Throughout their years at RVCS students develop the skills that exemplify our culture of educational excellence and embody the qualities of successful lifelong learning. This culture of excellence values the process of learning as much, if not more, than the product, and is modeled and cultivated by the Guides and Trustees, as well. By applying strategies such as goal setting, frequent and consistent feedback, multiple revisions, consultation with experts, development of a growth mindset and a view of learning as ongoing in all that we do, we create end products that truly reflect our best work together.
In order to create an environment that mirrors real-world learning and nurtures the whole child, we utilize research-based best practices for our instructional and assessment methodologies. Our intention is to facilitate learning that integrates and connects many traditional content areas within systems-based projects, is immersed in the natural world, and engages students by providing opportunities for student choice and decision-making. Learning is assessed through alternative and traditional means, including:
- Authentic application of skills within projects;
- Use of rubrics to identify outcomes;
- Creation of portfolios;
- Demonstration of proficiency through public presentations;
- Student self-evaluations and reflections;
- Student- and Guide-written Narrative (non-graded) Whole Student Reports (see note, below);
- Student-led conferences;
- Norm-referenced and standardized tests;
- and our Annual Celebration of Learning
Non-Graded Learning Environment
Alfie Kohn, a prolific writer who is informed by current research on the topic, has written extensively about the benefits of a non-graded educational experience. The following quotes from his work (www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/tcag.htm) give a sense of some of the underlying research and philosophy behind RVCS’ decision to not grade students:
- Quality: Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking. They may skim books for what they’ll “need to know.” They’re less likely to wonder, say, “How can we be sure that’s true?” than to ask “Is this going to be on the test?”
- Intellectual Risk: Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task. Impress upon students that what they’re doing will count toward their grade, and their response will likely be to avoid taking any unnecessary intellectual risks.
- Motivation: While it’s true that many students, after a few years of traditional schooling, could be described as motivated by grades, what counts is the nature of their motivation. Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake
- Quantification: There is certainly value in assessing the quality of learning and teaching, but that doesn’t mean it’s always necessary, or even possible, to measure those things — that is, to turn them into numbers.
- Other labels: It’s not enough to replace letters or numbers with labels (“exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” and so on). If you’re sorting students into four or five piles, you’re still grading them.
- Grades with narratives: It’s not enough to add narrative reports. “When comments and grades coexist, the comments are written to justify the grade” (Wilson, 2009, p. 60)
- Replacing letter and number grades with narrative assessments or conferences — qualitative summaries of student progress offered in writing or as part of a conversation — is not a utopian fantasy. It has already been done successfully in many elementary and middle schools and even in some high schools, both public and private (Kohn, 1999c).