How to Grade For Learning
By Ken OConnor
Reviewed by Rick Chambers
Ken OConnor, a curriculum co-ordinator with the
Toronto District School Board, says the classroom must provide five elements: "trust
and belonging, meaningful content, enriched environment, intelligent choices and adequate
Its not surprising then, that in How To Grade For Learning, OConnor takes a
compassionate view of grading. He is concerned about students success and advocates
for second chances, learning from and not being penalized by mistakes, making time a
flexible element in assessment practices, avoiding bell curves and other norm-referenced
techniques, and emphasizing grading as a method to indicate achievement, not attitude.
He has little tolerance for pop quizzes or other methods of ambushing students, failing
to match teaching to testing, using zeros indiscriminately, worshipping averages, grading
first efforts and employing other inconsistent grading criteria.
OConnor makes the point that communication is the prime reason for grading
students work. Students, parents, school administrators, post-secondary institutions
and employers all want clear information on student achievement, and assume that grades
reflect some kind of accuracy. However, OConnor says that grading practices have to
go beyond sorting and selecting students; teachers have to "use grading in the
service of learning."
Robert Marzano, an American writer and educator, has said that accurate feedback to
students is the most important instructional technique that teachers have, and yet
"grading is the most idiosyncratic thing we do."
Given that grading is complicated, subjective, emotional, and inescapable,
OConnor points out that it has a limited research base, no single best practice, and
if done badly can be very damaging to students and teachers.
OConnor comes down firmly on the side of criterion-
referenced grading. "Teachers use criterion-referenced standards when they provide
their students with rubrics scoring scales that clearly indicate the criteria for
quality work." If students are going to learn to self-assess and improve their
performances, they need to understand how the grades they received were determined.
Teachers find when using criterion-referenced grading that student achievement will
improve and predictably, grades will be high. As OConnor says, teachers "must
be prepared to give students the grade they deserve based on comparison with absolute
(criterion-referenced), not relative (norm-referenced) standards." And he writes,
"When students know how they will be assessed, and especially when they have been
involved in assessment decisions (rubrics), the likelihood of student success is increased
OConnor emphasizes the role of communication in grading. If grading is to reflect
student achievement, then certain basic practices should follow. "Achievement
demonstrates knowledge, skills, and behavior that are stated as learning objectives for a
course or unit of instruction
Grades are limited to individual achievement and are
not used as punishment for poor attendance, inappropriate behavior, or lack of
OConnor supports the concepts of second chances and flexible time frames.
"In the real world, very little of consequence depends on a single opportunity for
Timed assessments militate against many kinds of learners and their results do not
accurately reflect student achievement. "Reflective learners and slow writers often
receive lower grades than they deserve as a result of being required to perform
inappropriately time-limited assessments."
OConnors thesis is captured in one sentence near the end of the book:
"Grades are and can never be anything more than symbols that summarize
Inevitably, parents, students, employers, school administrators and others will try to
read more into the numbers than they represent. All the more reason, according to
OConnor, to keep the numbers clean and honest. If grades summarize achievement, then
students should be given many opportunities and methods to demonstrate what they know and
How to Grade for Learning Arlington Heights, Illinois, 1999; ISBN 1-57517-123-6;
$27.95 U.S.; Skylight Professional Development; 1-800-348-4474; www.skylightedu.com
Rick Chambers, who taught English for 27 years, is a program officer in the
Colleges Professional Affairs Department.
Keys to Literacy for
Pupils at Risk
By Lee Dobson and
Reviewed by Cheryl Zinszer
Lee Dobson and Marietta Hurst have written a very
user-friendly book. They present observations, give sound suggestions and strategies.
Connections between practices and the theory that supports them are clearly explained.
Lee and Marietta begin by stating the principles that are necessary to implement their
program for pupils at risk. Their first three chapters present keys to understanding
reading and writing and how they develop. The authors emphasize that reading and writing
intertwine and interact at all times.
The book also provides readers with keys to developing interactions with pupils. The
authors claim that if you practise using these strategies, they will become second nature.
The impressive issue is that these strategies work in mainstreamed classes, ESL classes
and learning centres.
The final chapters of the book set out the specific reading and writing programs,
providing teachers with ideas to identify pupils strategies, evaluate their
effectiveness and individualize programs. The authors emphasize that we must recognize the
positive strategies that pupils at risk bring to their learning. As educators, we need to
applaud and confirm these good strategies. Our acknowledgment will let the students know
they are on the right track and will enhance their self-esteem.
Keys to Literacy for Pupils at Risk is well worth reading.
Keys to Literacy for Pupils at Risk Toronto, Pippin Publishing, 1997; ISBN
0887510809; $16.95; can be ordered from General Distribution Services (416) 213-1919 or
Cheryl Zinszer is principal of Anne Hathaway Public School in Stratford and past
president of the Ontario Council for Exceptional Children and the Canadian Council for
Magazines of Note for Teachers and Others Interested in Education
Reviewed by Christopher Ball
Remember the promise of a paperless society, where less
information would bombard us and computers would handle all of it? Well, theres more
information and more paper on my desk each day, it seems, and less time to read it. In
order to keep up with developments in your field you really have to select a few key
sources that cover the terrain in a balanced fashion.
Heres a quick fix on some key Canadian periodicals
of interest to College members. Well take a look at some interesting international
publications in a future issue of Professionally Speaking. Ive found these titles to
be an excellent start for keeping up to date on education issues.
