Kathleen + Caren

Are on the Map

Meet Caren and Kathleen, authors of the book Rethinking Letter Grades and master educators. Their goal, to provide the best learning environments for students, motivated them to create a five-step process of teaching and assessing using “Learning Maps.” This process, creating “big ideas,” describing levels of performance, and selecting and matching evidence of learning to descriptions, clearly showed students their strengths and helped them to succeed.

Building and using learning maps is the foundation of QUIO. Creating learning maps may be a new process for you, and you may have questions along the way. We have provided FAQ here for you, but if you don’t find what you are looking for, just ask. Caren and Kathleen are here to answer your questions.

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As a principal, I want to get a discussion started around the issue of letter grades. How do you suggest we start as a staff?

Some colleagues who are principals have told us that one of the most helpful practices they use with staff is to set aside a 10-minute talk time at each staff meeting. Teachers work in small groups and have conversations about practices related to reporting.

There are also some short and thought-provoking presentations online to prompt discussion on this important topic. Two of our favourites include Dylan Wiliam, who speaks on assessment-for-learning strategies and Carol Dweck, who speaks about growth and fixed mindsets, giving key insights into motivation of our learners.

The leaders we have worked with who surround staff with both expectation and invitation create an environment that encourages thinking, questioning, and debating. They focus on creating a safe space for talk and inquiry to happen.

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What about students on an IEP? How does the five-step approach work for them?

For students who have IEPs and do receive letter grades, we make three changes on our Learning Map:

  • We include the specific support or adaptation that students receive on the Learning Map.
  • We focus the evidence of learning on talking with and observing learners rather than always requiring a product, such as a written task or an assignment.
  • We reduce the number of Big Ideas that the student is focussing on.

For those students who have an iep and have a modified program (not working on the prescribed learning standards of the curriculum and so do not receive letter grades), we make the following changes:

We make the IEP goals students’ Big Ideas.

We omit step 5, as students who have an iep with a modified program do not receive letter grades. Instead, we describe growth and progress for each of the iep goals/individual Big Ideas on the Learning Map.

The most important point for us is that our students who have ieps also have Learning Maps – just like everyone else.

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How does this five-step approach help our struggling students? So many are demotivated by letter grades.

One of the reasons we decided to rethink our approach to arriving at letter grades was
our concern for students who lose hope: our strugglers.

We find that, when we use Learning Maps along with specific samples of work, the picture of what students are expected to learn and are able to do is more concrete. As a result, our struggling students start to see where their letter grade came from. Before we used Learning Maps, some students found it hard to see that they had made any progress at all. The Learning Map can show them where they did improve in some of the learning standards in a subject, even though the overall grade may have stayed the same. For example, in mathematics, an individual might have improved in computation, but his or her problem-solving is weak because the reading of the question is often confusing. So, rather than having a student think, “I am stupid in math,” we point out on the Learning Map where he or she did improve in one aspect and where skills still need to be strengthened.

The issue is one of motivation. Some resources worth reading and talking about include
those by Carol Dweck (2007), Daniel Pink (2009 ted Talk), and Alfie Kohn (2011). The growing awareness of the connection between motivation and letter grades gives us hope that this area of motivational research will help change the whole approach to how schools report on student progress.

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