This week, I've be reading some articles on "Ungrading" and reviewing my notes about democratic classroom techniques. (For a beginning article on ungrading, see https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/; and https://www.edutopia.org/article/power-democratic-classroom* for democratic classroom.) I've also received an email from my department chair about how my electronic gradebook must be structured, with categories only for "Summative Assessment" (60%) and "Formative Assessment" (40%). I have to think about this structure a bit, because I am worried that it still plays into the narrative that the grade matters more than the learning. Also if "formative assessment" is assessment for learning**, I fear that putting points in the gradebook for this category, it becomes "assessment for points" instead. My views on points in the gradebook have been evolving ever since I had to start using an online gradebook accessible to students and parents, and I need to think about this new requirement. I'll write more on that later.
As I think about creating a classroom space where students feel like they can trust me to give good feedback and not play "gotcha" with grades, and where they are more interested in learning and doing math than in the points they can earn, I'm recalling the democratic classroom strategy of a classroom circle. This is an activity that starts with everyone, including teachers and aides standing close together so that everyone can see everyone else, without having to do more than turning their heads. Ideally, the furniture should be moved out of the way so that the space inside the circle is open; chairs can be placed around the outside so that everyone can sit down at some point. Creating a good circle is a group effort, and everyone needs to participate to make it as round as it can be. It's a good format to start a name game or other ice-breakers at the beginning of the year. Creating the circle is also an opportunity to begin offering feedback, as the teacher (or ideally anyone) can offer comments, such as "The circle looks flat on that side" and the group can make adjustments accordingly.
Given the disconnectedness of the last couple years, I am wondering if creating some kind of script to use every time we move into a circle might provide some consistency and community. Something along the lines of "We stand in a circle, where we can each see each other and be seen, with nothing to get in the way, with no one more important than another. We can expand the circle to include others, and if someone is absent, while we can still maintain the circle, it will be diminished." Still a work in progress ... One thought I had for the first day, where we only have 15 or so minutes for each class, is to create a circle, and go around so everyone can say their name and pronouns and one thing they would like the rest of the class to know about them. On the second day, also start in a circle, go around so everyone can say their name and something they know, think, wonder, or imagine about circles, then adjust the script to include some of those ideas.
The part of me that dislikes touchy-feely stuff is asking "Where's the math??!" but I'm willing to ignore that somewhat, for the first week anyway. I also need to review the new curriculum documents I got this week to see what math I should be including. More on that next week.
*Most of what I've learned about implementing a democratic classroom has come from the folks at Full Circle Leadership. Thanks to Chris Fontana for continued encouragement!
**See Dylan Wiliam's Formative Assessment: Definitions and Relationships for more info about this.