My current school works on a trimester system. In fact, most of my classes (and all of my science classes) this year only meet for one trimester. For my grading practices, that has meant having to rethink some of the components that have been most successful for me in the past. I’ve definitely worked on the long game and figured out how to help students think about their learning and grades differently over the course of a full year, and these bite-sized courses have been a bigger challenge on the grading/learning/paradigm-shifting front.
For one thing, the one-trimester class means that students don’t go through multiple cycles of grading periods—they pressure is high for them to understand the system and make good use of it immediately. (For that reason, I’ve been experimenting with different variations on standards-based grading schemes in each of my classes during this middle trimester, and I hope to write more about those experiments here in a future post.)
In any case, the urgent piece remains—how to get students to understand how they can control and improve their grade quickly enough for them to really appreciate take advantage of the feedback and reassessments on offer. I consulted with our awesome learning specialist, Allison, and we devised a mini-conference approach (similar to what students might do in a writing class when working on papers).
What is a one-minute conference?
On a day when students were working problems in groups, I got them set up and then moved over to the other end of the room (the physics classroom has lab tables on one end, so the space is divided enough for some privacy in these short meetings). One at a time, students came over and had a super short meeting with me. We looked at which objectives they had mastered, what was available to improve, and talked through a plan for when they might meet with me or take extra quizzes. They left the meeting with a sheet containing all of that information (including their plan). I was able to talk to all 16 students in about 20 to 25 minutes, and the students seemed much calmer about the grading process and more ready to use the remaining time in the term when they left. Allison was even kind enough to visit my classes when I first tried this activity to help make sure the students working in groups kept going and used the time well. (What an amazing support! I’m so lucky to have such wonderful people working with me here.)
After the success of the meeting in my 10th grade classes during trimester 1, I’ve put it into wider use in this new term. I already had one meeting with my new section of 10th graders (before interim reports for students-of-concern came out so that they had time to position themselves where they wanted to be at the halfway mark). There are now three weeks left before our second set of final assessments, and I’m planning to roll out this mini-conference system to each of my classes.
For each conference, I create a check-in form and fill it out for each student in advance. That helps make the conversation quick and to-the-point, and it lets each student leave holding an organized way of thinking about how they are doing and where they can improve. I’ve just worked through my 10th grade physics sheets and my 9th grade geometry sheets, so I will share a sample of each one here.
My 9th grade math class is actually a year-long class, and my approach to grading is really similar to what I’ve done in the past for physics (not conjunctive, but pseudo-binary, most recent score counts, weekly-ish quizzes, and with the portfolio component that my seniors in Advanced Physics last year really liked).
My 10th grade physics class is one trimester on E&M topics (without having had mechanics). I’m grading this one in a more experimental-for-me way (bigger assessments (tests instead of quizzes); scores for each objective can be 5, 6, 8, or 10; best score counts; each objective has lots of detail to guide them about what I’m looking to see (not included on this form, but will be included on a future post); retakes of objectives happen in subsequent tests (at least 2 tests per unit) and outside of class by request). This post isn’t the place to say lots more about this system, but I wanted to at least give some context for the image.
Future Improvements, Questions, Etc
While I was writing this post, one of my math colleagues just asked me if I think this system will take away from kids using ActiveGrade—e.g. “I’ll just wait for Kelly to give me the sheet.” I suspect it won’t—the kids who use it will still use it, and the kids who don’t still won’t. I’ve seen 10th graders keeping their sheet up to date (updating it after subsequent assessments), but I suspect in general it is just a way to have a more personalized conversation and to make sure each student knows where they stand and how to get to a better standing place (if they want or need to do so).
I’d like to do these meetings more frequently in each class (maybe two or three times per trimester—the insanity of four preps, all of which are new-to-me (and some new to the school) has kept me from being more on top of this idea earlier in the term, but hopefully I can do a better job of it in the spring).
As per always, please feel free to borrow, modify, steal, improve, question, etc.