Rolling grades and the final exam.


cc licensed by flickr photo shared by DS Bigham

In March I wrote about rolling grades and now with final exam season upon us, the full potential of rolling grades comes into to play.

At our high school, we have a common 25% value of the overall course grade for all final exams in grade 12 and the expectation that the final exam will occur during the designated time slot. This policy is a holdover from when provincial exams (in BC) were no longer mandatory.

Although I am limited in some respects, I have made the following changes to how final exams look over the last 2 years:

1. No multiple choice only open-ended questions. A sample exam is provided below.

2. Emphasize big ideas of the course and a move away from details only type questions.

3. Questions on the final exam that are similar or the same as the ones we have been discussing and working on all year.

4. Final exam as a showcase of what students know now to replace outdated data we have about their learning.

5. Option to use this new information (or parts of this new information) to replace old data. This exam can potentially count for up to 100% of student’s final mark if this advantages the student.

General Observations:

1. Students value memory based questions: Students feel “ripped off” if some questions do not ask for memorized details. They feel this devalues their hard work as many of them have highly developed short-term memories. I have tried to value this by providing some detail type questions without letting them become the focus of the exam.

2. Currency of value is points: Students struggle (really struggle) to know how much to write or understand how important a question is without the points provided. I have tried exams without assigned points and I have tried linking questions to specific standards (as the questions are anyways). But like a visitor in a foreign country, currency is to a large part intuitive and so for this reason I put the point value to indicate to them what questions are really important and roughly how many thoughts they should have in their answer.

3. Providing the questions in advance does not mean everyone gets 100%. You might think giving questions in advance makes the exam “too easy” but students still struggle and still have to work at the process to do well. Moreover, giving them a set goal gives them the hope that they can get there with effort and preparation.

4. Preparation, preparation, preparation: My hope is to give value to the process of getting ready (the learning) and not just value to the event. As well, to discourage cramming we are not covering new content up until the last second. Student need significant time and opportunity to get organized, ask questions, and take ownership of the situation. This means finishing the course with lots of time to do meaningful pulling it all together type activities in class together.

5. Emphasize big trends: This is a big change for students and naturally their focus is drawn to the dazzling array of details. It is a daily conversation to get them to consider: What is the big idea here?; Why does this matter; Does it matter?

6. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue: As with any significant change to long-standing practices you must be willing to create space, time and safety for ongoing conversations. I talk about how this works on a daily basis.

What next?

1. I recognize this time as a time of transition and so I accept the limitations of my ability to create exactly what I think is best. I must be sensitive to the culture of my school, my department and most importantly to the culture of my students.

2. Continue to foster an atmosphere of learning. Continue to find examples that speak to the value of learning over and above the value of marks.

3. Continue to unpack through dialogue unconscious preconceptions about learning and grades with students and parents.

4. Work to find ways that give parents a peep-hole into their students learning (as compared to just a glimpse at their marks). This is a priority for next year.

And finally, here is an example of the final exam I used with my students last semester.

Hopeful me vs Cynical me.


Some days I feel like Jekyll and Hyde.

Start the day out as Polly-Anna Hopeful and then later, instantly turn into her evil twin sister, Cruella the Cynical. Sometimes this cynical person dislikes Polly-Anna, even hopes that she won’t return, it would be easier that way.

In some places Polly-Anna hides, she’s afraid of the crushing criticism. No, no, not said aloud, spoken words, but criticism that you taste and feel as you breathe in, the droplets of disdain, landing dew-like in your lungs. Maybe Polly-Anna is weak, she doesn’t mean to be, she has just learnt over the years, that raw un-throttled enthusiasm is not the way to form connection. Not in HERE anyways. Rather, enthusiasm, only serves to alienate and isolate.

Whereas the cynicism, dark and comforting, like dark chocolate, sinful and rich. Melting on our tongues and coating the hope that so recently stood there, white now coated in dark. Now, we are on the same team. A feeling of shared battle, of shared defeat. It is their fault not ours. We are tough, we will keep going, not fall prey to the campaigns and promises. We know better. We know better than to believe and give our hearts to it.

Really it’s not so much that it is a choice, it’s just a means of survival. A way to protect the inside parts that like a tin are so crushable and so worth not having crushed. An armour to wear on the way to the place I need to get.

There are secret pockets, places where hope shines in its glory and brilliance, where she is allowed to come out blazing. But we try not to talk about these pockets too much, we just know they are there. These are the spots and moments we wait for, like spring flowers and shared laughing fits; they are worth the wait. Where dreams dance, up on the tables, drunk with the possibilities of the impossible.

Some days it is hard to fathom how these 2 are the same person and how I let both of them belong. How even sometimes, I encourage both of them to continue rather than take a stand and decide finally to commit. Somehow this possibility is not part of this landscape.

In HERE, it’s not like that…

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Student voice, vision, vigor: #moocon24


Several months ago, one of my Social Media students, Freya Kellet (who I fondly describe as the equal to 5 high-functioning adults) suggested a 24 hour international online conference as a possible class project. At the time, I dismissed the idea as over the top and beyond our class’s capabilities. I was kind, but dismissive of Freya’s suggestion…we had real work to do!

Since Freya first made her suggestion lots has happened with our class; we received a provincial grant and have been busy planning a 3 day student led, Digital Citizenship conference for students, parents and teachers in School District 23. We have made presentations to district administrators, the district BYOD committee and our director of instruction on the topic of Digital Citizenship. Students worked incredibly hard to make polished, professional presentations to suit an adult audience. At each presentation I was bursting with pride to see them making their learning visible! Their commitment, their vision, the vigor of their learning was evident! The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we have received support and encouragement from our district for this student initiated project. We are excited to be partnering with our district in hosting the conference, SoMe Summit:Co-constructing Our Digital Futures,  which will be held November 20, 21, 22. We are also excited that Dr Alec Couros will be working with us for these 3 days.

Luckily for me, Freya is a focused and determined 15-year-old. She did not give up on her dream of having a global conversation with other students on how they can change education, one small action at a time. During a Google hangout our class did with Dr. Alec Couros, to find our direction in the large topic of Digital Citizenship, he suggested we might consider doing a project that tapped our networks. We could then use the project as an example of the power of Social Media. WELL…that was opening…it seems that Freya’s dream was destined to be.

Here we are little more than 2 weeks since that conversation and we are excited to launch our plan to host a 24 hour online youth-sourced conference, that we are calling #moocon24 (Massive Open Online 24 Hour Conference). Below is a brief intro video for this student visioned project. It is interesting to note that this project unintentionally aligns with many of the internationally recognized ISTE NETS for Students.
If you know any teachers in your network who have a class or student group (aged 13 to 18) locally or internationally and might be interested in such a project please pass onto them. If you have any ideas or insights for our project we would love to hear them!

If you’d like to learn more about this project visit the #moocon24 website