Humanizing the End of the Semester

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Building community and blowing off steam at the end of the semester

It’s been a little over a year since my declaration of independence from rubrics. In the intervening time, I’ve worked alongside my students to develop various alternatives. I haven’t found one rubric to rule them all, but my assessment has continued to evolve in what I believe is a more humane direction, for students and staff alike.

“I have three families: my home family, my work family, and my school family.” –D.

As my friend and fellow TIWI-er Micah put it when we were chatting recently, I’ve been “Marie Kondo-ing our curriculum” all year. In a small, nontraditional school, we have the luxury and privilege to make changes quickly, based on where our hearts and minds tell us to go. One recent major change was in how we handled the end of the first semester. Traditionally, students have written several one-page reflections and then conferenced with their advisor to finalize credits. (And prior to last year, there were rubrics to go along with each piece of writing.)

This year, several major deadlines and events hit at the end of the semester, including district-level assessments, Winter Presentation Night, and those finalization meetings. It seemed like a good time to take stock of what we were asking of our students and to invite them to help us brainstorm solutions for reducing their stress, while still maintaining the expectation for reflective thinking and honest self-assessment of their performance during the semester.

A group of 8 or 9 students volunteered to talk it over, and they quickly coalesced around an idea that appealed to all of them. The written reflections would still be an option for those who preferred the old way, but we would also open up alternative formats, including Flipgrid videos or sets of notes that would later guide their conference. The meeting itself would be structured more like our student-led conferences, but with the advisor as the audience rather than a parent or guardian.

“When you are in High Marq they challenge you if you like it or not and eventually you will learn to accept the challenge that they give you.” –A.

Whereas in previous years the students would spend hours of time in class and at home writing the reflections, then I would spend hours reading those reflections and adding comments in Google Docs, only for us to meet for a short, perfunctory review, most of my students chose the note-taking option, which freed up their time and mine.

When meeting time came around, the biggest shift I noticed was how our conversations easily filled the entire 45 minute slot. Following a loose checklist/script, they shared with me their successes and challenges, their hopes and goals. The conversational format made the audience (i.e. me) for their reflection clear to the students, and led to what I think were deeper, more authentic discussions. (Some quotes from those discussions are scattered through this piece.)

“Being a good leader means something different for everyone.” –S.

In short, this change was for the better. As we come around the corner into the final stretch of the school year, I’m still not sure how I would define humane assessment in words. But I’m sure it starts with trusting student voices and acting on their ideas.

Postscript

I finished writing this piece just before more or less the entire United States education system—my school included—got thrown into our current state of virtual reality by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all trying to figure out how best to “do school” through a computer screen, and trusting students’ voices is more important than ever. My classroom at the end of the school year may be worlds away from my classroom at the start of the school year, but I assure you that it will still be a humane one.

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Skylar L. Primm (he/him)
GMWP: Greater Madison Writing Project

Cultivating students’ power, nurturing students’ joy, celebrating students’ humanity. 🧡🌱 skylarprimm.com