward to beginning a new year, with new students and new challenges from which many new questions will arise for me.  Whilst I do feel determined to stick to my beliefs about nurturing resilience, thoughtfulness and intrinsic motivation I am still learning how I can do this best and how I can be flexible in how I cater for the children in this class who do not find this environment as supportive.

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