Separating Feedback and Evaluation

Hey evaluation, you can’t fool teachers who understand assessment; we know you are not feedback.

You won’t find this sentence anywhere in Hacking the Writing Workshop, by Angela Stockman, but in the Hack about creating a writer-centered workshop, Angela clearly expresses that writer- or student-centered learning environments are founded on the kind of feedback that does not behave like a grade or an evaluation.

In one of her most thoughtful sections, Angela shares a powerful anecdote that underscores the value of meaningful feedback for all learners.

from Hacking the Writing Workshop, by Angela Stockman

I remember the first time one of my writers found herself grappling with what I’ve come to recognize as a sort of culture shock. This is common when kids who have been coached to become interdependent find themselves inside of a classroom whose leader is decidedly authoritarian.

We’d been writing together throughout the morning when she came to me and quietly asked if we could chat after all the other kids had gone home. I noticed that she seemed nervous, and it wasn’t characteristic of her.

“What’s up?” I asked, closing the door behind the last writer to leave.

“Do you remember how I set a goal last summer to finish writing an entire novel?” she asked, and of course I remembered. I smiled brightly and said, “That was quite an accomplishment.” 

Here’s the thing, though—it’s not uncommon for people to confuse feedback with evaluation.

“Yeah,” she bit her lip, taking a long look out the window. “About that.” As she tried to continue, tears began to form in her eyes. “So, I was really excited to take creative writing at school this year,” she told me. “I know the teacher is well-respected. He’s a very talented writer himself. In fact, he really intimidates me.”

I nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, I asked him to give me feedback on my manuscript, and he kept it for a while. Then, when we finally met, he told me that maybe if I stayed after school every day for this entire year and spent even more time revising it, I might be able to publish it. He said it didn’t show much promise.”

My heart broke. The writers that I support are trained to provide quality feedback to one another. This is hard learning. It takes time. It also takes a great deal of empathy. Many of the kids that I write with provide better feedback than the adults I know.

This writer was one of the best. I was hurt for her, because she spent so much time improving her writing and serving other kids in our community who always wanted her feedback.

Click image to look inside

I was also furious with her teacher, who I knew fairly well. I wanted to tell her that truly talented writers never tear others down. I wanted to tell her that he was wrong and that she could publish her writing that very day if she wanted to. I wanted to tell her to complain to her principal and to ask her mother to call the guidance department to switch her out of his class.

I wanted to say so many, many things in that moment, but instead I nodded and quietly asked, “How did you advocate for yourself?”

She looked confused.

“I’m serious,” I said sternly, looking her dead in the eyes. “How did you advocate for yourself?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she stammered, scanning the floor and the walls, as if the answer was waiting there.

“Well, as I understand it, you asked your teacher to provide you feedback,” I told her. “Did you ask for his evaluation? Did you ask his opinion on whether your work was ready for publication?”

She shook her head. “No.”

In fact, it’s better than okay if this provides our students opportunities to practice strength spotting and self-advocacy.

“You did not. Here’s the thing, though—it’s not uncommon for people to confuse feedback with evaluation. Maybe you should try again. Maybe if you’re clearer about what you need, he’ll be able to help you better.”

“Maybe,” she wiped her cheek.

“How will you do it?” I asked, inviting her to rehearse the exchange.

“Well, I could give him our peer review protocol and ask him to use that instead of his own opinions,” she offered, and I told her this was a great idea. I asked her how she would request this from her teacher in a way that wouldn’t offend him.

the feedback you need

“I’ll just tell him that we use it here, in our writing studio, and it helps me a lot,” she told me. “I’ll ask him if he minds using it when he talks with me about my writing.” This seemed respectful.

She would ask if he might use the protocol that helped her, and she would also make it clear that she respected his right to refuse.

“What if he says no?” she asked, horror washing over her face again.

“Then, you need to find someone who is better able to provide you the feedback you need,” I smiled. “It’s your work. You’re responsible for making these choices. It’s hard to find good people to review our writing. We get better at knowing who to ask—and when—over time.”

When we met again a few weeks later, she was glowing. “He really liked the protocol,” she told me. “In fact, he started using it with all of us in class.”

