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.

12 thoughts on “Change Teaching by Changing Grading

  1. James Hosler says:

    I love the idea of using a Google Doc to track student self-assessments. Do they fill out their own cells on a class-wide spreadsheet you have created?

    • Brian Bennett says:

      They use a form I’ve created that feeds into a spreadsheet. Pretty basic. I go through once a day (at the end) and update my online grade book. I can then sort by name in the Gdoc and look for patterns of submission each day.

  2. Craig Hill says:

    Brian Do your kids fill out a google doc after each day or when an objective is learned? Do you have an example of the form that you would like to share? Thanks.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I give 2-3 objectives per week, depending on the week (for instance, this week it is two, with a lab and a quiz also required). So, they fill it out when they complete a particular objective, not every day. Some do turn it in each day because they are constantly reevaluating their learning.

      You can see the current permutation of the form here.

  3. Craig Hill says:

    This is good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  4. GS Arnold says:

    Good stuff,

    I really need to do more of this student self assessment stuff. So hard to get there. I’m using google docs for most of my SBG assessments, which is pretty cool as it gives me a good way to track stuff and easy way to do retakes.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      It is a process. Like I mentioned in the post, I had a system in place, and this happened to flow naturally out of that system. Work with what you have…start with opportunities here and there to help your classes understand the purpose of self-assessment. If they latch on and buy into it, that’s great. If not, continue to give that opportunity when it is appropriate.

  5. Love to see this type of self-assessment in the sciences. People often feel that this sort of “wishy washy” assessment can only be done in the English class room, so it is great to see you making it work for your kids.

    As the Tweet you shared pointed out, we seldom give kids enough credit for their learning. We make policy, design curriculum for them, but seldom do we do anything with them.

    I would like to include students in planning sessions! In the meantime, I have messed about with student created rubrics on Google docs. I create the frame work from MYP and have a class help fill in the the task specific descriptions.

    I totally agree that, “Student engagement is proportional to their investment in the class….As students feel more empowered, they will become more engaged in their learning.”

    Thanks for the shout our and for sharing.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I would love to be able to include them in the planning process as well. Last year, stemming from your project, I had my chemistry class do a totally self-driven project that has something to do with chemistry. The work I got was amazing and they were totally in charge of what they learned and how they demonstrated their learning. Because of new standards this year, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get such an open-ended project in…we’ll see.

      But I agree…the more involvement we can get from kids, not just in class, but in every aspect of school, the better off we’ll be.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. I revamped my grading a few years back to a hybrid of self-assessment and teacher-assessment. I also combined with standards-based with authentic feedback. Students had objectives and then there was a space in the Google Doc for teacher and student feedback and then a place for the specific level. It was this type of reflective feedback that ultimately allowed them to ask for help or to move onto something harder. I’m not saying it works every time, but grading became a dialogue for me.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      That dialogue is what I am chasing right now. For some, it really is just a check-in. They’re intrinsically driven and capable, and it is an easy way to show me what they’ve been up to. For others, it really does turn into a good discussion and why we’re working on a particular objetive or why they can’t just take a zero and move on. I feel like the class has become more “real” for many of my kids.

  7. Christina says:

    Wow, what an awful policy. I’m fascinated by your method of self-assessment. Great work, Brian!

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