Day 10 (of 186) Letter Grade comeback? (ugh) article from @washingtonpost and thanks to @rickwormeli2 & @tguskey

Day 10 (of 186) Letter Grade comeback? (ugh)



“I’m glad that it went back,” said Jennifer Wood, PTA president at Twinbrook Elementary. “I grew up with an A, B, C, D system, and I think probably most of the teachers did. It makes it an easier process to communicate.”



This line came from an article via the Washington Post:



But letter grades were not meant to be descriptive ways to report on achievement – but rather meant to report out on a “snapshot of time” – originally stolen from the Meat Industry – the rankings of ABCDF were meant to reflect how students achieved based on completion of common tests…..becasue that is how meat is measured – common appearances of similar types of cuts of meat allow for a Ranking of quality…..for that date – and there is an expiration date attached to that (28 days for many types) and while they can be thrown into the freezer…..things change over time…..but a mark on a report card seems to ‘last’ longer….


If Fresher Meat is a goal, should’t Fresher Assessment be more meaningful? And don’t we think that something better than a meat ranking should be used to describe our learners? (Yes I have particular bias)



Just because letter grades are more comfortable because they were what was being used by previous generations , does not mean they are effective  – there is so much discussion and debates that rage in staterooms, parking lots and homes:

C+ is the new F – I still remember when (the last time) I solely used letter grades and a child worked very hard to get a C+ on math (overcoming math anxiety) and her father was wanting an immediate intervention because any grade below a B was “at-risk” for not graduating.



The case for letter grades? To create a rank/order (aka percentile rank) to compare students on common tasks. This was appropriate when the focus was the exploratory/industrial mindset that needed a number of workers to know and replicate a specific set of tasks – f’r instance when the British Empire was conducting affairs around the world which then led into the industrial revolution – learn a task, perform it well. Reading Writing and a bit of Math (with some history and scientific studies for the elite)



But the world has moved on.



We can and should be personalizing education more and more (as uncomfortable as it sounds: a class full of IEPs) which means the overarching ranking of students cannot and should not be done on equivalent tasks. By minimizing the authentic learning that takes place, the reward is more on schema than it is on gaining knowledge.



Letter grades devalue the work learners due. %s are untrustworthy. The article refers to the wideness of Ps (Proficient) but the “B” in most jurisdictions ranges from 73 to 86 percentile points (13% of what’s available) C+/C/C- is worth 23% of what can be earned – and of course an F is at least 50% of what a student may accomplish (not including the warning around including distractions like attendance, behaviour, work habits into the mix <— for more look to The Grade Doctor Ken O’Connor   who has a 4th edition of his How To Grade For Learning coming out in October).



Performance Standards allow students to identify how they are doing and where they can focus their attention for “next steps” – my own bias is to focus even more so on ongoing Descriptive Feedback Loops that provide descriptive language about what is going well, an area to focus on and what the next steps are to be more successful. Think of it like a coach – if all you received was numbers based on an activity, the motiviation changes from getting “better” to just dealing with that damned number.



So why revert back to letter grades? It’s what’s been done and when implementing change (and going through the implementation dip) there is a sense of comfort to return to what was done (even if it wasn’t that good) because of familiarity…..thank goodness we haven’t taken similar approaches with how “discipline” has been measured out.




With letter grades, usual responses include “work harder” or “work smarter not harder” or “study more”. They create a token economy: will this count for grades? Can I earn bonus marks to increase my % for a higher score? And I confess my bias comes from being read articles my father was collecting in his journal while I was still in the womb:

Can we stop the Merry-Go-Round of Grades? By Bea Bates who points out: “Grades are the symbols of failure – the proof that they can do nothing well – to a number of students.  The high school sophomore who drops out of school has learned he cannot learn – he has the grades to prove it.”

Report Cards Belong To The Stone Age by Sister M. Robertann Lathrop talked about how “Report cards are judicial not diagnostic” and makes a lot of points raised by others (Mr O’Connor) about the issues connected with averaging percentages – especially if you use any 0s…!



The debate is not new. We have 50+ years of educators making attempts to change and move away from Report Cards. It hurts to see jurisdictions “go back to letter grades” when the shift is just starting to heat up and gain momentum – and learn more and improve along the way – a lot faster than the search for a ‘better report card’ – something that like the ‘better mouse trap’ is a fools errand. As I still refer to for my own reflection:

I’m glad the Washington Press had educators like Rick Wormeli @rickwormeli2 and Thomas Guskey @tguskey <–both educators who inspire me and regularly appear on #SBLchat wednesdays at 6pm where the discussion is around Standards Based Learning and a common complaint is how to make this approach “fit” into a report card (my opinion – the report card was not meant for this, so it can’t and shouldn’t).



Letter grades…..? Ugh.



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Day 9 (of 186) still looking at eportfolio systems @freshgrade @my_blueprint

Day 9 (of 186) still looking at eportfolio systems @freshgrade @my_blueprint

I still believe that the biggest shift to occur in education is a broader acceptance that letter grades & %s are not as clear as we want them to be when it comes to providing feedback to Learners.