This didn’t surprise me at all. “It’s how you handled yourself,” I told her, and then I said that her courage and willingness to own and share her expertise made me proud. When we create learning cultures that are vastly different from the ones our colleagues maintain, it’s likely that some may not handle things so well, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay if this provides our students opportunities to practice strength spotting and self-advocacy.

These are important life skills. Finding the words for what we’re good at can be challenging, though, and without those words, strength-spotting is almost impossible. This is why it’s so important to create or adopt a framework that makes character strengths explicit.

end of excerpt

Many Hack Learning books, blogs, and podcast episodes are filled with examples of the kind of feedback that helps students ask important questions and reflect on their paths to learning. In Hacking the Writing Workshop, Angela Stockman reminds us once again that feedback is more important than evaluation in helping kids see work through the most important lens of all–their own.


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What if You Knew Every Student’s Quit Point?

Quit Point. If there were a dictionary definition for the phrase, it would most likely say, “The moment when something or someone stops.” Pretty simple, right?

What if there’s more to this concept? What if educators knew their students so well, they could predict exactly when kids would quit? Imagine how easily you could propel learners forward, if you had this incredible power.

Longtime classroom teachers Adam Chamberlin and Sveti Matejic say that understanding Quit Point is the key to unlocking the full potential of teaching and learning.

Intrigued? Keep reading and see if quitting takes on a whole new meaning.

Quit Point (an excerpt)

Teachers learn to define success through the achievements of their students. Relying on others isn’t easy because students learn at different rates and in different ways based on their individual talents and interests. These factors are considered when teachers are planning lessons, but some students will still demonstrate little to no learning at the end of the day.

Teachers tend to be a hard-working and resilient group, so they try to reach every student in the classroom—even the ones who are a daily challenge. But hard work and persistence aren’t always enough. Eventually, teachers start to wonder if their students are a more significant challenge than the lesson planning. They begin to question why their students aren’t working harder.

This question became our focus during the 2013–2014 school year, when we started to ask how we could reach more students more effectively. We believed technology could inspire students to show more engagement and effort in the classroom, so we pushed to be part of a pilot program using Chromebooks. We believed that the possibilities of a 1-to-1 classroom would allow us to embrace 21st-century learning skills and tools.

Perhaps we could even leave the obstacles of traditional teaching behind. Our students would have the limitless resources of the internet at their beck and call, and we hoped that would excite them more than a textbook could. We hoped, in fact, that our experience would look more like the magical videos we’d seen in professional development sessions, where every student showed the engagement and maturity of a college student.

We knew the change to 1-to-1 would include challenges, and that we would have to be open to the kinks that would inevitably pop up in a digital classroom. But we kept a positive attitude through those challenges because the opportunities for collaboration and engagement allowed students to take more ownership of their learning. We reassured students who complained because they wanted the passive environment they had grown accustomed to, and encouraged the students who were excited to be part of a technology-driven class.

No longer did students need to borrow pencils or worry about losing their papers. Our technological classroom was a breath of fresh air for students who were tired of walking into a room and listening to an adult talk—and we hoped it would change everything.

Despite our hopes and good intentions, though, it soon became clear that merely switching to a technological classroom wasn’t enough to achieve the momentous change we had anticipated. Daily learning looked different, but learning outcomes still lagged.

Call it naiveté or ignorance, but we were caught off guard by the number of students that continued to give lackadaisical effort during class. Student engagement increased, particularly from the highest-achieving students, but two months into our experiment, we were still seeing the same frustrating results for our lowest-skilled students. We’d made a monumental change … and it hadn’t made any difference.

Discouraged by their lack of engagement, we decided to make additional changes. Our digital classroom provided better resources and more personalized instruction, but something was missing. Many students needed an extra push. We sought and received advice ranging from, “You have to motivate the students to work harder” to “Make the lessons more engaging and the students will care more.” The first approach passed the blame onto the students, while the latter shifted the blame onto us, implying that we were not already doing everything possible to engage students.

And then we had an epiphany. We realized that our focus had been so set on the resources, technology, and new instructional strategies that we had neglected to consider motivation. But instead of classic carrot-and-stick approaches to motivation, like our colleagues suggested, we began to explore the difference between the more motivated and less motivated students. How did our pupils become one or the other?

