Sunday, May 15, 2011

3P Grading System Interview

I was recently interviewed by Steve Peha about his 3P grading system that I implemented this year. You can read my blog post "Five Reasons Why You Should Stop Grading" to learn more about it. 

I thought my responses would be great for a blog post. Here is the interview:

1. Overall, how would you describe the results you achieved switching from traditional grading to The 3P Grading System?

Honestly, I did not know what real teaching and learning meant until I switched to the 3P system. After implementing the 3Ps, I saw students step up their games like never before, and achieve more than they did with the traditional grading system. 

I don't have to worry about "How much is this worth?" or "Is this for a grade?" We just focus on learning, and it has made a huge difference. I saw students taking chances, and putting themselves out there by sharing their writing, answering questions, researching things outside of class. The 3P system pushes students beyond their comfort zone, and engages them in a higher level of thinking.

2. How would you describe the task of switching from traditional grading to The 3P Grading system? Was it easy? Hard? Confusing? Exhilarating? What were your biggest challenges? Your biggest surprises?

At first, it was the scariest thing I have ever tried as a teacher. I was terrified to give up control of the classroom. I worried that students would just stop doing their work since they weren't being graded for it. I was worried that students wouldn't try as hard, or they would blow things off.

I found the exact opposite to be true. 

Even though I didn't grade things, students still did the work, and they pushed themselves like never before. Making the switch to focusing on feedback DURING the learning was the key. I used to just give feedback AFTER the assignment was turned in, which makes absolutely no sense to me now that I think back on it. I used to spend hours grading student's work, even though I knew they weren't doing anything with the information. That was just the way my teachers always graded, so it had to be the right way. I could never go back to doing that.

For example, while students are writing I am constantly circling the room and having mini-conferences with each student. I ask them to read me what they wrote, and I am constantly giving them verbal and written feedback. It makes so much sense to me now, but I never did that before. That shift in mentality has made a huge difference because students are learning while they are working.

It also takes a complete shift in mentality by the students and parents. They have the traditional form of grading so ingrained in their brains, that this system blows their mind when you first talk to them about it. It took until the first grade conference for them to get it, but now they understand how it works and they prefer it to the old system.

3. What personal beliefs or professional concerns did you have to overcome, both to try the new system and to stick with it long enough to see results?

I worried that my colleagues would view this as the "easy" way out of grading. Many are very intrigued by it, and they wanted me to be the guinea pig for it. They are scared of giving up control, and they can't wrap their minds around it either. 

I am a very concrete, detail-oriented person. This system is very abstract and flexible, and it still freaks me out at times.

I have also learned that to be a good teacher doesn't mean you have to fail a bunch of students to show that you are tough. I would be OK with giving all "As" if that is what they deserved. The goal really should be to give all As, which would have horrified me a couple of years ago. I thought that being a good teacher meant you had to "get" students by tricking them or having super-hard tests and assignments.

You also have to let go of the idea of marking students off for behavior, such as turning in assignments late or not at all. I now look at the entire body of work of a student, not just the last assignment they turned in. For example, I have a rock-star student who has done great work all semester long. She is one of the best writers in my class. When we did a grade conference, she did not complete her last assignment. Normally, she is an "A" student, and my first reaction was to ding her and knock her down to a B. I had to stop myself and look at everything she had done. One missing assignment was not enough to knock her down a letter grade.

4. What do you see as the key positive differences for teachers in using the 3P Grading System?

This system allows you to differentiate for each student and focus on what they need. I have high-flyer students who are already doing great work. This system allows them to push themselves beyond what they would normally be asked to do.

Some of my students started out as weak readers or writers, but have worked very hard to improve this year. This system rewards and recognizes their improvement, where the traditional grading system counts their work in August just the same as what they do in December. The goal should be to see growth and learning take place. The 3P system accounts for that.

The 3P system also creates an environment of collaboration in the classroom. Students are working with each other, and the teacher works closely with the students. Giving constant feedback has made a huge difference. Giving students input into their grades has also made a positive impact, because they now take ownership in their grades, not just sitting back and taking whatever grade I magically assign them.

5. What are the key positive differences for students?

See above. Students are rewarded for growth. They are involved in the grading process. They have more control over their grade, as opposed to me giving them a grade that they have little to no control over.

6. What are the key positive differences for parents?

Communication with parents freaked me out the most. I have always sent out weekly progress reports to parents and students with all of their assignments and grades. The grades were so volatile because one missing assignment could have a huge impact on the grade. If a student was absent or didn't turn in something, it could take their grade from an A to a D in no time. Parents would freak out and see that they dropped three letter grades, and I would have to explain what happened.

