I am a Grade 8 middle school teacher in a K-12 school. My biggest challenge is that I have a distinctly different pedagogy from my high school counterparts.
For years I’ve been struggling with the notion of grading. It seems to only serve two purposes to me: reward/punishment, and ranking/sorting. Over time I’ve made baby steps towards change within my school. The first was to eliminate final exams in middle school (though not Grade 6 PAT’s of course). The second was to eliminate our percentage based grading system and follow a different model. I understood that elimination of all grading wasn’t going to be possible but I saw this as a step forward.
Now I’m moving forward with the final stage of implementing my true pedagogy, elimination of testing and formalized grading (with the understanding I still need to do report cards).
- I can assess without “grading”
- Students should be able to argue for the mark they think they’ve earned
- It is possible to show learning in a variety of ways, not just with tests
- That if we are preparing students for tests, we are not preparing them for life
- Student engagement increases exponentially when you present them with projects that ask question they feel are worth answering
- Critical thinking challenges students far more than a multiple choice question
- I am paid to teach students to think, not to “cover” curriculum. I teach thinking through curriculum.
What I have been told by high school teachers:
- My students are not prepared for the realities of high school
- That it’s my fault when they get an actual grade and are devastated because that’s not what they thought they would get
- That they have no understanding that a 45% is a bad thing
- They are stressed when it comes to tests because they didn’t write any major exams in Grade 8
- They have unrealistic expectations about how they will do academically because high school is about tests and exams – not about projects.
I find it depressing that another high school teacher has told me that in the end, it doesn’t really matter what I teach them. I have to make sure they can sit still, take notes, be quiet, not interrupt with questions and just learn what “is going to be on the diploma.”
I’m on the front lines. One administrator supports me, one doesn’t. One high school teacher is interested in my thoughts but shrugs and says he can never do it because he has to make sure his students do well on diploma exams. He stands with the rest of the high school when he says it’s our duty to make sure these kids are ready for high school diploma exams since that is what “sets them up in life”.
I’ve been told that if I don’t give final exams they will not be prepared for the pressures of Grade 9 PAT’s and therefore will suffer in their marks. If I don’t give grades I’m doing my students an injustice because they will be shocked when they get to high school about where they truly stand. They will experience frustration, disappointment, and may be more likely to drop out (seriously, someone really told me that). Parents will be furious because they will find out for the first time their children are not actually the “good” students they thought they were in middle school.
I, however, am prepared to fight the battle. Twitter has connected me with other like- minded teachers, such as Joe Bower, and other professional education authors such as Alfie Kohn and Diane Ravitch. I may be an island within my school, but I am not alone in the profession.
Someone on twitter once told me that I am successful in life now because I knew how to take exams in high school and university. Well, if my Math Diploma mark, or the D+ I got on my first year philosophy course, or the C- I got in my introductory chemisty course are examples of the grades I had, then they had little to do with the success I am experiencing now.
What I struggle with now is how to fight within a system that has teachers and parents so entrenched in the idea that the grade on the report card determines everything. I got a 56% on my Math 30 diploma exam despite the fact that I had an 89% walking into that exam.
A grade does not determine who you are or what you are capable of.
Nor should it.