Next, we fell back on a tried-and-true concept: What should we do when we don’t like the answers given to a question? Ask a different question! The new goal was not simply to motivate students, but to answer the question, “What makes students quit?” Our new approach unlocked possibilities that we had never considered in the classroom. Many teachers discuss motivation and effort when they’re out of solutions to long-term problems, and when they themselves begin to lose motivation.

But we realized that focusing on the challenges of student apathy and motivation didn’t have to be the final step before giving up on our goals. Studying the moment when every student chooses to either quit or continue productive effort, which we call the Quit Point, could help us find new ways to address apathy and motivation in the classroom. This was our new beginning.

Everything we learned from then on started by looking at that Quit Point.

Now, Quit Point has become the driving force for how we view, analyze, and interpret engagement in our classroom. Accounting for Quit Point provides the tools we need to better understand the challenges and solutions related to motivation. We find that many teachers look at student effort and motivation as constant elements—part of what makes up an individual student, like hair color, blood type, or dominant writing hand. But a closer examination of how people work shows a much greater range of motivation and effort than many of us realize.

For example, consider how your motivation and effort vary when you read a book. Maybe the book starts slowly, so you read in smaller chunks or with limited enthusiasm while you wait for the exciting part to begin. At other times you can’t put the book down, and stay up late to finish an extra chapter, putting more effort into reading than you did when you started the book. Every task we complete works the same way, with peaks and valleys of effort and motivation. Looking for those peaks and valleys is a fundamental step in incorporating Quit Point methodology.

Awareness of student Quit Points is only the first step in affecting student motivation and effort. Exploring their interests, goals, and skills gives the teacher a basis for preparing the best and most efficient ways to teach them. Embedding goals and activities in those practices allows students to take even more ownership over their work. We all have moments when it’s hard to avoid procrastinating, or we know we could put in better effort or more focus.

These may be professional responsibilities like grading student work in a timely manner, or household duties like mowing the lawn. Effort isn’t simply a faucet we can turn on and off whenever we want. Lots of factors can make it easier or harder to be at our best.

Seeing productive effort as a process and a product of healthy habits, instead of something to be turned on or off, helps establish a mindset in which quitting isn’t a default decision. Quit Points are responses to those situations when people cannot maintain their effort and experience a sudden decrease in focus and energy.

Coming July, 2018

Understanding Quit Point also provides opportunities to motivate and engage low-motivation, high-quit students. High-quit students are more likely to withdraw than to attempt to overcome an obstacle. They often have a significantly different mindset about work, and much lower confidence in positive outcomes than their teachers. This often means that the concepts that motivate us as educators, such as believing we can “fail forward” and trusting initiative and effort to overcome obstacles, have a negative effect on the high-quit student.

They often see our belief in students and ourselves as a trick and become even less confident in their abilities to succeed. If you are not an experienced runner, the idea of running a marathon because “you can do it” will give you a similar feeling to what low-optimism, high-quit students feel when we use ineffective motivational strategies. Just as a hot, humid day can make it harder to put effort into mowing the lawn, or the constant PA notifications at an airport can make it hard to focus on reading, the wrong motivational approach will make it harder for anyone to “turn on the faucet” and sustain focus and effort on a task.

Once we understood the lessons we learned from students quitting, we were able to discover strategies we could use to manage, delay, and avoid that point of quitting. This book collects many of the lessons and strategies we learned through our exploration of Quit Point and attempts to provide readers with ideas to immediately apply in their classrooms.

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We’ve broadly organized the strategies around concepts that increase student task value and optimism, and we’ve provided readers with examples that will encourage students to sustain a higher level of effort and engagement as part of their daily practice. Our goal is to help all educators immediately apply the lessons we’ve learned through our study of Quit Point, to make a significant, positive impact on student effort and motivation.

One final thought for this introduction: We wrote this to improve our approach to learning for all students, so they may find success in a real world that is ever-evolving. Our understanding of human psychology continues to change, while our access to data provides amazing opportunities for analyzing social interactions such as learning.

The simple answers of the past are not necessarily complex enough to address the needs of 21st-century learners. We often hear our colleagues tell students what awaits them in high school, college, or the workforce, but the reality is that we try to prepare our students to succeed in a world that is changing every day in terms of technology, and we can’t possibly foresee all of the needs and challenges in their futures.

