Doing What We Want Our Students to Do: Being Vulnerable and Willing to Fail to Improve the Quality of Learning

English teacher Denise Earles from Madison Public Schools, CT is part of an innovation project to experiment with standards based grading in a traditional school system.
Kevin Siedlecki is in his 8th year as an English teacher at Daniel Hand High School. He also coaches freshman boys football and varsity girls lacrosse.

School is stressful, and once students have figured out the game of school, they can be understandably resistant to change. They have been taught since kindergarten to work for the best grade they can so they get into college. The result is that most value their grades more than their growth or learning experience. We wanted to redirect the focus back on learning rather than scoring. However, any major change in grading practices requires a massive re-education effort.

Over two years of creating and implementing a student-driven, standards-based classroom experience, we had a lot of missteps. When we threw out everything we used to do around assigning and assessing work, we knew our structure would not be perfect the first time. Or the second, third, or fourth time. We know it’s not perfect now. But it’s better than it was the first time, and it’s far better than what we were doing before the change. We can only succeed if we clearly communicate with our students and parents at the start what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

The following slide deck is a window into what we will be sharing with students on the first day of school and for parents a week later. Our grading model and instructional approach looks so different from what most students, teachers, parents, and administrators are used to that we have to be very clear and open in our communication in order to make everyone feel comfortable with what’s happening in the classroom. To do so, we collected data from previous students about their growth and their grades and hope to alleviate their understandable apprehensions about “changing the game” at this point in their education.

Earles and Siedlecki Grading Practices Explanation

Our superintendent often says that the real results of the learning experience we try to create can’t be measured on any standardized test; it might not be visible for years, if ever. But just because it can’t be measured doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. In fact, we believe, and feedback from our students supports, that the structure we’ve created leads to tremendous growth in student’s ownership and dedication to their education. Because we approach this practice with an ear to the ground, always willing to listen, students and parents have been very understanding and supportive.


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