Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Coding Grades

Color coding in class today.

In my A.P. Language and Composition class today, I asked students to read and examine some sample synthesis essays. They read over the 2013 synthesis question about monuments and then I tasked them with color coding two samples (A and B).

Here's how I asked them to mark the samples:

1 Read the sample essay.
2 Re-read and mark it up.
3 Backwards map or outline the writer's moves.
4 Underline the writer's central claim.
5 Use 3 different colors to mark:

    • the writer's point in each paragraph
    • the writer's interpretation or thinking 
    • evidence the writer used
6 Talk in your table group about how the essays differ.
7 Review the synthesis rubric.
8 Come to consensus on a score for each essay.
9 Share out.
10 Repeat steps 2-5 with the essay you wrote last class.

I heard a lot of, "this is interpretation or thinking; it's all set up in this part before the example." As the class color marked I also got a lot of questions about examples and evidence. "Is it evidence if it's not quote?" Hmm... I thought, time to review different ways writers can incorporate evidence (paraphrase, summarize, quote). I've even heard more than one student say something to the effect of "this is so satisfying!" They liked determining the sentence colors -- now to get them to be as satisfied by the sentence' purpose. 

We've done this sort of sample scoring before. It is a familiar lesson to most I imagine. And it's almost Ground Hog's day, so students have developed some confidence by February's start. 

Of course, students wanted to get at the essays they'd written on Monday. Formative essays, the essays will not go in the grade book as an evaluative mark. Still, they were anxious for feedback. 

Until they got their papers. 

“I got a circle. Did you get a circle?”

“No, I got a triangle.”

“That’s probably better than a circle!”

“I doubt it! What'd you get?" classmates quickly compared marks.

I want students to do more thinking, so instead of giving them their mark, I use codes. The codes change all the time. There are an infinite number of codes I could use, right? I make comments, positive and directional, but I don't reveal the "grade" or the score right away. Students have to dig into self-assessment and the rubric in order to begin to figure that out. 

"I got a rectangle, or is that a square? Spillane...!?"
"Well, there's only one triangle and one rectangle, I bet those are good!"

Of course, they try  to game it and guess it before settling in to re-read and examine their own writing. I don't appreciate that they still feel driven to compare within their groups, but I can't control that. What I can do is recognize that they are comfortable with one another and feel safe enough to compare and share their writing and their feedback.

"A rectangle... I think I did okay... maybe good. I totally got my thinking in there. Huh..."

Some of us still have confidence problems (I'm working on that).Whether they scored in the top half or in the middle of the rubric, kids drew apt conclusions about how they organized their ideas and supporting their claims from today's activities.  I loved how the sequence worked-- it was a win. No to banish those shadows and get those Ground Hogs up out of their dens.


  1. Wow! I love the idea of coding your scores. And, I'm thinking of how to translate this brilliant work to nine year olds. Thank you.

    1. Tom Schimmer (Grading from the Inside Out) shared ideas for highlighting and marking kids' text and then having them do the thinking around what the marking means. It can work with all sorts of ages!

  2. Changing it up all the time- great idea! Having the students figure it out, doing self-assessment- brilliant! And yes, on to the groundhog and hopefully, good-bye winter!

    1. Of course, they groan (at first ) when they get the papers back. But it's so worth it to see them thinking through their work.

  3. I love that idea of coding their scores and how they have to think their way through them and analyze their work. If I was still teaching, I'd definitely try this.

  4. What an effective way to guide students toward self evaluation!

  5. figuring out for themselves how the sausage gets made takes the mystery out of the process