Instead of teaching them to meet set goals, we must teach them to overcome all challenges, and refuse to quit.

While presenting at a technology conference, we shared this extraordinary quote from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. It is both beautifully haunting and passionately optimistic at the same time. “Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation. If by some miracle a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd that everybody would laugh him to scorn. The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.”

If we want to prepare our students for the future, we can’t expect our classes to look like the schools of the past, or use education strategies of old, but should instead be ready to embrace anything, including the absurd and absolutely fantastic. It is our hope that the concepts included in this book are a key to unlocking just that.


Learn more about Quit Point in a video interview with the authors. It’s inside the free Hack Learning Toolkit.

Learn more about the authors of Quit Point on our Team Page.

When Teachers Bash Teachers, Education Suffers

I love connected educators. While I have no hard data to prove this, I believe that educators who tweet, join live Twitter chats, and converse in Facebook, Voxer, and Flipgrid groups are better, in many cases, than teachers and leaders who are not connected.

My experience on all of these platforms is that these connected educators are working very hard to be the best at what they do. They share links to wonderful resources and articles about innovative teaching and learning, and they participate in some inspiring conversations that help me reflect and, in some cases, drive content at Times 10 Books. This is powerful, free professional development.

If you’re not sure of a tweet’s intended meaning, why not simply ask the tweeter what she means?

In spite of all the thought-provoking PD happening on social media, there’s still a problem.

As I observe a mountain of marvelous content on Twitter, I’m also seeing an increase in what looks a lot like subtle bashing of other educators who submit their ideas of “best practice.” I put that phrase in quotation marks, because many EduTweeters can’t agree on what “best practices” are.

This bashing, which some people defend by saying, “I was talking about the idea, not the person” is, surprisingly, prolific, which might make you wonder, How can this happen in the education space? These are adults, after all, who are supposed to model proper behavior for kids.

Someone recently posted the following tweet:

Good teachers will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can improve their lessons next year. That’s just what they do.

The tweet was liked thousands of times and retweeted over 500 times. I have to assume this indicates that thousands of people agree.

One popular connected educator disagreed, though, and replied to the “Good teachers…” tweet with this:

The rest of us crap teachers will use summer to rest and take a break without feeling guilty about not thinking about work. That’s just what we do.

That comment sparked a furious conversation that included tweets about unfollowing the author of the “Good teachers…” tweet. Others said the author should simply be disregarded for various reasons. Soon, more zingers followed in support of the popular dissenter, all seemingly aimed at disparaging the “Good teachers…” author.

One well-known connected educator defended the “Good teachers…” author, expressing shock at what he believed to be a “mob mentality.” This was swiftly met with the “I didn’t do anything wrong/ he didn’t do anything wrong” defense.

As I continued to read and offer a different perspective with a few tweets of my own, I envisioned a similar scenario in a different venue with different participants.

It looked like this:

A young girl at school was sharing a poster she’d created for a class project. A few kids liked it and said it was beautiful. Some asked the teacher to hang it up, so visitors could see it when they entered the room.

A few students, though, didn’t like the poster; they understood it to mean something entirely different from what the girl had intended.

They felt it made a statement about the kind of kids they were and that it smeared them in some way, even though they never asked the girl to clarify the poster’s message.

They said the girl had created content like this before and that she should be ignored. “Let’s not play with her anymore,” one zealot shouted. “Truth!” one of the popular kids yelled.

Soon, a few other students, who didn’t know the girl at all, heard the commotion and stuck their heads in the room.

They noticed the popular student shouting at the girl, so they joined in. It had to be the right thing to do, if the popular kid thought so. None of them, though, bothered to ask what the girl’s creation meant.

The ridicule continued. The people who liked the girl’s work lost interest, while the others became louder. When the teacher said they should stop, they shrugged and replied, “We didn’t do anything. We’re just talking about the message on the poster.”

Meanwhile, the girl, who had drawn a beautiful picture of three children with lightbulbs over their heads, dropped the poster and hurried out of the room.

One of the students who had wandered into the class picked it up and read a quote under the picture. It said:

Good students will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can be better students next year. That’s just what they do.

