Monday, February 20, 2012

Finding Your Grading Compass

As teachers how do you feel on the reports giving day? How do you feel about giving grades? Do you defend the practice, claiming that grades are necessary to “motivate” students? Or do you enjoy keeping intricate records of students’ marks?

Carol Ann Tomlinson, William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundation, and Policy at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, states that she'd seen student assignments as a mechanism for generating grades, which she recorded faithfully in her grade book so that when parents came to school for conferences she could justify report card grades ("See—here are the 19 grades I averaged to arrive at Jason's C.") The more grades, the more secure she felt.

She was worried about students who went home class after class, quarter after quarter with low grades. In a naïve way, she understood that such discouragement does little to motivate students to embrace the next task with trust or enthusiasm. She also worried about the kids who were supremely motivated to get As but had little interest in learning. She wanted to be her students' mentor; it was a difficult role reversal when she abruptly became their judge.

What she has come to know

That epiphany caused her to be more reflective about grading. These led her grading practices to reflect what she believed about teaching and learning—rather than to dictate how she taught.


  • Grading itself contributes little to learning. Grading is a small part of a much bigger, more important cycle of instruction, assessment, and adjustment—which does lead to learning.
  • My job is to teach for success. To do that, I have to abandon "gotcha" testing and grading.
  • The better I teach, the better students' grades will be.
  • I need to have a clear set of indicators of success on each assignment and for each unit of study. My students also need to be clear about those indicators—and contribute to creating them.
  • If I have students who consistently make low grades, there's something lacking in my teaching or in my relationship with those students.
  • If I have students who consistently make very high grades with no struggle or need for support, I'm underestimating their capacity—and wasting their time. An A that doesn't represent personal struggle and growth is a lie.
  • I need to grade fewer pieces of student work. Most student work should be practice—a time for making errors and figuring out what didn't work. Grading too often and too soon discourages that nonnegotiable element of learning.
  • Consistent, specific feedback on a student's competency in essential goals is a more potent teaching tool than a letter or number grade will ever be.
  • I need to provide my students with models of quality a bit beyond their current reach and then scaffold their progress in reaching that level. Students need to see what quality looks like.
  • No matter how hard I try to replace my judgment in grading with foolproof criteria for success, grading will always have some element of subjectivity in it. Being a professional means exercising professional judgment.
  • I should use rubrics and similar tools that define success as a guide rather than as a commitment. I cannot and should not promise students that if they cite four references rather than three or use varied transitions between paragraphs, an A is guaranteed.
  • I need to involve my students often in analyzing their own work and that of their peers according to specified criteria for success. Then I need to teach them how to plan to improve their performance.
  • I need to regularly—relentlessly—show students the connection between the quality of their habits of mind and their work, their progress toward performance goals, and their achievement of those goals—and beyond. In other words, I need to help them exercise their capacity to determine their own success. "

Embracing these conclusions has made her a better teacher and made her students more thoughtful, engaged, and self-confident learners. These principles are a compass to guide and stretch her as a teacher.

Think about them. Question them. In the end, what matters is not that teachers have identical approaches to grading, but that we all have approaches that stem from and reinforce what we know about teaching and learning.

Source: Effective Grading Practices, November 2011 | Volume 69 | Number 3 Pages 86-87

No comments:

Post a Comment