My New Plan for Grading

I like to plan ahead. It’s just my nature. The plans are always different, but ask me at any given moment and I can give you a naïve forecast for next week, next month, next year, five years from now, tens years from now… So, even though I haven’t been hired for next year yet, I’ve been planning a lot of different things for my classes next year. I will (hopefully) be teaching a full-year class of computer programming and a half year MS Office class followed by a half year Web 2.0 Tools class.

I am constantly assessing my students; however, I hate grading. Intensely. It has been wonderful being a school librarian this year. One of the primary reasons is that I haven’t had to grade (I still assessed; don’t get the ideas confused).

I am planning on completely throwing out the way I graded and replacing it with something that is very different and much more meaningful to students. The hardest part, I think, will be getting my students, parents, and administrators (not really if I get the job I’m hoping for) on board as it is different from what most are used to. To give credit where it is due, my thoughts on this have been influenced greatly by Matt Townsley, a math educator from Iowa.

I would like to move completely to grading based on understanding/mastery of standards. This will have to differ a little class by class as Web 2.0 Tools does not yet have standards. MS Office does, I believe, and programming will progress by concept. I tend to be very constructivist in my teaching and most of my assignments for better or worse are open-ended and project/problem based.

At the beginning of the grading quarter, I plan to give students a breakdown of everything that they are supposed to master in the given time. While I understand that students learn at different rates, there are limits placed on how far we can go by school districts and we as teachers have deadlines we have to meet as well. I can modify by student as I get to know them better if need be.

I do not plan on grading homework, if I give any, and I do not plan on giving due dates. Grading based on when a student turns something in feels a lot like grading behavior, not understanding which is counterproductive to learning. As a student demonstrates mastery of a concept or a standard, s/he will receive a grade proportional to the mastery demonstrated. If the child does not demonstrate mastery in a given time, s/he has the rest of the grading period. Once s/he can show me that understanding has been achieved, I will simply replace the poor grade with one that reflects the student’s new understanding. Averaging a good grade and a poor grade does not reflect the student’s true understanding, so I don’t want to incorporate that.

My main concern about grading based on understanding comes from an insecurity I have of keeping every student motivated and working collaboratively in this new environment. So, for at least the first grading period, I will have regular, individual conferences where the student and I can discuss how s/he has spent any independent or group time, which will be a large part in these types of classes, what s/he has learned, and where s/he thinks s/he needs to focus for the next week. I am not including participation as that is a formative assessment that would give me insight into how to help the student achieve understanding. In these types of project-based, hands-on classes, I will not be giving any tests unless required. If I do give quizzes, they also will be used as formative tools to help determine student understanding and guide instruction and interventions.

What do you think? Am I off my rocker? Last year and the year before, I used a points based system. A large part of the grade was participation as well as accumulation of points. I was too lenient in accepting late work according to my own policies and I do not feel that all the grades were truly reflective of student understanding. I think something along these lines would help give myself, my students, my students’ parents, and administrators a much clearer idea of what the students know.


  • http://georgecouros.wordpress.com/ George Couros

    Interesting post. I think that the not using tests for this type of course is a good way to go. It does not show true understanding of the class. Applying your knowledge is essential but can be shown in a more meaningful way.

    I would however caution someone against using “participation” as a way of grading. First of all, students may not participate because a teacher does not work to meet their learning styles. It is something that is totally subjective and can affect a student’s grade based on your personalities clashing/not clashing. It is also does not tell me how well the student understands the objectives of the course. Student marks should be based totally on understanding of their work Comments can be used to discuss participation, effort, etc., but should not be part of the basis for a grade.

    In fact, if you had the option, why even give them a mark? State where they are at in their learning. Teachers do not get “grades” for their work but get feedback on strengths and areas of improvement. Why should that be different for students?

    Just my thoughts.
    .-= George Couros´s last blog ..Making the Connection with Kids =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    George,

    Thanks for the comment. I hate the idea of grading on participation, but it completely pervasive in my school. What do you think of grading their progress/work though? This does not involve dictating in what manner they should work or how to achieve an end-goal necessarily. It is simply trying to help keep the students optimally using their time. I would like to avoid giving them a mark for this, but I do worry about keeping the students on track all the time. What do you think>

    Jason.

  • http://georgecouros.wordpress.com/ George Couros

    If you believe in differentiated learning, students learn different ways and different paces. I know there is definitely the challenge of students staying on task, but in the end, if they understand everything, why would they lose marks? I really believe that people sometimes push themselves more when they are leading themselves. Having guidelines of when it would be suggested to finish is a great way to do it, but students should never lose marks if they are “late”. You have to have conversations about that and work with them to improve.

