I wanted to reach out to you regarding some common questions and concerns that we are receiving from parents about the Summit personalized learning platform. As the year has progressed, you have seen that Summit is very different from anything students have experienced in the past. Great things are happening at Trimble County Middle School this year, but that does not mean that our students and faculty have not experienced some growing pains throughout this process. This was expected as a result of such change, but I am so proud of how well our students and staff have adjusted. I want to share with you some of the positives, as well as some of the struggles that we have faced and how we are working with these situations.
Students are reading and writing more than they ever have in the past. This is especially evident during Personalized Learning Time (PLT), where students are taking various types of notes, a skill that they will carry on to high school, college, and beyond. Students are being asked to think critically and explain their learning in depth. Most students, even those that are high performing, have not fully developed these skills, but are showing growth in these areas. As they continue to develop these skills, their communication, writing, and problem solving will grow leaps and bounds.
Students are beginning to understand the self-directed learning cycle - setting a goal, making a plan for achieving the goal, implementing the plan, and reflecting on learning. This is the biggest difference from what students have done in the past. Instead of being told what to do to learn the material, students are given choice in the resources that assist them. From reading articles to watching videos, attending teacher-led workshops, working with a peer, or a combination of these activities, students are approaching learning in a profound way. Students meet weekly with their assigned mentor to discuss goal setting, planning for success, and their progress in learning.
Students are discovering that learning and intelligence is jagged. No matter your IQ, no one is good or bad at everything. Students are finding that while some things come very easy to them, other concepts do not, and it is different for every child. Surprisingly, top students seem to struggle with this concept the most because they may have seen more successes in school, without truly achieving mastery of every individual concept/skill. In other words, weaknesses were often masked with traditional grading. It is our hope that students will soon realize that with effort, they can learn anything.
Students now realize that self-directed learning takes a great amount of effort. Gone are the days that students could obtain high grades by class participation, homework completion, and passing assessments. In the old model, students could obtain an A in a class, but that letter grade did not necessarily reflect student mastery of content, or development of skills necessary for higher level thinking. Now, the work they complete demonstrates mastery of learning, requiring them to pass with a minimum score of 80%. This is a hard task, and students are figuring that out. No longer are students able to do the bare minimum and still pull A’s and B’s in courses. This is challenging our students, but the long-term goal is that acquiring these skills now will only benefit them in the future.
Grading. This is where students and parents seem to be asking the most questions. We understand that students and parents have historically focused on grades. Mastery learning and skills based grading is a mindshift from traditional grading, which combined points from daily classroom assignments and end of unit assessments/projects. If we did nothing different from last year, meaning we continued with traditional teaching, and just switched to skills based grading, grades would automatically be lower than traditional grading because points are not awarded for completing routine tasks/homework. Instead, grades are only awarded for assessment activities and projects. However, skills based grading is a much better measure for students and parents to see exactly where strengths and weaknesses lie within each individual student. When parents view the Summit platform, especially when a student may be behind in a particular subject, grades may look lower than they will be at the end of the year, as students catch up. These are year-long courses, and zeros that are averaged in will be eliminated as a student completes a unit. Students are not permitted to fail and just move ahead. As they pass their assessments, or improve upon their projects, grades will continue to increase.
So, how do you talk to your student about grades? We encourage you to make the conversation about skill progression, rather than a grade. Talk to them about why they did or did not do well on a particular assignment/project. Ask what they are doing to plan for the next assessment. Have them show you some of the things they have been working on to improve a particular skill.
Grades and feedback are about growing and moving students forward. Imagine your student were graded on their ability to run a mile. They are assessed at the beginning of the year, and they complete the mile run in 10 minutes (C level work). The student continues to work on their running with feedback and help from their teacher all year. In the spring, they are reassessed. This time, they complete the run in 7 minutes (A level work). The student’s yearly score for that skill would be an A, not an average of the A and C. Learning is now about where you are going, not where you started. With hard work, everyone will grow as a learner.
This transition is hard for students, parents, and teachers alike. We at TCMS are continuing to find ways to meet student needs, and we continue to hold high expectations for all learners. We want to work with parents in understanding the platform, and the mindshift from traditional grading to skills based grading. Earlier in the year, we sent home parent login information for the Summit Parent Portal. If you did not receive your login, feel free to contact us at the school. We will be happy to help you.
Thank you for your continued support of the students and staff at TCMS! We have a great school because we have hard working, talented teachers, and an amazing group of students.