August 15, 2016
Teachers Talk - I Can...and I have
Holly Kay, Teacher, Mamawi Atosketan Native School, Ponoka, AB

So this year I took on a new project. I have never really liked the way the classroom grading systems have been set up. As it sits right now, a child who completes a worksheet on their own receives the same grade as the child I had to sit beside the entire time dragging them through each step.  And that seems wrong to me somehow. So I took the curriculum literally and implemented the use of “I can…” statements in my grading.
 
This year I didn’t put a single thing into grade book that was not curriculum required or connected.  And everything became super simple. My grading stack reduced to basically nothing and my grades are always up to date.  For someone who has been pathologically behind on such things, this is an amazing change!
 
Ok, so how did I do it?  The Alberta conference has been working on completing “I Can…” statements for all curriculums, which has been a labour of love! However,  the Edmonton school district has a completed one online that I have been using until the Alberta conference ones are completed. 
 
So instead of my grade book saying “John 3:16,”  it says things like, “I can handwrite legibly with consistent slant and spacing.” The real question is not whether or not they can compete 25 handwriting assignments each term. That’s a grade in health for time management. The real question is whether or not they can handwrite. Can they or can they not?  One grade, one assignment for each term, period.  And, yes, I adjust that grade as the year goes on according to their ability level, but I don’t add every single handwriting assignment they complete. That’s tedious and doesn’t really tell me whether or not they can handwrite.  If we’re really being honest, it just tests your ability to nag them into completing assignments; not really what I want to be spending my time doing.
 
Most grading is done on the fly during question and answer periods in class. Do they know how to add three-digit numbers? Yes or no? Can they name all the provinces and their capitols? Yes or no? Do they know who the United Empire Loyalists were and their impact on Canadian identity? Yes or no? This doesn’t have to be as complicated as we are making it. I don’t care whether or not they finished all 15-fraction assignments; can they convert a mixed fraction? Perfect, they are done. Moving on.
 
I use a very simple rubric for grading
0 - I cannot do this and I will not try/ or absent
1 - I can’t do this at all, but I am trying
2 - I can do this with constant help at each step
3 - I can do this with a little help
4 - I don’t need any help
5 - I can teach someone else how to do this
 
The one area that this has complicated things is in my assessments. It takes me quite a bit longer to grade them because I am looking for more information than whether or not they get the correct answer.  Do they understand the process? Where are they going wrong with their fraction conversions? Is that step they are stuck on actually something that is grade five curriculum? If it is, reteach, if it isn’t, I move on.
 
I have used this technique for every subject this year, and I have to say that I am much more prepared for parent teacher interviews, adapting lessons to ability levels and just general understanding of where my students are at academically.  I know I have a few students that are well below grade level, I know why they are below grade level and I know what areas they need help in so that we can work towards increasing their understanding in each content area.  This is the first time in my teaching career that I feel like I am being effective, and when a parent asks me why their child is failing math I can tell them, “They have been struggling to grasp the fractions concepts, but these are the steps we are taking to help them, and this is what you can do to help them at home.”  My stress level has decreased and my confidence level has greatly improved.
 
So while change may be scary, I have seen the other side and it is good! Come on over!