Tag: Schoology

The Road Less Traveled 6 Weeks into #Gradeless

The Road Less Traveled 6 Weeks into #Gradeless

This post is the first in an ongoing series reflecting on the journey my students, their families and I are taking this year as we go gradeless in our science classroom in an effort to shift our focus to learning and understanding. 

After a successful trial run last spring eliminating grades in lieu of feedback and reflection with my eighth grade science students (The Road to Gradeless), I decided to completely eliminate grades for all of 155 of my sixth and seventh grade students this year.  This summer, with much guidance from my #gradeless plc, I put my vision down on paper (Learning and Grades Parent Letter), shared it with my administrators and was prepared to share with my students and their families.  I had already decided that I would not immediately introduce my grading philosophy to my students.  Instead, I chose to begin the year with a focus on learning, risk taking, problem solving and collaboration.  

Three weeks ago, after I felt that we had begun to create and develop a collaborative, safe, learning community, I explained to my students and their families that they would only be receiving learning feedback from me.  All of the feedback I have received from parents up to this point has been positive.  While curious about this approach and what it will actually look like day to day in the classroom, they appreciate the emphasis on learning.  The response of my students to our feedback driven community has been relatively neutral.  While I believe most of them heard me say we are going gradeless, they are only now just beginning to make sense of what this actually means for their learning.  

Providing Feedback

I decided to primarily use single-point rubrics to provide students with feedback on their learning.  I was introduced to the single-point rubric in a blog post by Cult of Pedagogy founder Jennifer Gonzales, Meet the #SinglePointRubric.  I like the simple structure of these rubrics where the focus is on the learning criteria.  

I am using Schoology to document feedback.  If a student learner has met the criteria, they receive a “Proficient”.  If they have not met the criteria, they receive a “Not Proficient Yet”.  I include concerns, questions and evidence of advanced understandings in the comment column of the Schoology “gradebook”.  I place the emphasis on the “Yet” in not proficient yet, continuing to acknowledge and remind my student learners that learning is messy and that it is ok, and often necessary, to take multiple tries to develop and communicate an understanding.  The end goal and the emphasis is always understanding.  


In addition to providing feedback on each learning activity using single point rubrics, student learners are also keeping a digital portfolio using Seesaw.  I love the simple, but professional, feel of this digital portfolio tool.  I also like that it is easy for student learners to share their portfolios with their parents and other family members.  School-family relationships have the potential to create powerful learning opportunities.  Tools like Seesaw and Schoology help create these powerful relationships.  

At the conclusion of every major learning objective, students select one piece of their work they believe exemplifies their understandings of the learning objective.  In addition to posting their work sample, they are also writing or recording a brief reflection piece summarizing their reasons for choosing the piece of work and why it demonstrates their learnings.  

Traditional vs Innovative Grading Systems

Our school is on a quarter system.  I will still need to enter a traditional letter grade for each quarter.  I have decided that the students will determine this “grade”.  At the end of each quarter, I will act as a facilitator as they evaluate their learning.  My hope is that their Schoology and Seesaw portfolios will guide them in this reflection, providing gentle reminders of their deep and comprehensive learning over the previous 9 weeks.  

Looking Forward

I’m not sure where the next 8 months will lead us, but I am excited to find out.  I will be reflecting on the many components that must all intertwine together as we travel down this road less traveled.  Please share the journey with us.  Thoughts, comments and ideas are, as always, much appreciated!  

Focus on the Learning: The Power of Mastery

Focus on the Learning: The Power of Mastery

We all know that learning is messy.  We’ve seen this messiness over and over again in our classrooms.  I happened across this modified image from Demetri Martin in a blog post by George Couros recently and I think it accurately illustrates the idea of learning.  

Photo Credit:  George Couros – goo.gl/sL5Ksa
One of the questions I’ve asked myself over the last few years is what is the best way to ensure that every one of my students is learning, while keeping in mind that the journey towards understanding and sense making is often fraught with wrong turns, left turns, right turns and switchbacks and that every learner’s final path is different.  

This year, I decided to address the varying paths to learning through mastery learning.  Mastery learning is not a new idea.  According to “Lessons of Mastery Learning” published by ASCD, Benjamin Bloom, creator of Bloom’s taxonomy, first introduced the idea in the early 1970’s.  Essentially, in mastery learning, the learner must demonstrate mastery of a concept, idea or topic before moving forward in their learning.  Using the Schoology platform, specifically Schoology’s learning objectives, student completion rules and mastery features, I incorporated mastery learning into my classroom this year.  

We know that it is critical to begin with the end in mind.  In order for our students to master anything, they need to know where they are headed.  In our classroom, I use learning objectives to accomplish this.  Briefly, learning objectives are created in your Schoology Resources.  You can create your own customized learning objectives or access and use state and/or national standards.  I have chosen to primarily use the Colorado State Science standards as my learning objectives.  After adding specific learning objectives in my Schoology Resources, I attach them to specific assignments by adding rubrics.  While I assess student understanding using a mastery scale, my school still assigns traditional grades.  In order to merge mastery grading with my school’s traditional grading system, I have created a Mastery Grading Scale based on Marzano’s work on standards based grading.  

I customize every rubric that I create to reflect this scale.  

For student’s to move on, they must, at minimum, demonstrate “moderate command” of each learning objective.  Keeping in mind that learning is messy, I know that not all students will meet this expectation the first, second or sometimes even the third time.  To account for this, I use student completion rules.  These rules are easy to set up in each unit.  I allow students to revise their work as many times as they want to.  Ultimately, I want them to learn, I don’t care how long or how many tries it takes.  Learning is the goal, not completion!  

This brings us to the last Schoology feature that I use to ensure that learning is happening, mastery.  I approach at mastery in two different ways.  First, I use student completion rules on assignments aligned with our learning objectives.  This works great for those learning objectives that are more short-lived.  But there are also a handful of learning objectives that students are working towards mastering for the entire year.  This is where the Schoology mastery feature is critical.  If I have a learning objective that I use over and over again, I can easily keep track of a student’s progress towards mastery using this feature.

I can even look at an individual’s progress towards specific objectives in order to determine how to help her successful master the idea.  

To conclude, when we account for the messiness of learning and really focus on learning rather than completion, amazing things start to happen in the classroom.  My ability to use the Schoology platform to easily add learning objectives to assignments and to add student completion rules as well as using the mastery feature has significantly changed our classroom focus.  Students understand purpose as they work towards understanding rather than a “grade”.  This change in focus in reflected in the amount of revisions I see on a daily basis.  It is reflected in the conversations that happen among my students as they work on defining and refining their understandings. It is reflected in the smiles of both my non-traditional and traditional students who  suddenly find success in school when historically they haven’t because they have time to work through their ideas and their understandings.  It is reflected in the deep, thoughtful thinking that occurs as students realize that learning isn’t usually straightforward and although it takes hard work, it is incredibly satisfying.