Quarterly, Canadian Education
Association, Toronto, $28 plus GST, call (416) 924-7721 to subscribe
In the fall of
1998, this journal was reformatted and announced the "premier issue." The
pedantic will note that few premier issues arrive as Volume 38, and in fact this title has
been with us for some time. It was in need of a face lift and its great to see a key
Canadian education title emerge in a full-size, pleasing layout.
The premier issue focussed on the theme of educational reform and examined the areas of
authentic assessment, parental involvement in school councils and the issue of school
Three times a year, Ontario Public School Boards
Association, Toronto, $12, (416) 340-2540
covers the local Ontario developments sometimes missing in the larger periodicals,
providing a useful overview of the issues affecting school boards and teachers in the
province. Coverage is not limited to the province, however, with a recent volume covering
financial problems in the North West Territories and an excellent interview with Carol
Shields, author of the award-winning novel The Stone Diaries.
Teacher: Education for Planet Earth
Quarterly, Green Teacher, Toronto,
$23.36 plus GST,
publication is something of a local success story, written for and supported by teachers.
Green Teacher now has regional editors throughout Canada and the United States, giving
this "little magazine that could" excellent coverage of environmental issues in
North America and beyond.
Full of practical ways to incorporate global education across the curriculum, this
title is a one-stop source for environmental education. Indexed in the Canadian Education
Index, ERIC, and the Canadian periodical index.
A Commentary on the World of Education
Quarterly, Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education at the University of Toronto, Toronto, $38.52, (416) 267-2185
One of the core
titles for any look at the educational landscape in Canada. The table of contents for
Orbit contains names that we are all familiar with, such as Hargreaves, Fullan, Leithwood
and Earl. The articles are always timely and written by people who truly know their topic.
Coverage spans the early years right through to high school and graduation. Recent
issues have addressed such areas as phonics/whole language in the literacy program
an excellent discussion of the issue for experts and novices alike accountability
in schools and the changing role of Ontarios teacher federations.
Six issues annually three journals, three
books, Our Schools/Our Selves Education Foundation, Toronto, $38, (416) 497-4110 ext. 605
magazine that pulls no punches and preserves the active and informed voice of the left.
Our Schools/Our Selves calls itself the magazine for educational activists and it
doesnt disappoint. For passionate commentary on legislative lobbying, political
policy process and the corporate agenda in the classroom look no further.
Christopher Ball manages the College library.
Legal Handbook For Educators, Fourth
By Anthony F. Brown
Reviewed by John Cruickshank
As the introduction accurately states, "this book is
about education law in Ontario."
Author Tony Brown has organized and explained the key provisions of the relevant
statutes and regulations in a way that makes them more accessible and understandable. The
major acts and relevant regulations are highlighted in a very easy-to-read format with the
sections that have the greatest everyday use discussed in appropriate detail.
Specifically, eight chapters of the book cover the Education Act, Going to School
(attendance), Statutory Roles and Responsibilities, Governing the Education Profession
(Ontario College of Teachers), Special Education, Teacher-School Board Collective
Bargaining, Negligence and School Administration.
The specific issues in each section are presented in a most useful question and answer
format, which adds greatly to the usefulness of this book as a resource document. The
questions are answered with sufficient detail and more importantly, the answers include
more specific reference to sections of the relevant acts and regulations, which will guide
the reader to more detailed information when required.
The appendices include the essential acts and regulations for quick reference: five
policy program memoranda, the Ontario Student Record guideline, 13 regulations under the
Education Act, four regulations under the Ontario College of Teachers Act, and excerpts of
the Education Act and the Ontario College of Teachers Act, the Teaching Profession Act,
regulations under the Teaching Profession Act, the Trespass to Property Act, the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Judicial Review Procedures Act and the Statutory
Powers Procedures Act.
This book is clearly an essential reference on education law. In addition to being a
resource which all school administrators should have, the material is presented in a
format which can and should provide important legal information for anyone involved in
education in Ontario. The fact that this book is so very current has made it an important
reference for me and I can readily attest to its usefulness.
Legal Handbook for Educators, Fourth Edition Toronto, 1998; ISBN 0-459-23801-9;
$48; Carswell Thomson Professional Publishing; (416) 609-3800 or 1-800-387-5164.
John Cruickshank is a superintendent with the Peel District School Board and
Vice-Chair of the Ontario College of Teachers.
A Multi- Disciplinary Approach to
Approach to Physical Abuse
Videos and Workbooks
Reviewed by Ruth Milikin
How can professionals with differing agendas, priorities and
methods address and respond to the difficult issues of suspected child physical and sexual
Two videos produced by Canada Law Book, A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Sexual Abuse
and A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Physical Abuse, suggests that professionals who work
with children work together in the best interest of children. The experts in these videos
some of the top people in this field stress that even professionals who have
the best interests of the child at heart may hamper the investigation and identification
of suspected child sexual or physical abuse because of a lack of understanding of the
issues, differing professional methods or clashing priorities.
Each video is accompanied by a helpful workbook. They offer practical suggestions to
help in the identification of suspected child abuse and legal background, including the
obligation to report suspected abuse.
Both videos present the material in a straightforward manner. However, both of these
brief videos contain very graphic and disturbing forensic photography depicting actual
evidence of physical and sexual abuse of children. The material may not be suitable for
The videos are available in the Ontario College of Teachers library as resource
material for members.
A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Sexual Abuse & A Multi-Disciplinary Approach
to Physical Abuse; $195 each; Canada Law Book Videos (905) 841-6472 or 1-800-263-3269
Ruth Milikin, who has more than 20 years experience in dealing with child abuse
issues, is an investigator in the Colleges Investigations and Hearings Department.