Sadly, I can provide a pretty accurate report card based on some socio- information (economics & family mostly) but I can’t estimate/create authentic samples of student work with descriptive feedback attached to them to indicate 

A) what they did well

B) what they need to work on (limited/focused scope)

C) next steps 

I know that while my oldest daughters %s on her class task achievement/completion will give some info to the engineering programs she is applying for, the 3D car she created and rendered shows a lot more about who she is as a learner. Likewise the patience and dedication my youngest daughter can’t be seen on a report card, but the visuals of her constant improvement over time show what she can do as a learner. And if you ask my son to complete a worksheet, you’d likely have 0 to put into a gradebook, but engage him in a conversation……

So I was happy to see how many educators came to see a webinar about myblueprint – a portfolio process focused on career planning but may blend people’s thinking into other subject areas. It has some nice options to help students see what courses that they are enrolled in and what universities require to help students achieve the credentials needed for their dream job. (Though I found it interesting that there was a section on “learning styles” at the a couple of days after I read an article questioning them:

I love it when other people start to see value in efolios as I believe it is a key tool to unlock the power of descriptive-feedback-loops over right vs wrong = % approaches. I’m not hired to promote any particular efolio platform, but having spent many years exploring this topic, I do have my biases…!

There are some interesting efolio programs to explore (I started by having my students use PowerPoint -before keynote was around😜) including @seesaw from San Francisco and @quippedinc from Winnipeg and now @my_blueprint

Though my personal bias remains using @freshgrade – and I’m looking forward to loading my classroom community to ongoing feedback via efolios with FreshGrade this next week (prior to our Open House on #T(ec)hursday) and why? Well, I think I said it best in an earlier blog that is shared on the FreshGrade site:

Want to improve your formative assessment practice? Let go of report cards and embrace the power of efolios! Which was a happy share I made when our staff debriefed on our morning sessions and a few on staff shared that they were wanting hints on how to archive the previous years iPads to be ready to use them to archive the current years learnings! Viva la eLearning revolution!

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Day 8 (of 186) #T(ec)hursday

Day 8 (of 186) #T(ec)hursday



I have long been an advocate for “technologization” – the blending of technology and curriculum to enhance the Learning that occurs within learning communities. Finally today I found the right name for it (after listening to great ideas around Wonder/Walking Wednesdays, Freaky Fun Fridays etc) #T(tec)hursday – and it got my students thinking….especially since most of their ‘natural habits’ when they go to the computer lab is ‘free time games’.  I prefer some “guided free time” having used Friday Math Games as an approach to reinforce basic skills for over a decade……



But I want my learners to embrace a “coding state of mind”. This isn’t always easy – because it can feel scary. “Coding” often makes people think of people spending hours in dark rooms (aka basements) while making games. And true enough that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did exactly that to make games like Breakout on their way to starting the Apple Universe – learning that the ‘smaller’ the code, the more money/space saved…. in fact, I used this same approach when I took a ‘detour’ (before my class started some coding stations) and took a new tool: Primo Cubeletto to a Grade One class.


I’ve made a quickstart guide to get tech-nervous teachers started – Primo QuickStart Guide  – with the Cubetto


Image result for primo cubetto


What I liked about this tool is that:

a) it is focused on story – with an emphasis on touching Cubetto (Cubey) before starting off

b) there are a variety of stories (and story mats) for students to explore with

c) it really feels like the old LOGO Turtle (in fact in “Cubettos First Day At School” its teacher is Mr Turtle!



It allowed me to take the students on a journey where we could group-code a path for Cubey to take (to go the castle, to avoid water etc) and when we made a mistake (right or left turn) it was easy to swap out the command button and restart.


d) it also allows me to think about the idea of “shorter code” (used by Steve & Steve) by introducing “subroutines” <– and similar to what we know about numeracy, when we introduce the ‘right’ vocabulary, meaning is understood and not ambiguous (such as greater/lesser than vs “alligator faces”) and “works” for learners of all ages!




Then we got to explore some coding stations – I wasn’t able to get all of my “favourite” centers yet (esp Lego Architecture), but we also had some new ones to explore:


  1. Cubelets: Cubelets QuickStart Guide
  2. Puzzle (design your own puzzle to cut out)
  3. Sensory Station (I have a bin with kinetic sand, lego, etc for students to explore for future use)
  4. Laptop – an iBook (still working!) with a look at an old nanosaur game
  5. Keva Blocks – always amazing to use for design thinking and building
  6. Laptop 2 – an old MacBook Pro to explore Minecraft
  7. Primo (see above – I did the story intro early in the day)
  8. Soduko (with some of these paper-tasks, I have them slipped into plastic covers to use & reuse with erasable markers
  9. Ozobots: Ozobots QuickStart Guide (we are going to use these more in the next week!)
  10. Laptop 3 – another old MacBook Pro to explore Garageband (which I think works better on iPad now, but I don’t have an iPad for my class…..yet….)
  11. Secret Code (try to solve a code)
  12. Sphero SPRK – one of my favourites as it starts as a remote control unit, but scaffolds into coding language to make the droid do tasks)
  13. Arithmagons (another dry-erase activity)
  14. Parrot Drone: Parrot Quickstart Guide
  15. BB8: another robot favourite!
  16. Graffiti – an old white board to have students draw/write and then others either add to it or destroy it (getting into the collaborative part of coding where others work on top of or delete what you had already done)
  17. Boggle: looking for words within a grid


With a smaller class, I’m looking forward over the next few weeks to explore how I might be able to implement some badging/gamification into this to help students explore deeper so that they can “level up”!


