Over the last two years, I’ve moved further and further away from traditional grading. I’ve blogged about grading for mastery of skills instead of the accumulation of points and ditching my traditional grade book in favor of an ongoing assessment document.
Each grading period I identify target skills and assess those skills. Instead of spending hours grading assignments designed to help students develop these skills, I limit my energy to providing feedback in class as they work and grading the actual assessments–exam, essay, performance task.
Students are given class time each week to look through their body of work and reflect on their developing skill sets. They determine what the quality of their work reveals about their journey towards mastering those skills. This reflective activity encourages them to think metacognitively about their learning.
Then as grade reporting approaches, I sit down with every single student for a grade interview. Students come to these grade interviews prepared with a formal argument. I’ve structured the grade interviews so they mirror our argumentative writing process.
They begin with a claim. “I deserve a B in English because I 1)_______, 2._______, and 3.______.”
Once they’ve presented their claim, they must support it with three pieces of evidence from their body of work for that grading period. Students have 3 minutes to explain how the evidence supports their claim. They must have all of their online work bookmarked and pulled up in advance of our conversation to save time. Because my students keep their work in digital notebooks, this process is quick and painless.
I also come to the conversation with a grade that I generate based on each student’s performance on the assessments. If my grade is different from the grade the student feels they deserve, then I counter. My counter argument usually sounds like this: “I have a grade of a C for you in English because of …”.
If I counter, then the student gets a rebuttal. The rebuttal is their opportunity to highlight edits, revisions, and improvements they’ve made to previous work. For example, a student may return to a formal essay or lab report to improve it after I’ve formally assessed it. Alternatively, students might do additional practice or work to master a skill that I have not assigned or assessed. This is the incentive my students have to continually edit and improve their work to demonstrate their growth and developing mastery. However, I may not always have time to return to a previous piece and reassess it prior to this conversation, so this gives us time to chat about their hard work.
Some teachers have asked, “How do you have time for this?” It’s a fair question. These interviews take between 3-5 minutes per student. I typically spend two full days during the grading period interviewing students. That is a substantial time investment, but it is worth it on a few different levels:
- Students have to build a formal argument and present it to an adult, which is a nerve wracking experience but an important life skill.
- It encourages students to think about what the quality of their work reveals about their skills. Instead of getting a grade because they did all of the work, they receive a grade that reflects their skill set.
- This approach also means that grades don’t happen to students. They can look at the rubric, read the description of what a 1, 2, 3, and 4 look like for each skill. This removes the mystery that’s often associated with grading.
While I’m meeting with students, the rest of the class is moving through a station rotation lesson or working on a project. This process is easier to do because I teach on a block schedule and work with a co-teacher. That said, I would conduct grade interviews regardless. These conversations are invaluable. Students walk away knowing exactly what they need to work on or what they are doing well. Also, I feel like I know my students so much better because we sit down and chat about their learning every 5-6 weeks!