The 5 W’s and an H of grading — Part 2 What, When, and Where

What are the criteria we use to grade students?

  1. Mastery of content
  2. Good study habits and organizational skills
  3. Classroom behavior unrelated to academics

Starting with #3:  I used to have a behavior/extra credit/participation grade in which students were awarded 10 point per 9 weeks. They all started out with 10/10 points and then would lose points for being tardy or for excessive talking (off topic). With SBG, I dropped that grade because I wanted grades to reflect only mastery of content.  Unfortunately, now I have no incentive for discouraging tardies, because we are all expected to deal with tardies within our own classrooms.  So I understand why teachers include behavior as part of their classroom grade.  It is hard not to.

#2:  I think that when we teachers intend to measure mastery of content we are really grading how well students know how to “play the school game”.  Well-organized students with planners and neat notebooks full of resources, who turn their homework in on time and are prepared for tests, of course tend to get better grades.  Teachers often assume that those students also work harder and care more about their academic success than the students who lose their homework, don’t follow directions, and forget that the test is today.  But that is not necessarily true.  Disorganized students usually care very much and are very frustrated by their own disorganization.  Such students might work hard on an assignment and then not remember where they put it or study hard for a test, but study the wrong things.  Or maybe they want to study but lose their notes or leave their textbook at school.  Giving second chances and multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills helps these students to truly demonstrate what they know. I agree that life skills such as responsibility, organizational skills, and punctuality are important, but if we claim to be grading mastery of content, then our grading system should not punish a kid just for being more disorganized or less mature than another student.

#3:  Accurately measuring mastery of content is an art, one that I have yet to master.  It is fairly easy to measure skills and even conceptual understanding, but I need to work on how to measure creative thinking and problem solving.

When should we grade?

 If we want to grade mastery of content, then when we grade is very important.  We should grade in the formative sense as often as possible, with immediate feedback, so students do not reinforce bad habits.  I need to do more of this.  Students who want to learn always are eager to know if their answers are correct.  Hopefully I can help all of my students to develop that eagerness.

We should grade in the summative sense when students clearly understand what the standards are and how we expect them to be able to demonstrate their knowledge, and after they have had adequate time to practice.   This is a nice ideal but hard to achieve with limited time and a diverse group of students who learn at different rates.  Once again, it is important to give specific feedback and to allow students a chance to improve and retest.

Also, we should grade and return all work and assessments as soon as possible.  Feedback is most helpful when the work is fresh in the students’ minds.

Where should we grade?

 I mentioned in my previous post that I like to grade in my comfy chair at home with a hot cup of tea.  Also, if you are like me, you have graded papers almost everywhere and probably have a red pen in your car or purse.  However, I did have a more insightful thought.  Grading in class in front of students can be really helpful.  This could be done with sample student work, with anonymous answers collected from the class, or one-on-one with students.  Being able to discuss what work is good, what needs to be improved, what I am looking for when I grade, what common mistakes are, etc., is really helpful to students.  Grading can also could be done with video or by email to give students more personalized feedback.

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