Knowing my students and focusing on feedback

Getting to know my students

Three weeks in and I am feeling at home in my classroom. I have had one-on-one conversations with most of my students to find out about their expectations and concerns related to Science class. I asked students to provide me with a range of numeric report card grades that would make them feel successful at the end of the semester. I plan to use these ranges as a reference for me throughout the semester so that I can let students know if they are on track since they will not be getting grades on their assignments. 

I had a few difficult moments during these discussions. A handful of students (in grade 9 and 12) expressed concerns about being in the 'right place,' in some cases questioning whether they were 'smart enough' to be there. I asked questions to find out the reasons for their concerns, and tried to push back as much as possible without discounting their concerns completely. I always struggle a bit with this early in the semester, when we have yet to develop the kind of trusting relationship that is necessary to effectively tackle important issues. The best I could do was to assure them that they were in the right place.

There were some lovely highlights in these conversations, too; one of my grade 9 students, when asked what their goals were for their final mark, told me that they thought marks were pretty meaningless and that they would feel successful if they had learned new ideas and skills. Imagine the grin on my face. :) 

Finishing up our first 'no grades' unit in 12U Chemistry

Considering the fact that the students' grades are extremely important this year for admission to post-secondary, there have not been any issues related to the fact that I haven't yet given them any numeric feedback. The two remaining pieces of evidence of their achievement in this unit will be the unit test (fairly traditional!) and their lab notebooks. The lab notebooks are a record of their process during our electroplating lab last week. (Students had three class periods to research, plan, and perform an experiment and used the notebooks to record their thinking, observations, and results.) Evidence from observations and conversations (Wed-Fri last week) will be used along with the lab notebook to assess their ability to apply their electrochemistry understanding in this new context. 
On test day, I plan to give students a template they can use to self-assess their progress in electrochemistry. We will use this in conjunction with my notes to come up with a numeric grade for this unit of study. Students will also be made aware that they have a chance to improve this electrochemistry 'grade' between now and the end of the semester. I'll share examples of the templates next week. On a personal note, I need to figure out a better way of tracking assessment during observation/conversation. I'll share something in a blog when I find what works for me.

Here are some of my tweets from this week...

The daily grind

Although my return to the classroom has been pretty smooth in most respects, I have been struggling with the number of interruptions to my classes these first three weeks. In the first 14 days of class with my homeroom grade 9s, I lost 4 full periods to assemblies, evacuation drills, guidance appointments, and picture day. Losing 4 out of 14 classes has been difficult for me as we try to develop classroom routines and find some 'academic momentum.' I don't intend this to be a complaint, but rather an acknowledgement of a common barrier teachers face in their classrooms. Each individual interruption is important, but having so many in quick succession is something I think schools should do their best to avoid. I'm looking forward to a much quieter week this week!


  1. Hi Amy,
    Those individual conversations are so important, especially early on and especially about assessment. Do you think your students expectations about their achievement in Science were too high, too low or pretty accurate? I wonder how their expectations of what they are capable of doing will change after spending more time in your class? :) Interested to see what you come up with to track the conversations and observations.

    1. Interesting questions, Pat. At this point, if all of the students are successful in achieving the goals they have set for themselves my class average is going to be 'above average.' Does that mean their expectations are too high? Is there any such thing? It's an interesting question; perhaps the conversations with students are important because they know themselves better than we can know them. I am more aware of my limitations than others might be.

      Will their expectations change over time? I think it will be important to give students some practice translating their learning into a grade. Perhaps after they have gone through the process once or twice they will adjust their expectations. This is new to all of us, but my prediction is that some will adjust their goals based on some early evidence.


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