Thanks for reading and, as always, let’s try to hack learning every day.

What if Teachers Could Extinguish Shame?

Shame permeates our schools and classrooms. Kids shame their peers and, sometimes, usually unwittingly, teachers shame their students.

Compassionate classrooms, detailed in Hacking Classroom Culture by Angela Stockman and Ellen Feig Gray, extinguish shame.

Read the excerpt below to find out how to eliminate shame in your space and design your own compassionate classroom.


Reframing Vulnerability

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget

how you made them feel.



Whether we like to admit it or not, teachers have the potential to have a profound and lasting effect on our students. Sometimes we are remembered in ways that belie our best intentions. Ellen tells a story of when she was in AP American history class, more than 40 years ago. The teacher liked to call out students when they weren’t performing up to his expectations of how they should be participating in his class. For him, classroom discussion was of great value, as he believed we learn best from a free interchange of ideas and interpretations of the readings.

She vividly remembers how this teacher, in his desire to encourage participation, shamed a very quiet and anxious student when he said, in front of the whole class, “Robert, we haven’t heard from you at all this semester. I think I’ll replace you with a potted plant!”

When we feel vulnerable and are subject to shame, we shut down, retreat into ourselves, feel unworthy, and become embarrassed and unproductive.

To this day, her heart palpitates and she feels the tightness in her abdomen as she recalls this embarrassing event. And the shaming wasn’t even directed at her! It turns out that this student was painfully shy, extremely anxious, and the victim of teasing and bullying because he was so socially awkward.

When teachers shame students, or peers shame each other, trust is broken and connection is eroded.

Another experience Ellen recounts is that of one of her childhood friends, whose third-grade teacher made him stand in the garbage can on a regular basis, in the corner of the classroom, because he fidgeted in class, appeared uninterested in the lesson, and spent more time gazing out the window than completing his work. The teacher had decided that this student would never succeed and the only job he was fit for was as a sanitation worker, and she felt it was her responsibility to make a point of that to the whole class.

Ellen and her friend now laugh about this incident more than 50 years later, but the emotional trauma this teacher caused remained fresh for a long time and greatly affected his self-confidence in his own academic abilities. (Fortunately, that didn’t stop him from becoming the head of one of the world’s leading foreign policy think tanks after attending an Ivy League college and earning a PhD.)

Learn more about compassionate classrooms

What his third-grade teacher didn’t realize at the time was how bored he was with the lessons she was teaching and how he needed greater intellectual challenges to keep him focused. She also failed to realize that he was a naturally deep thinker, who would always be more engaged by what was going on inside his head than what was happening around him. Nonetheless, she was quick to judge, and relied on shaming to try to whip him into shape.

These examples of shaming and humiliation are extreme and tantamount to child abuse. Most of us are well meaning and would never intentionally hurt a student by shaming them with our words or actions. But classrooms are by nature potentially shaming places where students are subject to judgment, evaluation, assessment, grading, scoring, comparison, criticism and scrutiny for how they perform, behave and stack up against the rest, and what they say, do, and reveal about themselves on a daily basis. That makes schools the ultimate in vulnerability communities and students continually at risk for shaming and humiliation.

Add to that the social environment where students are made to feel less than by their fellow students through teasing, bullying, and shaming. As the adults in the room, we must be sensitive to the many, often subtle ways that kids may treat each other badly, including saying and doing hurtful things in your classroom, as well as through social media. Many students are coming to class feeling ostracized, fearful, threatened, anxious, bruised and distracted by these emotions. It is important that we appreciate their experiences and acknowledge how those experiences may contribute to their reticence.

It is collaborative and vulnerable, with everyone taking risks. And shaming is not an option….

When we feel vulnerable and are subject to shame, we shut down, retreat into ourselves, feel unworthy, and become embarrassed and unproductive. When teachers shame students, or peers shame each other, trust is broken and connection is eroded. This can happen even when we are not conscious of the power of our words and are not being purposefully shaming. For example, it’s common to hear teachers say things like “If you put as much time into your algebra homework as you spend playing in the band, you might be more successful.”

