As the school year approaches, my anxiety begins to take hold. Knowing there will be 125 or so new faces staring up at me, expecting me to inspire them keeps me awake at night. After 20 years of teaching, I would think this feeling would have diminished. But it hasn’t. So I spend my waking moments thinking about all of the ways I can make this year amazing for everyone who enters my classroom.
Despite my nerves (my wife is beginning to complain about my nightly tossing and turning), I know this year is going to be great. This summer’s TG2 Twitter chats have given me so many new ideas. I had the privilege to participate in and help coordinate seven chats led by many insightful educational innovators. From our inaugural chat discussing the WHY of a gradeless classroom to our most recent chat concerning going gradeless in an inclusive setting, it feels like my perspective on how to approach this year is miles from where I was in June. For this I am thankful to everyone who added their voice to #TG2Chat.
I’d like to take a moment and share some notable tweets from each of our chats:
Now’s the Time to Take the Plunge
I led the first #TG2Chat. During this fast-paced hour, we discussed the reasons to go gradeless. Gary Chu summed up as many of those reasons as possible within the 140-character limit:
Marian Dingle added how going gradeless allows us to put the focus squarely on learning.
Seeing the wide variety of rationales helped me solidify my own reasons for going gradeless.
Now’s the Time to Hit the Road
After the WHY, Arthur Chiaravalli led us in a discussion of the HOW. In this chat, we explored ways to communicate our gradeless vision and tools to facilitate its implementation.
Spanish teacher Alesia Behnke described her own vision for a gradeless Spanish class:
In addressing stakeholders’ legitimate concerns, Linda Keating suggested we spend time
In going gradeless, we always build upon what is best for the child. Communication is key in ensuring that everyone feels respected and valued.
Now’s the Time to Spark a Conversation
As we entered our third chat, we centered the discussion around feedback with the help of Becky Prebble and Paul Cancellieri, author of Creating a Culture of Feedback. During this chat, we discussed the importance of communicating with students about their progress. Where are they and how can they improve?
Tracey Tinley pointed out the central role of assessment in a gradeless class:
Meredith Townsend suggested that incorporating choice allows us to play to students’ strengths:
Now’s the Time for You to Shine
Next, we discussed student self-reflection through portfolios and journals. Jen Doucette and Adam Lester led the discussion on the importance of this metacognitive step. Several teachers shared ways of facilitating this process, using applications such as Seesaw and Google Suite. These tools allow students to easily curate their work and share it with parents and teachers.
Darren Birch asserted that reflection should be focused around success. How are students demonstrating growth?
And why do we have students reflect? EMPOWERMENT!
Now’s the Time to Pick Up STEAM and Now’s the Time to Save the Humanities
After these more general-interest chats, we took a more targeted look at the content areas. Gary Chu and Tish Mullen led our STEAM chat, which examined the finer points going gradeless in the content-rich environment of STEAM disciplines. Math, science, and art teachers shared how the approach helped them incorporate real-world tasks and authentic learning opportunities, giving students a glimpse into STEAM careers.
Mr. Steffer explained how a gradeless approach helps foster the skills and dispositions of STEAM:
Following the STEAM chat, we shifted to the humanities. Moderators Monte Syrie and author Patty McGee , author of Feedback that Moves Writers Forward, took English, social studies, and language teachers on a tour of what it means to go gradeless in the humanities. The discussion emphasized the feedback cycle and working across disciplines. Many teachers were looking to develop peer feedback in their classes.
Ryan Lester tweeted:
Knowing that feedback is the key to success, it seems that many TG2ers want to make sure their students are experts at the process.
Now’s the Time to Cultivate Culture
Mark Sonnemann and Scott Hazeu led us in a discussion on the importance of being intentional in creating class culture. Culture is essential when it comes to a gradeless learning environment because we no longer hold the threat of lowered grades. Instead, we tap into students’ interests, encouraging them to take risks and try new things without fear of repercussions.
Throughout the chat, the word RESPECT kept showing up. Mutual respect is essential when creating a culture that encourages learning.
Special Education Chat
I had the honor of co-moderating our most recent chat with author and educator Lee Ann Jung. Lee Ann drew on her wealth of expertise in special education, sharing resources and challenging perceptions about students with learning differences. The theme of this chat centered around broadening the scope of learning. All too often school can be a narrow pathway of “do it this way or else.” Many teachers emphasized the importance of focusing on essential standards and shared strategies. This allows teachers to differentiate, giving ALL students the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency.
Now’s the Time to Put It All Together
So, here I am at the end of my summer vacation, gearing up to start a new year. I feel prepared, yet I feel I need more. I’m looking for resources, apps, websites, lesson plans, and anything else that can make learning more accessible for me and my students.
For this reason, I ask you to come prepared to this Sunday’s chat with all your favorite resources for going gradeless. We’re hoping to make this last #TG2Chat of the summer a free for all. By sharing our best teacher tools and tips, we can prepare this community of educators to look forward to the coming school year and say, “Bring it on.”