Friday, August 31, 2012

Making grading about more than grades

Now that school is back in session for most of you, I am guessing that you are preparing to begin hauling bags of papers home in order to spend your weeknights and weekends grading.  Keeping with idea of my post earlier this week, I thought I would let you in on a secret I learned during my sixth year of teaching that has changed my teaching life ever since!

When I was in the middle of completing my Masters degree in Reading, I read the fantastic resource Words Their Way.  In this book, it recommends using a rubric similar to the one below to assess students' work in their Word Study Notebooks.  As I tried implementing this idea, I found that these three simple categories were just what I needed to put a grade on student work when it was difficult to calculate a percentage.  
After becoming such a fan of using these 3 symbols for grading spelling, I decided to try using the same method for grading work in other subjects.  For example, that math assignment with 20 double-digit addition problems?  Did I really have to grade every single one?  NO!!!  What I really want to know is whether the child has a basic grasp of the concept.  By randomly picking 6-8 of the problems to grade, I could get a good idea.  If they got almost all of them right, they got a star.  If they got some of them, they got a check.  If they got none or just a couple, I wrote a N at the top of the paper.

What I loved most about using this system was that I could do it so fast.  You see, historically, my M.O. for grading was to carry papers back and forth every night but never actually grade them.  Planning lessons was so much more fun than grading their results.  Weeks would go by without me getting any grades until progress reports or report cards were due and then I would stay up all night frantically grading papers.  Grading for me was just about having a number to give to parents.

Using my new system, grading become more than a number for reporting, it became a tool for my teaching and planning.  Instead of hauling papers back and forth for days, I started sitting down every afternoon to grade all of the day's work.  In 15 minutes, I could quickly get perspective on how well each students had grasped all the objectives for the day and could make plans for how to reteach or move forward the next day.  I stapled a "Super Grover" raffle ticket to every paper receiving a star.  The next morning, as students arrived, I had their papers already laid out on their desks.  Raffle tickets were celebrated and put in the Super Grover box. Students that received a N were asked to put their papers on my kidney table so that I could call them up throughout the day for reteaching.

Now, you are probably wondering how I eventually got a number grade from 3 symbols!  I really wish we could somehow overhaul this old number percentage method but I don't have the power to do that.  So, I just chose to work within the rules.  You will have to figure out what the rules are for your school and district.  My district gave very little specifications about grading so I took the liberty to make a star equal to 100, a check equal to 80, and an N equal to 60.  I found that the symbols made  much more sense to my students and their parents than a random 76, 82 or 99.  The averages of these grades worked out to give a fairly accurate representation of the depth of the students' understanding for the objectives we had addressed during the grading term.

I also made a practice of writing out the student expectation from our TEKS standards on every worksheet or blackline master.  This helped me make sure that the assignment was actually aligned to the standards AND it showed the parent what concept I was specifically grading for.

I just finished reading this book with my girls and it reminded me of the importance of grades.  When our students put their work in our basket, it deserves our immediate attention and not weeks of sitting in a bag in our car!  I hope my grading system may add hours to your personal lives and make the minutes spent with your students that much more productive!

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