Developing A New Approach to 9th and 10th Grade Preparation, Feedback and Development

In the fall of 2012, a subset of Deerfield teachers formed the Preparation Gap Task Force to determine the primary skills and qualities we aim to develop in our 9th and 10th grade students and to influence the language, practices, and/or tools we utilize to promote these skills and qualities. This initiative began by focusing on students who lacked the necessary “skills” to transition effectively into academic life at Deerfield and has evolved to anticipate the 21st century skills and dispositions we want our students to have as they graduate. The question became: How can we begin to develop these attributes in our students as early as the fall of 9th grade? And the rubric for 9th graders in October was the first answer.

The initiative, designed by the 9/10 Committee, the successor to the task force, aspires to support and augment the terrific work Deerfield faculty–teachers, advisors, dorm residents and associates, co-curricular heads, coaches–are already doing by unifying the language we use, stimulating conversations among faculty about pedagogy, recognizing specific areas where our content overlaps and where we can collaborate in developing these skills and dispositions in our students.  In the fall of 2014, the aim of the grading rubric was to unify the experience for 9th graders and to shift the emphasis from assessment to the habits of mind that we believe are most important for their academic career at Deerfield.

The changes in the fall of 9th grade year will help our students’ development and help our teachers give timely and substantive feedback to students about skills and dispositions that are difficult to assess.  The 9/10 Committee believes both students and teachers will benefit from these changes:

For students:

  • Clearly indicate to students and parents the skills and dispositions we value.
  • Set clear indicators for our expectations.
  • Give timely and substantive feedback on a spectrum of how they are living up to those expectations.
  • Allow students the opportunity to self-assess using the spectrum of indicators.
  • Take some of the focus away from numerical grades to offer students a different way to define success as they begin their Deerfield careers.
  • Narrow the preparation gap for some students by giving all students observable and actionable indicators for our expectations.

For teachers:

  • Create greater continuity within and among our disciplines.
  • Create a common academic language both for assessing our students and for developing certain skills and dispositions.
  • Offer an opportunity to develop long and short-term perspective on the skills and dispositions with which we want our students to graduate.
  • Utilize economies of scale – quality collaboration between colleagues leads to more refined, imaginative, and broadly supported change.
  • Give teachers a vehicle and the support to innovate.

We expect the development and implementation of this rubric to be an iterative process through which we continually appraise its format, criteria, and effectiveness.  We are not only considering changes to our current rubric for the winter trimester, but also envisioning how we might adopt similar strategies throughout our curriculum to help students build the skills and dispositions necessary to thrive in the 21st century. More to come!

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