Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Stop Punishing Kids with Grades

The view from here.

Like Pernille Rip, three ideas around grades, homework and rewards are the foundation of my teaching practice. 

  1. Grades measure what a students knows and is able to do. Behaviors, while learned, are not grade-worthy.
  2. Limit homework: time spent noodling around or playing with family and friends is important.
  3. Don't ruin kids with rewards or use grades or writing as punishment. 

I've been thinking a lot about grades as I shift my practice to value learning more than compliance. When it comes to learning, real learning, what matters is effort and skill development.  What does not matter is neatness or format (unless you're teaching citation methods). 

When it comes to actually learning, writing in pen or pencil does not matter. When it comes to learning content, what order I staple my papers in should not count for half of the grade. When you do you the work does not matter. Turning in assignments on time or at the same time as everyone else in class does not matter.

Well, I take that back. 

Timeliness matters a little bit to me. I know it shouldn't matter much.  Adults don't even do the same thing at the same time, even when they are required to by law. 

 A late assignment should never be an average killer. A late assignment should create an untrue picture of what students know and can do. 

Penalizing kids with zeroes is malpractice. 

Take this scenario: the same student two different perspectives.

Late work--even late make up work--does not merit a zero.  Rick Wormeli taught me that lesson long ago. I wrote about it here

I forget things. This weekend I forgot to go to the grocery store. I forgot to schedule time to finish grading students' narratives. I forgot that I had made plans to see a play and plans to meet friends for dinner on the same day. I forgot I had a doctor's appoint on Monday afternoon that clashed with my son's Symphonic Band practice. I forgot to mail a package to a friend that I have been carry around town in the car since school started. I forgot to water the orchid that sits next to the bathtub. 

Sometimes the things we forget are important and sometimes they are not. Sometimes the busy-busy of day to day derails even the best intentions.

from Guskey, Thomas R. "Grading Policies that Work
against Standards...and How to Fix Them
High schoolers are busy people too. Their schedules are loaded with commitments: homework, sports, band, club meetings, family celebrations, chores, youth groups, dance competitions, test preparation, hobbies, YouTube, and books. 

High school kids have families too. Sometimes students have families in two homes and they split time between them. Sometimes the families have one parent or no parents, one child or many children. Sometimes another family member's schedule takes priority. 

As a parent, I do not want my son punished for merely forgetting a task. I don't want him punished for trying to make something up late or past someone's arbitrary deadline. If he forgot to make up a quiz, let him apologize and take the quiz. Tell him you are disappointed. Talk to me (the parent) about his forgetfulness. I will teach him to keep track of what needs doing and to prioritize. I will teach him to be more responsible. I will apply consequences for the behavior. I want you to grade your content and his skill.

Punishing him with a zero for his behavior will not teach him your content.

I keep that in mind when I'm teaching the kids in my classroom. I will leave the teaching of responsibility and behavior  to parents. I'm here to teach kids how to be better readers and writers. 

Learning has no expiration date in my classroom. 

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating 
community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

Rebekah O'Dell's post  on Moving Writers titled "I Quit Grading" inspired me to write about one aspect of grading today.


  1. I can imagine the conversation in your car because I have these kinds of conversations with my boys too.
    I agree the goal is learning and while turning in assignments in a timely manner is an important skill the learning of the material is the goal. Thanks for the food for thought. :-)

  2. I can imagine the conversation in your car because I have these kinds of conversations with my boys too.
    I agree the goal is learning and while turning in assignments in a timely manner is an important skill the learning of the material is the goal. Thanks for the food for thought. :-)

  3. My favorite line is that learning has no expiration date and I try to use that in my daily practice as those kids who still did not pass FCAT and have "graduated" with a certificate of attendance. I try to provide them with many opportunities to avail them of the resources that we still have. I think it is more the pervasive model that the opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned has expired. It isn't as simple. I think about the harried teacher for whom it about being able to manage kids who also decide to do the work later or take longer and the pressure of coverage. In my house as we are learning to juggle the demands of 7 teachers, we are focusing on what is in our control to manage.

  4. A big YES to these two lines, "Learning has no expiration date in my classroom." and "I forget things." YES! YES! YES! There is so much here. I agree with every syllable. I love how you began with the foundation to your teaching practice. It makes me want to put mine into words. Have I ever done that?!?! Expect a post from me, Lee Ann. You always inspire me!

  5. I can only comment from experience with my own children, now grown with children of their own in school. My son was a community-minded student, volunteered, helped out organizations in many ways, was a peer tutor, and on. He was "punished" consistently because he missed class while giving presentations in other schools to get the middle schoolers excited about 'peer tutoring' & band. He missed quizzes, had to swim laps at lunch because he missed pe (he was also on the swim team so really didn't need MORE), etc. Teachers who aren't flexible & don't find the story "behind" the story make students hate their classes, & NOT learn. I still remember. I could write other things too that happened to my daughter when she refused to study information she knew was out of date, zeros on the quizzes of course. We didn't do grades at my school where I taught. It is total process oriented, creating deadlines with students according to what project they happen to have going. I hope you keep your stance Lee Ann. I know your students are working deeply in their learning.