Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Releasing My Seniors from Grades

My seniors created their own semester long project constructing their own definition of a hero through studying the works of Oedipus Rex (tragic hero-Greek), Beowulf (epic hero), Canterbury Tales, and Hamlet (Shakespearean tragic hero) as well as connecting to our in class discussions of modern day heroes. These are group projects which will be presented as their class final.

We discussed some ideas together one day in class about different ways they could demonstrate their understandings of heroes. I shared with them some projects I had come across regarding creative ways to construct a definition. One was as sample Oxford English Dictionary Definition my friend and colleague Lauren Gaffney created. Another was a Time Magazine article of the future looking at heroes (Gaffney created this as well- what can I say, she has great creative assessments so I keep stealing them from her). I showed my classes these two assignments but clarified for themas well that I wanted this to be their project. After taking the better part of two classes (different weeks) we came to the following criteria:

Final Project: What is a hero?

  • Multi-media
  • -- Photo story, movie maker…
  • Group project
    -- 4-5 maximum
    -- Everyone participates significantly-veto power
  • Individual reflection of contributions
    -- Self reflection
    -- Peer evaluation
  • Modern examples
  • OED Definition as a part
    -- Portfolio
    -- Document comprising all work
    -- Include OED written definition
    -- Overview summing up all ideas into one
    -- Organized
    -- Creative
  • 10 minute presentation
    -- Clear and smooth transitions
    -- Organized
    -- Answers essential question
    -- Goes beyond the expectations
  • Synthesize all text covered in semester
  • Personal commentary
    -- React to what you have learned about a hero
    -- Give feedback through modern day heroes
    -- React to the evolution of the hero

    Point Value:
    No grade-intrinsic motivation
Hopefully, after looking over the criteria you noticed this final point (no pun intended):
Point Value:
No grade-intrinsic motivation
This was the decision the class agreed upon after much deliberation. We talked about the seriousness of an agreement like this and the trust that takes place between the teacher and student as well as the students working together. What would happen if members of your group weren't taking the assignment seriously? What would happen if members of your group weren't completing the project? What would happen if group's fall short of the expectations of the assignment? If groups don't show any work at all? I really felt like we talked through a lot of the pitfalls that could come from releasing the control of this project by getting a grade to completing this project to demonstrate learning. This is a project they created so if research is correct, they shouldn't need to receive a grade on it because they will be intrinsically motivated to succeed. Right?

My reaction to all of this is two-fold. On one side, I am excited of the possibility. How could I not be? Here are students taking their learning in their own hands. YES! They are using real world skills of collaboration, critical thinking, synthesis of information, to demonstrate their own understanding of information as well as relating it to the real world. On the other side,I am scared. How could I let them not be graded especially on something as important as a semester final. What are my colleagues going to say? What is my principal going to say? I feel like instead of letting them down I am raising the bar, but will they see that?

But I have hope. I believe in them. Why? Read their comments after we created the project. Here are a couple:

Brooks K...
Guys, it is our duty as responsible students to take a leading initiative and care enough about our scholastic achievement that we excel beyond standards despite receiving a grade or not. I have found that when grades are less applied to study habits and to my work ethic, I succeed. When I go into class not for a grade but to actually learn and take away something valuable, my mentality is always in the right place and I know I have structured myself with full potential to learn.

Kyle B...
I think that all the fuss that this style of evaluation has created is based upon the fact that, ever since middle school, we have strived for personal gratification through good grades. This is all we have known and, by not receiving a grade on an assignment that would normally comprise a sizable portion of our grades has upset the pattern that we have known and accepted for the past 7 years of our education. We are all members of an exceptional class and none of us would wish to abuse this opportunity that Mrs. Smith has given us, an opportunity to succeed and exceed expectations solely for the knowledge of success.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the project. I am planning on giving them some tools like Google Docs to organize their projects as well as some in class time to meet and discuss with the group where they are going.


Samantha E said...

I feel like this might work and it might not. Honestly I don't really like the idea all that much. For this project everyone (the whole class) needs to be interested in what we are studying and doing this project. If this class was everyone's favorite class then it would work wonders... however... it may not be. English Literature is not something I feel I will peruse further study in in the future nor is it something that I chose to read on my spare time. For me motivation may be required, of course I will do the project no matter what and I will not let my group down. If it was my choice I would chose to have a point system.

samt said...