A comment like that is often meant to motivate a student to work harder, but in reality it makes them feel less than worthy, and inadequate. The teacher can reframe the comment with something like “I’ve seen you put a great deal of effort into practicing your guitar so you can play in the band. How might you spend more time studying for your math tests so you can master the problems? How can I help you pass this course?” Often it’s when we recognize and appreciate who our students really are that we can best help them become the best they can be.

We need to reframe the way we think about ourselves and our students. If we acknowledge their vulnerability—and ours—we can operate from a place of empathy and compassion and open ourselves up to seeing our students as human beings who want what we all want—to be loved, accepted, and to feel worthy of succeeding.


Dr. Brené Brown points out that vulnerability is a human emotion that is neither good nor bad. In fact, she sees vulnerability not as a weakness, but as the core of all of our feelings. When we shame others we are derailing their courage to be vulnerable.

The truth is that all students, no matter their age, grade level, academic ability, or apparent self-confidence, come to class feeling vulnerable. When we acknowledge them as human beings, with complex emotional lives like our own, we are equipped to help them prepare to open themselves up to real learning. Shaming not only disrespects them, but may also set them up for failure, lack of engagement, low motivation, and a perpetual self-defeating attitude.

Learning entails taking risks, and it is our responsibility as teachers to create an environment where students can open themselves up to what’s possible, to try to reach their potential and to be embraced for who they are.

When we reframe vulnerability as having the courage to take risks, to be uncertain, and to expose ourselves emotionally, that’s when real growth, change and learning can take place. It is up to us to create an emotionally safe environment that is built on trust and respect, nurturing students’ potential rather than shaming them.


There are a number of things you can do to shift the tone of your classroom to a more positive one. You have more power than you may think in creating a community that’s based on safety and trust, where students feel comfortable enough to open themselves up to learning. Here are some suggestions:

PRACTICE VULNERABILITY. Show your students you are vulnerable to being judged and shamed, just like they are. If you reveal yourself to them, they will open themselves up to letting you know them. On the first day of class, Larry Schwarz, whose story we shared in Hack 2, tells his students that who they see now is not who they will see tomorrow, in a week, in a month, or at the end of the semester.

“Right now, who you see is an overweight, older man, and you may be thinking things and making certain assumptions about me that you will find out are not true as you learn more about me and spend more time in this class.” When we admit we are all vulnerable, and reframe our vulnerability as an opportunity for authentic human connection, we have the potential to form healthy, positive teacher-student relationships of trust that foster learning on all levels—academic, social and emotional.

Learn more about compassionate classrooms

ILLUMINATE POTENTIAL SOURCES OF SHAME. By shining a bright light on what students may be worried about when they come to class as well as what they most wish for, we can normalize their feelings of vulnerability and begin to treat them with respect. Angela uses an exercise called “Wishes and Worries” when she works with students to assess their interests, their needs, and their fears, and to understand that they are not alone in their feelings.

She also uses what the students reveal to create agreements about how they will treat one another in class, and from time to time returns to the wishes and worries theme to check in on how she is keeping her promises to fulfill their wishes and create a space where their fears can be allayed. We have provided a protocol for Wishes and Worries for you to download, in the supplemental resources folder for Hack 5….

PROMPT POSITIVELY. Choose positive words when communicating with your students about their potential. When you assess a student’s progress with specific constructive feedback that’s grounded in positive reality, you are offering them useful feedforward that they can build upon. Even when you’re attending to flaws, it’s possible to frame your feedback in a way that builds your students’ confidence. Rather than saying “This is where you need to improve,” consider using “This is what you’re showing me you’re ready to try next.”


Ten years ago, Starr Sackstein began teaching English and journalism to eleventh and twelfth graders at the World Journalism Preparatory School. As a teacher in a traditional system, she became disturbed by the cutthroat competitiveness and lack of collaboration among her students. She observed how students were defining themselves and their worth exclusively through their grades, and not through what they were their learning. The A students flaunted their high-achieving status and held it over their less-than-A peers. Students who were getting grades of less than a 90 felt worthless, shamed, and less than, merely by virtue of the fact that they did not measure up.

