For the last two years, I’ve been moving farther away from conventional grades. This has been a huge shift for me. I used to grade everything and dump hundreds of points into my digital gradebook over the course of a semester. When grades were due, my gradebook spit out a percentage for each student and that was the grade he/she received.
There are several problems with this approach. For this blog post I will focus on the top three problems with the traditional approach to giving grades:
- Grades happened to students.
- Grades did not require that students think about their learning.
- Grades did not necessarily reflect mastery of grade-level skills.
Traditional Grades Happen To Students
Like too many aspects of education, students play a very passive role in the traditional grading system. Click To Tweet They submit work, that work is assessed by the teacher, and the teacher enters a score into a gradebook. If a teacher uses percentages, then the student may not even understand why a particular assignment impacted their overall grade in the way it did. For many students, the grades they receive when a report card comes home is a surprise. That’s a problem.
Grades shouldn’t be a surprise. They should not happen to students. Grades and the development of skills should be an ongoing conversation between the teacher and student. (For more on this, check out my blog “Conversations Instead of Grades.”)
Traditional Grades Do Not Require Students Think About Their Learning
Grading and assessment are probably the most time-consuming aspect of a teacher’s job. We feel we must stay on top of each child’s progress and attempt to know where they are in their learning at all times. Ironically, students are rarely asked to evaluate their work and reflect on what is says about their learning. This makes no sense to me.
In John Hattie’s work, he states that “self-reported grades comes out at the top of all influences [on student achievement]. Children are the most accurate when predicting how they will perform.” Hattie highlights the importance of having students set goals for their academic success. After setting goals, students should be given time to look at their work and reflect on what that work reveals about their skills and academic progress.
This year, I dumped my digital gradebook and instead share a Google document with each student that has target standards and skills for each unit. I give students time every single day to open this shared document and select a piece of work to reflect on.
They give themselves a score between 1-4 to indicate where they believe they are on the road to mastering this skill given the work they did on this specific assignment. They link to their work or insert a photo, then write a couple of sentences explaining why they gave themselves a particular score. I like that this approach requires that they think critically about their work and what it reveals about their journey towards mastery. (For more on this approach, check out my blog: Ditching Traditional Grades & My Online Gradebook)
Traditional Grades Do Not Necessarily Reflect Mastery of Grade-level Skills
Some students do well in school because they understand the game.Click To Tweet They turn in all of their assignments and manage their time well. These students typically receive top marks for their effort. However, effort is not the same as mastering skills. I felt uncomfortable about this reality for years. I had students who received As on their report cards because they did everything I asked them to do, but I knew that some of those students were not actually A level students in terms of their English skills.
In fact, I’ve had several tough conversations with students this year about their skill levels. I have students who have always received As and expected to continue doing so in my class. When we look through their body of work during our grade conversations, they have everything submitted but their scores hover between 2.5-3 on most skills. They don’t like hearing that they are not receiving an A because they have not demonstrated mastery of those skills.
Even though these conversations are hard, they motivate kids to keep practicing and working. Students seek me out for strategies about how to develop their research and analytical skills. They are aware that my focus is on their development as learners and not on the accumulation of points.
As another year winds down and many of us are gearing up to send home final grades, I think it’s healthy to question how we approach grading. Do students know what their grades will be? Have they been asked to set academic goals and reflect on their learning? Are their grades a reflection of their skills?