    Think of a teacher that is getting to work late. Do we dock pay? If it is consistent, that is something that needs to be further addressed but usually it is because there is something else that is going on. I always ask my teachers to treat students the way they would expect to be treated themselves.

    #goldenrule
    .-= George Couros´s last blog ..Making the Connection with Kids =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Thanks for the reply. I think I agree with you and don’t want to make a policy mainly out of nervousness, which is what that is. I may still implement progress checks in the form of individual conferences with students, but I think I may then fully grade based on understanding.

  • http://www.mctownsley.net Matt Townsley

    “…and I do not plan on giving due dates”
    I don’t know about your students, but mine wouldn’t work well within this structure. I still have due dates in my high school math class, but students who learn later (read: turn in homework late or complete re-assessments after the “test”) aren’t penalized in their grade. I think you might be opening up a big can of worms if you swing this far, but that’s my opinion based on my experiences teaching my students, not yours.

    Is it possible that you can mix up the collaborative and individual tasks/projects? It might make your life easier rather than relying solely on student interviews (which I think is an excellent idea if you can pull it off).

    Be sure to connect with a colleague of mine (Think Thank Thunk – shawncornally.com) if you haven’t already. He teaches calculus, physics and computer programming and uses a lot of the same premises in his grading/assessments.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Matt,

    Thanks for the reply. I think I have more of the big idea planned out than the specific details. Definitely will be mixing up individual and collaborative projects. I was watching a group of students edit a movie in Movie Maker without having used the program before. They all were contributing ideas and when they couldn’t figure something out, 1 would look it up online and show the rest.
    I’ve never taught without due dates; I’m just wondering if it is the best option. For example, if we really buy in to the principles of differentiated instruction and/or universal design for learning, then we almost have to have a lesson plan for each kid. That sounds quite daunting. However, if we can give the students larger tasks that encompass many standards, we can make better use of our time and have more time to work individually with each student/group. In that situation, if we are planning differently for every student, how do we have the same due date for all?

  • http://staff.prairiesouth.ca/sites/stangea/ Alan Stange

    I need to sit down and articulate my grading philosophy and practices some time. The core of what passes for grading in my classroom is benchmarking. In that respect my grades are based on the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education’s curriculum documents. The number of benchmarks for each subject vary. Elementary “grades” consist of a simple report: exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, beginning to meet expectations, not yet meeting expectations, and incomplete. The statement is a vague summary for a topic like math problem solving. That is why I think of this as grading. The report card fails to convey progress in this respect, so I always include a summary of the benchmarks. Students work to the benchmarks referencing student learning outcomes. Ideally they could tell you what the moments goal is if you tapped them on the shoulder and asked.

    I don’t really do homework, ever. If I did, it would not be graded. Incomplete work is not penalized, there is nothing to assess. Late work is not penalized. Early or late, the work reflects learning. None of the benchmarks I have read in our provincial curriculum guide me to evaluate student’s ability to do the work at home or complete it in a specified period. There may be some industrial value in these capabilities but the curriculum does not recognize it.

    Thanks for making me consider the topic. Good luck!
    .-= Alan Stange´s last blog ..Merit Pay, Teacher Pay, and Value Added Measures =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Alan,
    Thanks for the reply. I currently work in a district that employs benchmarks 3 times a year. There are several problems with them here though. First, they are too often used as tools to dismiss or disparage teachers as opposed to being used as indicators to guide teaching. Second, they use very specific questions (which teachers aren’t privy to) to assess very broad standards. An example geography standard is “understand the differences between cultures.” When that is translated to a specific difference between China and Mongolia, for example, some of the students get confused. I don’t have problems with benchmarks in general when they are used properly. Thanks for the ideas.

  • http://www.mctownsley.net Matt Townsley

    “In that situation, if we are planning differently for every student, how do we have the same due date for all?”

    I think “planning differently for every student” is a great ideal, I really do. I’ve always had too many students to accomplish this in reality and I’ve been fortunate enough to teach in a 4×4 block with as few as 60 students at any given time. I don’t know how many students you’ll have, but thinking about the logistics can paint a different picture – at least that’s my take. If you’re really striving to differentiate, could you give different sub-groups of students different deadlines? Deadlines are a reality for many in the private sector (that’s where your future programmers are going to work, right?), just like they are for us in education (think: grading periods). Is it possible to differentiate deadlines? I’m hoping to learn from you, Jason. :)
    .-= Matt Townsley´s last blog ..Mission Impossible: Teaching High School Math =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Matt,

    You could be very right. I had no idea how many sections of each I’ll have or how many students. I like your idea of adjusting due dates for sub-groups; I could see that working well. I may try it without due dates. It’s a real possibility that it won’t work and it’s also a possibility that students will thrive in what hopefully will feel like a more trusting environment. I’m hoping for the latter and if it doesn’t work, I’ll pull back to something similar to what you’re suggesting.