I think that this is an awesome idea. I agree very much with Brookes. I think a lot of it is also to do with what Kyle has said. Personally, I think that we are just are too skeptical on what is going to happen with this. While we were talking in class, everyone kept saying, "I don't think it's going to work because only some of us are motivated enough to do it without a grade." I think that statement is absolute bologna. I think that the people who said that, are talking about themselves and just want a buffer just in case they have to cram it in the last night. C'mon guys, challenge yourselves, let's do this. We would be one of the first classes to do this and I think we need to just forget about the what if and just do what you know needs to be done. Don't doubt what you can do in school, make a difference now because this may be only one chance you get to change and improve your learning. Is that not what school is about? Let's learn, let's see how this works, let's step outside of what the grading system tells us. I say it is almost necessary for some of us to step out and follow through with this because some of us need to step out of our comfort zone. We are in a revolution today in school with the way teachers are teaching and the way we are learning as students. Let's embrace this and take it to its full potential.

StevenD said...

I don't know how I feel about this. I like the fact that it is not a grade, but rather an assesment of our education. I agree with Samantha when she says that everyone must be interested. Just because I find the literature very interesting and motivating, that doesn't mean that my peers will. Sam T. brings up many great points and ideas, leaving me thinking that we should give this a shot and go for it. I love the fact that you trust us enough to experiment and leave such a large one at that in our hands. That alone should motivate everyone, and if they are not motivated, you hold ultimate veto power anyways. In the words of Mr. Tidwell himself, "Let's embrace this and take it to its full potential."

alliem said...

I agree with Samantha very much on this issue. I am sure that there are people in our class that are not specifically interested in English Lit. For students who aren't exactly passionate about Oedipus, Beowulf, or Hamlet grades can be a great motivation to work hard despite that. I know our class is very motivated and will not let down Ms. Smith with poor projects. Work quality is not an issue.However, our school and part of college admittance is based on a point system, therfor I would like to receive points for the work I know I will put in. It would be different if grades did not exist the entire semester, but they do. Since the final is supposed to be cumulative of our work for the semester, it should be worth points just as all our assignments were.

lgaffney said...

What a great idea, Anne. I am proud of you for challenging the system and having enough faith in your students that you are willing to say, "I know you will do this because this is what will help you learn". When we operate on a reward/ punishment system, no matter how many times we say "it's not about the grade", it still is. I hope your students recognize what a huge compliment this is to them.

Jackie.d said...

I love the idea of making us learn for our own benenfit, rather than for the reward of a grade. I read Mrs. Gaffney's post, and I definately realize that this is a huge compliment to us, by placing so much responsibility on us. The only thing that I am worried about is those students who may blow off the final, but I have confidence in the students in my class, and know that they should excel the expectations placed on them. I think through this experiment, we can really change the way that teachers teach, and start up a change in the grading process. The final project definately exites me. It will be challenging, but I blieve we can step up to the plate and make things happen.

ashleyb2008 said...

I do love the idea of being able to do a project and truly put your all into something with out the pressure of a grade, i dont believe that it is fair to put your very best into something and then a teacher coming to you only to say, "its ok, "c" average! talk about CRUSHING. but anyhow, no grade will give us the opportunity to prove ourselves to be more worthy than just a regular old A or B

adrianag said...

Wow. That sounds like a great idea. First of all, thank you, Mrs. Gaffney, for saying what I have always wanted to say. It drives me crazy when people tell me, "It's not about the grade." Everyone wishes we didn't have grades, but until now, I have never seen a teacher do anything to solve the problem.

I have to admit, when I have an assignment that is worth a lot of points, I often figure out what I need to do to get a good grade. A gradeless project would put a lot more emphasis on learning, and also allow for a little more freedom.

I do however, agree with alliem on the fact that grades still matter overall. Would a good semester final help a student who was between two letter grades? Still, it sounds like it will work. Somebody made a comment about "earning points." I agree that the project sounds like a lot of work, but I don't think we should expect to be rewarded with points for everything we do.

Good luck with this project. I'm pretty jealous. I wish I had a class like that.