Lots of Questions; No Answers

This weekend, I was engaged in a very passionate discussion on Twitter about the use of marks and feedback. Inquiry doesn’t really lend itself well to marks, but the report card program insists that we give them. The big question is how do we do so?

  • Do we focus on feedback based on co-constructed Success Criteria? How do we get these young learners to help construct this Success Criteria? Is it okay that it’s more teacher-directed at the beginning? Do we start small and build from there (e.g., maybe even one piece of Success Criteria at a time)? How do we make this Success Criteria accessible to all students (e.g., those students that can’t read and those students that have difficulty understanding the language)? How might visuals help, and how can we use these visuals?
  • When and how do we use marks? Do we use rubrics, even in Grade 1? How can we make these rubrics based on the process and not just the product (e.g., based on the sharing that is done during a recorded podcast)? If we don’t use marks until report cards, how do we help the students and parents understand these marks? Do we share these marks with them prior to report cards, and if so, how?
  • Does this approach change depending on the grade? How do we make the decision of which grades to introduce marks prior to report cards and which grades not to? Should this be a grade team decision? Who’s involved in this decision (e.g., teacher, parents, students, admin, support staff)? What roles do each of them play?

All of the big questions seem to have many little ones that stem from them, and I don’t have the answers here. I’ve tried different approaches — from Success Criteria to rubrics to a combination of the above — and I think that they all have value in different ways. Throughout the month of September, I’ve collected much documentation on my students (from photographs to video recordings to work samples to self-assessments), but as some of our units come to an end (e.g., the Daily and Seasonal Changes one in Science), I have to make a decision about assigning marks: if to do so and how to do soWhat would you do? How would you do it? Why do you think that this is the best approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the complex topic of marks and feedback.


12 thoughts on “Lots of Questions; No Answers

  1. Aviva,
    I think this is such a complicated issue. I’m a passionate believer in the A4L process but always find myself asking “how would I assess that” when I think about inquiry and topics such as Genius Hour. I think that feedback must take place during the learning. It is in service of the learning goal – at the end of a period of learning students must have an opportunity to have used to the feedback to improve at which point i would assign a mark (for reporting purposes). Last year I spent some time working with our assessment consultant and she helped me take my success criteria and transfer it to a rubric. (Eg a success criteria about organizing my ideas can look very different and be achieved at a lower level and higher level). I found thinking about it this way really helped me make sure my criteria was criteria that hit all 4 areas of the achievement chart rather than just a checklist of “yep I did that”. However in the past I have been teaching intermediate and this year I am wearing a primary hat so re-evaluating some of my thinking. Like you I find it has to be much more teacher directed at this level. I am finding that the students are doing well at looking at samples that I’ve created and giving feedback on what is good and how to make it better. I hoping this will help them truly understand the criteria and be able to use it in their work – even if they maybe can’t read the criteria anchor chart they will still understand. Thanks for asking such great questions. With A4L I sometimes feel the more I learn, the less I know.

    • Thanks for the comment, Amy! I took a pretty similar approach last year to feedback and rubrics, and I think that we’re experiencing many of the same questions/thoughts/problems this year. I have many students this year that are Stage 1 ELL (English Language Learners) and I think that this makes the feedback piece more complicated. I’m working through how to help them understand the language, use the language, and have the language as meaningful to them and their peers. I haven’t quite figured out the best approach. Right now, it’s a lot of modelling, getting students involved in giving the feedback, and using visuals to help support this feedback. I’m hoping that over time, the students can take more ownership over this feedback (and really the Success Criteria). What are you doing about marks in primary? Are you using them, and if so, how? I’d welcome any thoughts on this. Thanks again!


  2. Hi Aviva,
    I have had the same kind of questions on grading and put together my thoughts in this post: http://seanrtech.blogspot.ca/2014/01/no-grades-coming-to-school-near-you.html?m=1

    In a lot of situations, marks do a disservice to students. The learning can get lost in the pursuit of a grade. There are some ways around grade requirements on reports. I know of some teachers that determine the students grade through a discussion with the student. Others use a self evaluation.

    Now that I’ve moved to High School, I again having to work through these ideas, teasing out what is really important. I appreciate your post to spur in the discussion.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sean! I’ll be checking out your post for sure. While I did use rubrics last year (for summative evaluation), students self-evaluated, and we conferenced to determine final marks and next steps. Students had a huge voice on their report cards. They even wrote their own Learning Skills comments.