  • http://georgecouros.wordpress.com/ George Couros

    I think the term “due dates” does not give students the option to further their learning. I know that it is important to provide structure which definitely could be done by giving them suggested “timelines” when things could be done to complete the course.

    Don’t only think about the student that will not get things done on time, but think about the student that is totally engaged in what they are learning at that time. What if they are so into what they are doing that they want to really push the limit, dive in, and spend more time on something. Should they end this continued learning because of fear of a negative consequence? That is a way that we kill curiosity. As said earlier, how would you want to be treated as a professional? If I told my superintendent that I wanted to focus my time on a document and extend my time because I am “really on to something”, I know she would be flexible. There are definitely due dates for the things that need to be done in life, but learning doesn’t always have to be.

    How many times do you tell a 4 year old, “You have 15 minutes to ask questions about things that you see in this room?” You give them time to explore and develop their curiosity. What eventually kills this with many kids? In my opinion, telling them what and how long they are “allowed” to be curious.
    .-= George Couros´s last blog ..Making the Connection with Kids =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    George,

    I really like that way of looking at it. I think a lot of teachers have trouble balancing the ideal with the logistical and the practical. I want to shoot for the ideal. It’s possible it won’t work, but I want to at least try to create an environment where students feel comfortable learning and pursuing their own interests in the content area.

  • http://noeltigers.com wmchamberlain

    Assessing for mastery is a completely different concept than giving an assignment/assessment for a grade. Obviously you are more concerned with the former, but you are stuck having to give the latter. Perhaps a way that might work is to assign each concept a point value. As they master a concept they receive the points. Since you have already stated there is a time period that needs to be addressed, you should probably create a scope and sequence that gives deadlines for these items to be mastered. Then you can simply give a grade based on the percentage of master. I realize this is a very basic outline, but if you truly want your students’ grades to reflect their master, I think this is a good way to go. What do you think?

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Will,
    I agree. I plan on doing something similar. Give the students a list of concepts/standards with point value to meet in the grading period and a suggested sequence and timeline for getting it done in the grading period. Since it’s suggested and there hopefully won’t be true due dates, it’s just a flexible guide to help students plan. Students do need some structure and I don’t want to veer so far to one side that I neglect that need either.

  • http://staff.prairiesouth.ca/sites/stangea/ Alan Stange

    I have a lovely schedule of our activities for the week broken down by period. We all have them. It’s trash, eye candy, at best a rough sketch of the week. Learning does not happen to the clock in my classroom, and yet sometimes it does. Activities and projects need variable amounts of time. Sometimes they can be set aside and sometimes they cannot. There are times when I set the clock to count down for 15 minutes and explain we need to accomplish the task in that time. Often it is because we are sharing limited resources like computer time. My setting the clock establishes an expectation, I do not think it does anything to ‘teach’ the students about time management. Their learning is assessed on what they demonstrate.

    I’m concerned about the benchmark (student learning outcome) “multiplying two two-digit numbers” I am doing in class, not the provincial assessment for learning test I will administer next month that might be testing the same outcome. I resent the way that test will draw me into unfruitful comparisons and contrasts with my colleagues, sister schools, provinces and nations.

    Blogging has reengaged me with educational discourse. I’m not sure I use the same terminology as other educators. I have become aware from reading and tweeting that there may not be a single language here.
    .-= Alan Stange´s last blog ..Merit Pay, Teacher Pay, and Value Added Measures =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Alan,

    There isn’t a common language, but I think we usually get each other’s point. The system wide tests in my district are called benchmarks and what you originally referred to as benchmarks are termed formative assessments. Sorry if I misunderstood. I agree that your own benchmarking of your students’ understanding and how you use that to help tailor your classtime to their needs is much more valuable than silly comparisons.

  • http://www.wix.com/gcoats/gcoats Geri Coats

    This is a great post! I want to move toward something similar in my class next year. I am sick of student receiving failing grades who just don’t want to play the game as well as students getting As because they know how to play the game but without ever really demonstrating growth. enough ranting…

    I want to move toward a portfolio with learning goals. I plan to have goals that are for all students based on the standards of the class and grading will be determined by mastery of these. On top of that I want to have individual goals for each student to actually show growth based on their entry and exit from my class. that’s the plan at least.

    It’s nice to see that I’m not crazy and that others are out there on the same wavelength! good luck!!

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Geri,
    I think your idea will yield great things with the students. I love portfolio assessment. I’m doing something similar by giving each student a blog that they can use as a public showcase. It is really powerful when you can figure out where a kid is, show him/her where they need to go, and give him/her guidance on how to get there. Good luck next year.