Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Grade the Learning

Overheard after school: "I don't understand why I have a B in that class when she says I'm one of her best students!" 

Kids get frustrated by grades. Parents do too. Understanding and knowing what grades actually represent is tricky. One of my mentors used to say "grades are a work of fiction." Often, they are. Who defines them? What does a grade really represent? How do they transfer class to class, school to school? 

As a teacher/parent, I tell my own tenth grader that what matters most to me is effort and learning. If he is putting forth effort in his classes and he is learning (and able to article what he is learning), then he's doing his part. 

Our third quarter (a.k.a. the quarter that never ends) comes to a close March 15th. All of the talk I heard about grades today from kids got me thinking (again) about grades today.

When I grade students' works, I want their grade to reflect what they know and are able to do. At some point, if I believe in learning and I am hustling in terms of reaching and teaching all of the learners in my classroom. Shouldn't everyone have an A if I'm meeting their needs and we're both doing our work?  I don't mean the gratuitous, Oprah-esque, "You get an A and you get an A and you get an A and..." ad infinitum. 

I mean that if students are working toward learning and mastering concepts or skills in my classroom then the grade they earn at the end of the learning should reflect what they know. And that's not always an average of all of their attempts at knowing. The grade they end up with should capture their best thinking, their best doing, their best understanding. 

What does it mean to value learning? Does it mean we honor practice and give participation grades? What does it really mean when we say we value what kids know and are able to do? Does it mean that as students' understandings or skill levels improve their grades reflect that improvement? In my class it does. In my class it means grades are in a constant state of "rough draftness"-- revised until the end of the quarter and even then the learning and revision continues.

What does that mean in terms of what a parent or a child sees in our grade books? As the parent of a high school student, I wonder.  My tenth grader's grades in his classes are so very, very different. There are different categories, different weights to categories (some teachers count tests more than 50% of the grade and others count homework or don't). It's complex and idiosyncratic. Teachers control their grade books. As a teacher anything else would give me pause or reason to protest, but as a parent... I wonder.

How does my grade book show you what I believe? 

Here are two students (identifiers removed)-- one currently has an A and one is still working toward an A.

 Here's the A student:

And here is the student still working toward the A:

It's not too exciting to look down a list or scan grades by category to see what's going on, but I do think what we note in our grade book sends a message to kids and parents. 

 What messages do you see here? What's not here? 

I wish I had notes in comments about Resource (tutoring) time on Tuesdays. That's lacking on these two screens. I'm also not to pleased with the comment I have about the poetry explication exercise from 2/24. Some of my assignment titles seem squarely aligned with standards and others denote activities in class. I have a lot of room to grow when it comes to communicating what kids know and can do. That's the learning I love about being a teacher. 

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge. This month of daily blogging always pushing my thinking as a teacher and writer and I do so love the sweet community that forms. Stop by Two Writing Teachers and your own slice to the link-up or dive into comments to discover more. 

1 comment:

  1. Such a lot to think about here, Lee Ann. I'm always looking at grading, reflecting on how I go about it currently, wondering what could be improved on. Thanks for sharing.