This post was written by Becca Lett, the Member Success Manager at The Graide Network and the Curriculum Developer for Graide Academy.
I have always had a passion for education. I began my career as an educator in Houston, TX, as a Teach For America corps member in the fall of 2012. The summer before I entered the classroom, I attended Teach For America’s Summer Institute for new corps members. Institute was a five-week crash course in teaching consisting of both professional development and teaching summer school. We learned how to write a learning objective, plan a lesson, and execute the lesson while managing the class. We had deep, thought-provoking conversations about how race and class influence educators as well as students. We were grouped into cohorts so that we could share our challenges and feel supported. The late nights and early mornings bonded us to each other and I still keep in touch with my friends from Institute 5 years later. Institute was like a teaching starter kit, equipping me with the tools that were thought to be most important for surviving my first year. Skills that would lay the foundation on which I built my first classroom.
When I arrived on campus at Ortiz Middle School, I learned about data. Data was my principal’s favorite word. My colleagues and I were required to give students a common assessment every other week. The assessment was a multiple-choice test developed by grade-level content teams. The results were discussed as a team during planning periods. We would then post the percentage by which each class period mastered each learning standard tested. My students would view their individual scores on the online gradebook.
"Reflecting on my first year of teaching is painful for me because there were so many missed opportunities. Not only did I fail to provide my students with feedback on their bi-weekly assessments, but I rarely even passed the common assessments back to them."
Reflecting on my first year of teaching is painful for me because there were so many missed opportunities. Not only did I fail to provide my students with feedback on their bi-weekly assessments, but I rarely even passed the common assessments back to them. I sent them the message that the work they submitted to me would only be scored, compared to other classes and recorded in the gradebook. It is not surprising that only 50% of my students passed the end of year math assessment.
"Everyone around me let high-stakes, standardized testing rule my classroom."
Everyone around me let high-stakes, standardized testing rule my classroom. Veteran teachers and content experts from my school, my certification program, and Teach For America visited my classroom each week, reviewed my data, and told me I was on track and improving. Somehow, no one mentioned the fact that I wasn’t actually responding to the work my students submitted!
My students, however, saw the truth.
I can’t go back and change my first year, but I can help aspiring educators avoid making my same mistakes. That is what I love about my job at The Graide Network. After four years in the classroom, I moved to Chicago last summer and joined The Graide Network as the Member Success Manager. Every day I have the opportunity to work closely with teachers and aspiring teachers to ensure students are receiving the high-quality, effective feedback they need to learn and grow.
This spring, I’ve taken on a new and exciting challenge. Drawing on research, data, and the experience of many teachers, I’ve helped develop the curriculum for Graide Academy, an institution of higher learning that offers self-paced, online courses to teacher candidates on the topics of scoring and effective feedback. We are on a mission to cultivate K-12 educators who excel in the critical art of responding to student work.
I created Graide Academy for your future students and for you. When you enter the classroom, I want you to be equipped with the most important mindsets, values, and skills needed to drive student growth, engagement and achievement.
"We are on a mission to cultivate K-12 educators who excel in the critical art of responding to student work. I created Graide Academy for your future students and for you."
If I had made personalized feedback one of my classroom values, I can imagine how differently my first year would have gone. Even in the highly-pressurized testing environment at my school, my students would have understood that I cared about them because I was committed to providing them with personalized feedback that they could use to improve and learn.
After four years of teaching, I can attest to the fact that your most important function in your classroom each day is not determining what your students are thinking, creating, writing, solving, discussing, reading, evaluating, comparing, or applying, but rather how you are thoughtfully responding to their work. Students need specific, timely feedback to understand their progress towards a goal and opportunities to implement that feedback to improve. Responding effectively to student work is more than a skill. It is a mindset and value system that affects how your classroom operates.
So let’s get started!