On one hand, I loved that parents are involved and want to see where their students stand. On the other hand, it isn't an accurate reflection on the grade because it isn't the end of the learning period.

The 3P system still makes me nervous because I can't have that constant communication with parents. I do grade checks every 4 1/2 weeks, so that will be only four times per semester. In the past, parents told me that they loved the constant communication from me about grades. I am looking at how I can improve the communication next year - either through a newsletter or blog posts about what we are doing in class.

Ideally, this system will open up the lines of communication between parents and their children. This is one area where I need to do more work.

7. Many teachers in the US have successfully implemented the system only to be told by their principals that they are not allowed to use it for one reason or another. How would you handle this situation if your principal came to you and said you could no longer use The 3P Grading System and that you had to return to the same traditional grading approach you were using before?

It would be very difficult for me to go back to any traditional form of grading at this point. I can't believe I did the things I did with grades for so many years. It made no sense now that I look back on it.

I am fortunate to have a very supportive principal and administrative team. I would recommend anyone who is considering this system to dialogue it with your administration. They should be in the loop as to what is happening. Provide them with the guidelines so they know what to expect.

If my principal had concerns about the 3P system, I would invite her to come in and observe class, and see how engaged the students are in the class. I would show her examples of my students' work, and see the improvements they are making. I would discuss the benefits of the system with her, and my rationale for making the change. Students are also huge advocates of this system, so I believe their voices need to be heard.

Ultimately, if I could no longer do the 3P system, I would probably move to a standards-based system of grading, but include many of the principles of the 3P System.

8. Is there anything else you’d like to add about The 3P Grading System, your experience of using it, or any other related issue?

The 3P System has been the best change I have ever implemented as an educator. It is terrifying at first, but it has reinvigorated me this year. I am horrified by how I was grading students one year ago before I learned about the 3P system.

My best advice for anyone considering the 3P system:

1. Read Steve Peha's article about the system.
2. Discuss the concept with your students. Discuss it with fellow teachers. Get feedback on how it might look in class. Troubleshoot issues.
3. Communicate your expectations to parents. Keep them in the loop.
4. Communicate the system to your administrative team. Give your rationale and expectations. Provide them with Steve's article.
5. Take a deep breath and take the plunge! You have to try it before you fully understand how works. Don't worry: Students will still do the work even though they aren't getting a "grade".

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Get 2-O This Summer

Two years ago, I thought I knew something about coaching quarterbacks.

I worked under the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach at Kansas State University from 1998-2003 where I had the opportunity to work with several outstanding quarterbacks. I became the OC and QB Coach at Olathe South in 2003, and we had some great QBs come through there.

Coach Slack
In 2009, I went with several of our QBs to the Coach Darin Slack QB Camp in Jenks, OK. I had watched Coach Slack's C4 videos, and I wanted our QBs to benefit from his methods.

Once the camp began, I quickly realized that I didn't know anything about coaching quarterbacks.

The camp was an outstanding experience for our QBs, as well as my growth as a coach. Coach Slack began the camp with a speech about the life lessons that playing football and the quarterback position teaches young men. I was ready to run through a brick wall for Coach Slack after his speech. It was worth the price of camp in and of itself.

This video gives you just a taste of what the camp is like:

The on-field technique work was outstanding. Coach Slack breaks down the quarterback position and throwing mechanics better than I have ever seen before. It is so simple, and it provides the athletes with a framework to self-diagnose their problems. I was even out there in the middle of the drills doing them along with the QBs, and getting instruction on how to teach it.

This isn't just a camp where they throw the football around a little bit and all of the coaches tell you how great you are. They flat out get after you from start to finish. They maintain a 5:1 coach to player ratio, so every QB is getting coached constantly.

After attending the camp, our Varsity QB's completion percentage went up 10% and he threw fewer interceptions compared to the year before. It made a huge difference for our QBs, and helped our offense thrive.

This summer, we are fortunate to host Coach Slack's camp at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, KS June 20-22nd.

It is now called the National Football Academies, and will include instruction at ALL positions, not just for quarterbacks.

The QB Academy is $355 with promo code CALLAMQBA (normally $545).

All other positions are $305 with promo code CALLAMNFA (normally $479).

(Note: Those promo codes are good for any C-4 camp in the country, not just at Olathe Northwest HS)

Here is a link to a flyer about the camp with additional information:

I strongly believe in what Coach Slack is doing to help high school athletes develop as football players and as men. I would highly encourage you to take your athlete to one of his camps throughout the country.

If you have any questions, please e-mail me or post a comment below!