Ditching a grade-centric focus

Strategies to steer students from a focus on grades to personalized learning
By: | November 18, 2019

Max Gertz is an instructional technology specialist with Kennesaw State University iTeach.

Do you ever find yourself with a group of students who pride themselves on getting good grades? It is often the high-achieving kids that challenge us to drive our practice forward.

Grading challenges are not an easy issue to deal with, especially with helicopter parents hovering—parents who are hyper-focused on a standard of excellence and testing, who have a perception of learning that is essentially mirrored on the student.

Sometimes, giving these students a rubric limits what they could accomplish if they weren’t so concerned about exactly what they have to do to earn an A.

To some students, the rubric just becomes a checklist. At the same time, we also face difficulties when a detailed rubric for students and parents isn’t provided. Panic often sets in when students (and their parents) feel like there is not an explicit set of directions to get to that A.

Here are some strategies to redirect your students away from a grade-centric focus. Explore some great ideas to reinvent rubrics so that learning is more personalized.

Defend learning

Instead of grading the product, allow the students to defend their learning. Let them grade themselves, and then explain the grade they believe they deserve. This teaches a couple of important lessons; firstly, students have to use metacognition to think about the process they took, and how they learned.

Second, it shows them the value of understanding versus simply gathering knowledge, Third it offers them an opportunity to advocate for themselves by citing data, Finally, it is a true opportunity to grow and assess their own learning in an honest way.

Individual path

Educators know that academic growth is paramount in student learning, but so often the focus is on how well our students do summatively. So what if we focus on a growth mindset and allow students to determine their own individual path? Creating the opportunity for a growth mindset can be as easy as having students create a goal, plan the steps to achieve it, and track their achievement.

Formative assessment would be determined, each day or at preset intervals, by the progress each student makes. If the student makes appropriate progress, he or she gets a 100. Determining what appropriate progress is coming directly from the goal that the student has created. Therefore, the grade just depends on the student’s end goal, the path they determined, and their evidence of learning.

Creating the opportunity for a growth mindset can be as easy as having students create a goal, plan the steps to achieve it, and track their achievement.

If students can demonstrate their understanding of a standard, or the progress towards the goal of learning a standard, why shouldn’t they earn an A? This takes the onus off of the educator to plan for all the learning that takes place in the classroom. The crux of personal learning is that every student’s path is different—there is no possible way for a teacher to plan all the learning in a truly personalized classroom.

Co-planning/Student conferencing

Of course, the teacher and the student will need to share the goal and the plan to achieve it with the student’s parents. In this type of dynamic communication paradigm, all stakeholders have a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished, but no one has spelled out the direct path to an A.

Routine conferences with the student, formative assessment data, and student data collection will allow you the ability to ensure the student is learning and achieving mastery of learning standards. This also allows co-planning to occur with the teacher and students. Everyone is involved in the goal-setting!

Providing the students the opportunity to inform their learning, the pressures on the teacher will lessen and the achievement of students will be unleashed. Allowing all students in the classroom to create their individualized paths towards learning will empower and motivate the students for future success.

It’s important to understand how to guide teachers on providing the proper steps for co-planning and goal setting. For information on co-planning with students and creating learning goals, check out The Benefit of the Individualized Path blog. The blog provides concrete and practical steps to individualizing student paths. Keep in mind that many of these steps and strategies may look different in educational settings.

Max Gertz is an instructional technology specialist with Kennesaw State University iTeach. He will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC 2020.

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