She wondered what it would be like for them if she substituted the grading system with a feedback system that featured constructive comments. Starr was able to identify with her A students, as she was one herself. When she began to put herself in her students’ shoes she realized that they were ex

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periencing what she had as a student—there was nothing more important than achieving high grades. She remembered how her teachers constantly reminded students, “If you don’t do your work, it’s going to affect your grades.” And she became ashamed at what she calls some of the same “abuses of power” she was “perpetrating against her students, unknowingly.”

During report card season in 2011, Starr became acutely aware of the atmosphere of anxiety that pervaded everything at her school. What was notable to her was the anticipatory excitement that only the A students exhibited. “When report cards were handed out, there were either cheers or tears.” When she came to terms with how she was about to grade her students with letters, she compared that to how her own son in elementary school was being evaluated through what she considered much more informative and reflective narrative feedback.

She began to consider how she could better communicate her AP literature students’ progress and learning accomplishments  on their report cards. She wanted to change grading from an “isolated judgmental experience to a collaborative conversation.” She felt that it was “time to give students the words to talk about their learning, in a meaningful way.”

Starr brought more self-reflective student practices into class. And she began the conversation with her students: “What do grades mean to you?” At first there was frustration, especially among high performing students whose self-worth had been inextricably tied to their grades. She realized that “shifting the mindset around something like grades was hard work,” but she refused to “slip back” into the strict letter grading system. As she observed the process, she saw her students “engaged in learning, pushing boundaries, and articulating growth in ways they didn’t know teenagers could.”

She attributes these results to taking risks and trusting each other. The self-assessment no-grading system Starr has used with her students is continually evolving with the input of students. She continues to involve them in an iterative process of empathy, prototyping, testing, and refining as they go. It is collaborative and vulnerable, with everyone taking risks.

And shaming is not an option….

To learn more about extinguishing shame and designing compassionate classrooms, look inside Hacking School Culture here.

This excerpt is provided with permission from Times 10 Publications

Click the image to see hundreds of FREE tools in the Hack Learning Toolkit

It’s a Hacky Spring Contest with an Awesome Grand Prize!

It might not feel like spring in the northeast and midwest United States, but we’re still Hacking Spring, with an amazing Hack Learning Twitter share contest!

We gave away more than $5,000 worth of books and T-shirts at Empower18 Conference last month, in in effort to spread the word about Hack Learning–a movement aimed at helping teachers and learners easily solve some of their biggest problems.

We’re still solving problems and giving stuff away

Spread the word about Hack Learning, and win!

All you have to do is share a cool, funny, unorthodox, amazing, hacky picture or video on Twitter, get plenty of engagement, and you’ll have a chance to win our Grand Prize!

Keep reading, because this starts TODAY and ends Saturday, April 7, 2018.

The Contest

  1. Take a picture or video of you or a friend or family member with your Hack Learning T-shirt, Empower18 Hack Learning booth pic, and/or a Hack Learning Series book.
  2. Share the pic/video on Twitter.
  3. In the share, mention @markbarnes19 and add #HackLearning. (NOTE: all shares MUST contain both @markbarnes19 and #HackLearning to be eligible to win.)
  4. Ask for likes and retweets (optional but helpful).
  5. The three Tweets with the most engagement (combined likes and retweets) win!


3rd place — $50 Amazon Gift Certificate

2nd place — $75 Amazon Gift Certificate

GRAND PRIZE — 15 Hack Learning books, 1 coffee mug, 1 tote bag ($500 value)

When is the contest?

  • Start posting to Twitter NOW: Thursday April 5th
  • Contest ends: Saturday April 7th at 8 PM ET
  • Winners announced: Sunday April 8th at 11 AM ET

Tweet your pic NOW!

Hack Learning Ambassador at Empower18 Conference

Tweet a pic with you, a Hack Learning T or book, and/or our banner for a chance to win

What’s the purpose?

Simple: We want people to see Hack Learning books, so they’ll be inspired to check out one of education’s most powerful problem-solving movements. And we’re not afraid to enlist your help and incentivize sharing with cool prizes.

We give away more content than anyone–over $100,000 in FREE content to educators around the world in 2017 and 2018! After all, Hack Learning is not about making authors or publishers rich; it’s about making educators better!

Share your pic or video on Twitter now. Tag @markbarnes19 and #HackLearning. Promote your Tweet, so you can win!

NOTE: Hack Learning authors and team members are ineligible to win.