This is a follow-up to an earlier post: The 3Ps: A Practical Grading System that Holds Students Accountable.
What is a Grade Conference?
A Grade Conference is an informal or formal conversation with the student about his/her grade. Prior to this conversation, I require the student to have a grade in mind that he/she believes he/she has earned. The student must also have a few reasons why he/she believes this is the grade he/she has earned. The student shares the grade with me, I make a note of it and state whether or not I agree. Depending on my purpose for holding a Grade Conference (weekly check in for eligibility, Progress Reports, or End of Term/Semester Grades, etc.), depends on the type of Grade Conference I choose. A student can also request a Grade Conference at any time that is convenient for both the student and myself.
Informal Grade Conferences
For an Informal Grade Conference, I might ask my students to write down the grade they believe they deserve for our Participation Guidelines over the course of 1-2 week period. I ask my students to write this down on calendars they keep in their binders (we've also written it on scrap paper as well).
As my students work, I walk around the room and have a quick 30 second-1 minute conversation with as many students as I can. As I ask the student about the grade he/she deserves, I'll simply say, "I agree" or "I disagree" and move onto the next student. Sometimes I make a note of this and sometimes I don't. If I do, I use the roster I take attendance on an write what the student said, whether or not I agree and the grade I believe the student deserves.
If the student wants to discuss this further, I simply say, "I'd be happy to talk to you about this in more detail before/after school. Let me know when I can expect you." Then, I can turn this into a more formal conversation, which requires me to take a closer look at the student's reasons for choosing a particular grade and his/her collection of work over this particular time frame. If a student wants to argue, I simply say, "I argue with students at 2:45. See you then." And then, I walk away.
Formal Grade Conferences
A Formal Grade Conference usually takes place at the end of a term/semester when grades are due. By this time, my students and I have informally talked about their grade several times and now it's time to take a closer look at how well they've followed one (or all) of our Participation, Progress, and Performance Guidelines (The 3Ps). Because this a Formal Grade Conference takes longer, there are a few things that we need to do to prepare.
About a week before the end of the term/semester, my students and I gather our binders, portfolio folders, reading journals, and anything else we've completed over the course of this time frame. We spread this work out on our desks, and I give each student a Grade Conference Form (see picture).
I model how this form works by filling mine in. On my Grade Conference Form, I make a list of my completed work (books finished, proof I've read each book, and writing pieces I've completed) and then a list of anything extra I may have done. (In my class, there is no extra credit. Any extra work counts towards earning an Above and Beyond (A) provided the student has completed followed all of the 3Ps and completed all required work).
On the back side, I've create a rubric for each of The 3Ps with descriptors on what a person receiving and Above and Beyond (A), Basically Good (B), Could Do Better (C), Didn't Really Try (D), and Forget about it! (F) looks like. As I read through each grade and the descriptors that go with it, I take a look at the work I've completed, think about how I've done in ou Participation, Progress, and Performance Guidelines, and give myself a grade for each one with a few reasons why I believe I deserve it. I go through each of the 3Ps one at a time, and I'm explicit in why I believe I've earned these grades.
I've also used this form in a more reflective approach where students list the work they've completed and complete a What-Why-How for their grade. Once I finish, I give my students a couple of days to prepare, and I spend the last couple days of the quarter completing Formal Grade Conferences with my students.
How does a Formal Grade Conference look?
On Formal Grade Conference days, I have students work on an assignment that I'll count for the next quarter, or those students who haven't finished preparing for their Grade Conferences can continue getting ready. For those students who are ready, I ask for volunteers first and make a list of their names on my white board. If no one volunteers, I randomly begin calling students up one-by-one. I usually start with the students whose Grade Conferences will go smoothly (based on past experiences) and then work my way through the rest of the class into those more difficult conversations.
Here are my guidelines for this Formal Conversation:
- Be ready the first time I call your name. If you're not ready, I will go through the rest of the class first before I give you a second chance. If at that second chance you're still not ready, I choose your grade. (Some students request to come in before/after school, which is fine as long as it is prior to my grade submission deadline).
- Come prepared. Bring your Grade Conference Form and anything else you need to back up the grade you believe you've earned. This may include your binder, portfolio folder, reading journal, etc.
- Speak clearly. Talk loud enough so that I can hear you, but not too loud that others in class will hear you.
- Be positive. This is a chance for you to celebrate your accomplishments. Maybe you didn't do your best this time, so do better next time. You should still be proud of what you have accomplished, what you've learned, and know that you will try harder next time.
As I call each student over to my desk, I have them sit right next to me with their Grade Conference Form in front of them, which they use for reference, and I quickly look through their work while they talk about the grade they believe they deserve. Each student is given 2-3 minutes, and I time them. On my roster, I write the grade down the student believes he/she deserves and state whether or not I agree.
If the student and I have the same grade in mind, we're done. If we're off by one letter grade, I will average them together and enter these grades into my gradebook. If we're off by two or more grades, I simply say, "I'll be happy to talk to you about your grade when you've taken it seriously. You can try again when I've finished Grade Conferences with everyone else." Then, I send the student back to his/her desk to re-think things.
Why use Grade Conferences?
Many industries use a shared evaluation format where employees are asked to complete a self-evaluation, evaluate their peers, and/or evaluate their employers based on ideas similar to those in The 3Ps. In my classroom, I share this responsibility with my students because it helps cut down on my workload, I'm not as stressed out come grading time, and I have the opportunity to holistically assess my students in ways that mirror how workers are evaluated in the real world.
Informal and Formal Grade Conferences:
- Demand that I know my students (learning styles, motivation, needs, strengths/weaknesses, etc).
- Require the student and I look at a collection of work over individual assignments.
- Allow us to more accurately measure student progress.
- Hold students accountable.
- Allow for goal setting.
- Leave room for improvement.
- Create confidence, pride, and honesty.
- Promote an environment of mutual trust and respect.
- Give students ownership over their learning.
- Challenge me to look at a student holistically at any time.
For 7 years, I've used the 3Ps and Informal and Formal Grade Conferences with much success. My D and F rates have dropped, my students and I are able to talk about grades in ways that are productive, and I can modify my 3Ps to better meet the needs of my students at any time. I can assess my students within a class period, over the course of a week, month, term, semester and over the entire school year. (For the spring 2012 semester out of 144 students, I had less than 20 students earn Fs).
Some of my most reluctant learners have earned grades they didn't believe they were capable of, which translates into an improved work ethic, a more positive self-concept, and happier kids. Others have pushed themselves to do better and end up suprising all of us. And, yes, there are a few who never figure it out, dare me to fail them, ditch class come Grade Conference time, or do little work. Even those students who don't do well, still respect the way I grade and own up to their lack of effort.
There will always be students who challenge the system. But this system is fair, consistent, and rewards hard work. It is a shared responsibility that keeps me sane when grades are due, creates high expectations for all of us and is written in simple language everyone can understand.
Grade Conferences aren't easy at first. Kids may have a hard time accurately assessing their work and themselves, but once they figure out how self-assessment leads to improved learning and independence, they get better at it. And we get better at helping them!
For more information about the 3Ps, Grade Conferences, and calculating grades with the 3Ps see: The 3Ps: A faster, fairer, easier Way to Grade.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.