Looking forward to what the next #T(ec)hursday will look like…’s an open house, so maybe an open invitation to bring some tech from home…..wii golf anyone?



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Day 7 (of 186) inclusion means all : aka what would @tweetsomemoore do?

Day 7 (of 186) inclusion means all

Had a neat conversation about the needs for “a” student. He needs ‘breaks’ but doesn’t like attention focus on him when he is “the only one to do something”. 
But I respond pretty consistently- if it is something that benefits “a” student, likely it will benefit “all”. So if everyone can ask (or be told to) for a “break” then it is normalized.  
As such, strategy use is an important concept for true inclusion

And then it happened. 
While doing a “boring” map activity using colours to identify different countries – one student identified as colourblind. Suddenly even though “map colouring” has been tried and true (my focus is for understanding how to build ‘legends’ and to know the names of our geographical neighbors) it suddenly disqualified someone. 
We foused doesn’t on using textures (*s +s /s etc) for some maps and the using maps as the legend around a map with lines going to the specific countries.  We are having a few troubles making the change, but at least we don’t have students ripping up papers in frustration because some colours look the same…..

Now to do some prethinking for our T(ec)hursday that has Ozobots as a station – robots that code using……colours. 

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Day 6 (of 186) based on a true-tech story

Day 6 (of 186) based on a true-tech story

I used to say, if you ask a question and google can answer it, it may not be the best question for Learning…..I may be expanding my list of tools (and yes, homework in grade two…ugh)

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Day 5 (of 186) free play thanks to reminders via @edutopia

Day 5 (of 186) free play thanks to reminders via @edutopia



I had an “observer” as I was working with a new class in the gym. I was re-testing my theory around “free choice” in gym and elements needed along the way to get to “deep play”… the same time that @edutopia had an article about similar ideation via “hour long recess”



I first tried this a couple of years ago: specifically:


Why have I enjoyed “deep/free play”?

It has shown me:

How learners interact with each other

How they deal with delayed gratification (big crash mat will come out “later”

How learners deal with having to make choices for themselves (unguided play)

That not everything has to be structured (and for those who really need structure, this is a good opportunity to “try” something different and without structure)



The bigger goal: to reach “deep play” by breaking past the first 15 minutes of “this is fun” to minutes 15-30 where most conflicts will escalate

And here is where we often enter a “zone of frustration” because “the kids aren’t playing….they’re arguing…..they’re bored….etc…etc….etc (and because so much of our world is structured, this is an expectation that this amount of without being told what to do is “unfamiliar”)


Push past the 45 minute mark where many learners expect a lesson/activity to end and the “with no clear end-point” (bell etc) reach a place where things are just “fun” (and at the same point when I break out my Learning Outcomes I can see every one being used at some point of the day!).



It was also nice to hear some of the observers comments about: how interesting it is to see how students organize themselves – and I added how it’s also helpful (especially after a weekend) to a) identify students who may be struggling with “stuff” and b) do some check-ins without it being public or ‘a big deal’.


But then again, I’m also one of the fans of having hats/hoodies in class, because nothing tells you a students demeanour like a hat pulled down with a hoodie pulled tight! Physical Literacy is just a different way of getting to a similar end – while also promoting some freedom-of-choice (and older kids always seem to love the scooters and parachutes that get put away after primary…….)


The edutopia article (above)  and this one from @theatlantic have been both inspirational and reaffirming in doing some PE/Gym activities a tad different…..

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Day 4 (of 186) the secret successes

Day 4 (of 186) the secret successes

My son came home not happy about his Japanese class. Unhappy because he wasn’t able to go for a walk because he might miss something. And he had to stay in the classroom for the whole 80 minutes. 
My wife and I agreed that we would be happy to talk to the teacher (as would his LRT advocate) for the purpose of his “walks”. But we misunderstood. 
He didn’t leave the classroom because he was worried about what HE would miss if he left the class. And that was a stressor. 
So, as per Anxiety world, we acknowledged that this must have been challenging, but he did it and didn’t die. (Reminder from my rant that “death” is always an option – albeit worst case, still a viable option – to any decisions and actions. Always tough to find “right responses”. 

Because inclusivity isn’t easy. I have a boy in my class who hasn’t been in my class yet. But I’m ready and willing when he is – because that’s what inclusivity needs to have – a growth/open mindset –> which includes knowing that students may be entering zones of discomfort because it’s in those proximinal zones where the deepest learning occurs!

It’s those successes that don’t seem all that much of a big deal that are the secret successes all of us grow from!

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