Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Be An Education Innovator - Education Outside the Box...Part 3

Over the past two weeks I have shared ideas for using your classroom time and materials in innovative ways. But, if we really want to embrace Stan Heffner's challenge to be Education Innovators, we need to be willing to also look at innovative ways to grade our students.   Grading is the elephant in the faculty lounge. Occasionally teachers will take up the topic for discussion, but examining our grading practices and how effective they are can quickly become a heated debate.  I have been involved in long discussions on the impact of giving a student a "zero" rather than an 59% on an assignment.  Schools all have agreed upon grading scales, but there are many ways teachers approach their classrom grading policy.   Traditional letter grades and point systems do not always help students to monitor their learning.   I came to this understanding after hearing over and over statements like "She gave me a B" or "How many points is this worth"   Grades should not be perceived as something the teacher is "bestowing" on a student.  This allows students to be disconnected from the quality of the work that they complete in a class, since their perspective is that what they do has no real bearing on what grade they will receive. A letter grade or points alone does not always provide  specific feedback to help students adjust their learning goals or make corrections.   The second statement is also tied to the quality of the work students are willing to do for a class. By asking how many points it is worth, often what they really mean is how much time and thinking do I need to put into this assignment.  Formative assessments  add another dimension to the discussion about what to do with traditional grading practices.  Should students be graded on practice work or only mastery work? How can a rubric grading system fit into a traditional letter grade structure?  Are you ready to begin the grade discussion? 

Part 3 Using Innovative Classroom Grading- finding new ways to think about evaluating students.
Guiding Questions for Beginning Discussions About Grading

The following questions help ensure that grading practices are productive for all
students. (from Carol Ann Tomlinson.  Reconcilable Differences? Standards-Based Teaching and Differentiation. EdLeadership, Sept. 2000.)

  • How do learners benefit from a grading system that reminds everyone that students with disabilities or who speak English as a second language do not perform as well as students without disabilities or for whom English is their native tongue?  
  • What do we gain by telling our most able learners that they are "excellent" on the basis of a standard that requires modest effort, calls for no intellectual risk, necessitates no persistence, and demands that they develop few academic coping skills?  
  • In what ways do our current grading practices motivate struggling or advanced learners to persist in the face of difficulty?  
  • Is there an opportunity for struggling learners to encounter excellence in our current grading practices?  
  • Is there an opportunity for advanced learners to encounter struggle in our current grading practices?  

Alternative Grading Resources and Articles To Get You Thinking
  • Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading -  Measures student proficiency or mastery of standards based learning targets.
  • Using Grade Contracts is another alternative grading practice.  The teacher works with the students to define quality work and helps them to identify learning targets they will be working on mastering each quarter. Students commit to doing a certain level of work.  This is defined on a rubric (see an explanation of a grade contract(ppt) I used in MS/HS science)  The rubric based grade can be converted to fit into a traditional grading scale ( a "4" or challenge level work can be the equivalent of an "A")  No student is allowed to contract for a grade lower than the basic level work - this is the minimum required level of learning or work toward a learning target.  All class work is considered part of the grade contract. No class work is given a point value.  The teacher does differentiate the work and may provide examples or definitions of what the finished work might look like at each contract level.  See an example of a grade contract from my MS science class.

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