Learn Like a Pirate:Chapter 4

4. Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus

Welcome back to Chapter 4 of Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. How many times a day do you hear your students ask, “Are you grading this?” Or “What’s my grade on this?” Not only do I hear that from my students, but also from my students’ parents. It seems that all that is really important in our society is testing and grading. Just look at the importance put on standardized testing. I think giving the kids a grade, or test score is beaten into us. It’s so bad, that our new evaluation system, I’m in New York City, is based on two different components. The first being standardized tests (50%) and the second component being observations.

So, I was excited to read chapter 4: Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus. As I read this chapter, I couldn’t help but scream in my head, “YES!! This is exactly how it should be!” I try so hard to do activities or projects during the year that do not get graded but the students and the parents have difficulty processing that the work is not being graded.

Mr. Solarz explains that we should really focus on improvement. YES, YES, Yes! We need to give students immediate feedback and let them know how to improve their work. This is how the students really learn. The student’s learning does not continue once they get a grade, instead the students just stop thinking about the content was graded.

Even though I have to grade my students, I try to still give my kiddos the opportunity to revise their work. In my school, we have to grade the students and give glows (strengths), grows (weaknesses), and next steps. I give my students the opportunity to revise their work and improve. Some of my students take the opportunity, but others do not.

Giving students constant feedback is very important. As the students work, I try to circulate and listen in to what is happening. If the students are lost, I try to coach into the activity and give thought provoking questions. We also work on learning how to give feedback to our peers.

In class, we work on many partner or group projects. One activity we work on is Math Exlemplars. Students are paired up based on the math strategy used. I know that this chapter is about not grading students, but I do give my students a rubric (with grades.) This is a 3 day process and gives the students time to reflect on their work, on the work of others, and to go back and revise their work. Students get feedback from me and the other students in the class. You can read about math exlemplars here

I also agreed with Mr. Solarz when he wrote about improving results and retention. In this part of the chapter, Mr. Solarz mentions rigor. We joke in my school about rigor being a curse word. It seems that rigor is the new buzz word, but no one (meaning my administration) can actually show us what rigor is. I love how Mr. Solarz talks about how he does NOT plan rigorous lessons. That he provides the opportunities to find rigor in everyday work. I think this is genious! 🙂
I am always telling my students, “What’s hard for one person, might be easy for someone else.” I love the idea of students looking back and reflecting on portfolios to help improve their work and their retention. Reflecting is very important because it gives the students the chance to really think about their work and what their strengths and weaknesses are in that piece of work. Portfolios are also important because they show growth over time. By using a portfolio, students can see the progress they have made throughout the year.

Thanks for stopping by. I can’t wait to share chapter 5 with you next week.

Rachel