Change Teaching by Changing Grading

I have made a few changes in my chemistry class recently that came more out of pragmatic necessity than anything else, but these changes have caused me to revisit grading…again.

Ultimately, what caused my change was the expectation of having three graded assignments put into the grade book each week. That’s three for every student, every week, for every class. With 110 students, that would be 330 graded assignments every seven days. Without visiting the fact that so many assignments dilutes grades to nothingness and that I have more to be worrying about than finding three assignments to grade, I began searching for a way to (somewhat) meet this expectation.

I use modified standards-based grading in chemistry. Students are assessed on their ability to perform a task around a certain concept. So, I do not grade worksheets or menial assignments because again, they are not necessarily true reflections of what the student can actually do with the material. Stemming from that idea, I began asking students to self-assess on a scale of zero to five, with a “zero” meaning they have not visited that concept yet, and a “five” meaning they can teach their peers.

Without making a big deal of it, I would enter that self-assessment into the grade book. The next day I would go back around and ask each student to re-assess their learning. If it went up, that was good. They were making progress and moving in the right direction. If it stayed the same or even went down (after attempting a quiz on worksheet), I would pull them aside and provide direct instruction. I would then enter their second (or third) assessment into the book. The grades are always in flux and (I feel) represent their learning more accurately. Now, the process is done using a Google Document filled out as they learn so I don’t have to run around the room so much. As part of their assessment, they also have to list evidences they can provide to prove their ability.

What does this mean? Aside from meeting an expectation, I have not seen students take advantage of this tool, either in the discussion or in the Google Doc. They are assessing candidly and using concrete evidence to back up their score. What I’ve also noticed is that their scores are what I would have assigned if I were the one doing the scoring.

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How do you show trust and respect to your students? If we are not constantly thinking about our grading policies, we are more and more likely to hurt their innate desire to learn. What can you do differently to involve them in the grading that happens in your class?

Student engagement is proportional to their investment in the class. We can complain that all students and parents seem to care about these days is the number next to their name. Try to work on encouraging investment by letting go of the habit or drive to be in total control of those grades. As students feel more empowered, they will become more engaged in their learning.

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