      Grade 1 is definitely different. We are working through Learning Goals now (largely teacher-directed at this point) and are slowly moving to Success Criteria. About half of my students are Stage 1 ELL (English Language Learner) students, so the language that is part of assessment and evaluation is very difficult for many of them to use and understand. I’m trying to incorporate pictures. I’m trying to use examples to make the abstract language more concrete. This is still a work in progress though. If I’m moving away from rubrics, then I want to make sure that these Learning Goals and Success Criteria are clear, and I’m still figuring out how to do this best in Grade 1. I’m also wondering when/how to introduce marks. I’m not sure of the answers here, but I do appreciate the extended conversation.


  3. i love that you thinking about these things. I find it annoying that we need to somehow reconcile assessment and reporting. Assessment gives learners support and provides feedback to continue the learning (formative). To me, this type of assessment cannot be traded for a percentage or a grade. This diminishes the learning and commodifies the innate learning required for all human beings as we grow and discover our world.
    For the report card, I would much prefer to see anecdotal comments that show the learning and move it forward. If it is a final report, then some sort of summative assessment is needed. I think our current view of report cards is outdated to what we know about learning. Unfortunately, although there are amazing teachers that are pushing the boundaries on this, we need more support and commitment from the ministry and school boards. In BC, I think, this may be coming within the framework of the bcedplan, if that is a valid place after the recent labour dispute where politics got in the way of the ‘plan’.
    Just my two bits.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bryn! I completely agree with you and would love for this type of anecdotal report card to be the reality. What if it’s not though? At this point in Ontario, we still have marks on report cards, and somehow I need to figure out these marks. What do I do then (especially if I choose to just rely on feedback until this point)? This is where I’m really struggling. I’d love any suggestions!


  4. Hi Aviva,

    This is one of those points of tension that, I believe, force many teachers to “stay the course” and maintain the status quo as far as classroom practice goes. At least on the surface.

    It’s a little like negotiating two realities—the public-facing image of who we are as teachers and that “this-is-really-what-is-happening-in-here” level of practice. I think that pushes like the one that you’re making here can help bridge the gap between the two images.

    At the same time, I don’t think that we do nearly enough work with our parent communities on helping them to understand what is really going on in classrooms like yours. Interestingly enough, as school council chair of a local elementary school, I was pushing for this increased communication with our admin team just yesterday. As a result, we are dedicating time this year to invite our parent community into the process that teachers go through when looking at student work: feedback opportunities, assessment for learning, different levels of understanding that become evident from student work. In other words, we want to help teachers and students communicate better on a regular basis about what is REALLY happening in the classroom.

    It’s my hope that, if we’re successful with this over the next couple of years, parents will greet report card “marks” with the same discomfort that you are expressing here.

    Keep up the great work, and the great thinking!

    • Thanks for the comment and the support, Stephen! I love the idea of inviting parents into this process. What kind of response are you getting from parents? How are you involving them in the process (e.g., will they be sitting and talking through this process with teachers and admin?)? What supports are in place for parents that have English as a second language? I’d love to hear more about your very intriguing plan. I do think that the key is with this home/school connection, and your plan could really address this.

  5. Hi Aviva – what a thought-provoking post! Every time I thought I had an opinion, your questions spun me around in the opposite direction (that’s a good thing!). You’re right in that inquiry doesn’t lend itself to marks. I *think* basic skills can be marked (can the student do this – yes or no), but what about the mastery process? Or what if the skill requires a longer, multi-step process? Having grown up – and thrived – in a graded system myself, I have a hard time letting go of marks, even though I see the benefits of a learning spectrum.

    In high school, the focus turns to marks as students compete for spots in university and college programs (I’m not saying it’s a good system, but for now, it is what it is). Having said that, one of my colleagues is moving toward using ONLY red-yellow-green in her grade 9 & 10 math classes, which takes the focus off the marks, and re-emphasizes the learning process. In my opinion, marks don’t *need* to be assigned until grade 11, as students start considering post-secondary options. I’m not sure that helps you with your conundrum, though 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather! I completely understand what you’re saying here. The problem though, to me, becomes how do we assign marks when inquiry is such a fundamental part of our program? Can we really separate basic skills from the thinking process behind them? How? If the big argument for marks is post-secondary admission, do we need to reconsider how this system works, with a changing curriculum that does seem to emphasize “learning” more than “marks?” What would this change even look like?

      It’s not that I can’t create a rubric and assign a mark (either by myself or in conjunction with the student), but do I want to? What value does this mark add? For struggling students, what impact could a mark have on their desire to keep learning (something I’ve been working on since Day 1 of school)? I don’t know that I have any answers either, but I think that there’s tremendous value to this continued conversation.


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