Thursday, January 6, 2011

Grading: A New (and Terrifying) Frontier

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Several months ago, I read a couple of articles about grading practices. I didn't put much thought into it because I had the whole grading thing figured out. I graded my students the way that I always was, so it had to be the best way.

Then I started to come across more articles about new ideas of grading and assessing. And more. And more. Until one day I came across the 3P Grading System on the English Companion Ning.  After I read that article by Steve Peha, I knew I could never go back to the old way of grading.

I knew that my "system" of grading had three major flaws:

1. I had students in the past who figured out the "game" and would only come to class one day a week and would turn in all of their assignments. I post all of my assignments online for students to access when they are sick, so this was my own fault. I came to this realization: You could pass my class, and rarely come to class. I was not grading students on if they were truly engaged in learning, only if they could hand in work. 

2. Students could dig themselves in a huge hole at the start of the semester, and never be able to get out. My system expected students to know how to write great papers or fully understand Beowulf or Macbeth at the start of the unit or year, rather than looking at their education as a stair-step approach. I did not have a way of rewarding students who improved throughout the semester, getting a little better each day.

3. Finally, my method of grading papers, tests, homework and projects did little to increase student learning. I would spend a great deal of time creating and filling out rubrics, marking up papers, taking off points for silly mistakes, and tearing their work to shreds because "that is what a tough teacher does". After completely dismantling their work, I would hand it back to them with a grade on it. And that was it. I knew students hardly looked at the feedback I gave them, and I didn't have time to have them redo their work. We were moving on to the next unit or assignment. I was only providing feedback at the end of the learning process, after the work had taken place.

The "3P Grading System" address all three of those concerns. In this system, you don't grade ANYTHING.

Let that sink in for a minute...

Instead, you give lots of feedback. Lots and lots of feedback as students are working, not once they are finished. They keep this material in a portfolio (I am asking them to maintain a blog).

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The three P's are:

1. Participation (Are the students engaged? Do they ask questions? Do they participate in class? Do they turn in work on time?)

2. Progress (How much improvement do students make from August until December, or whenever you decide to grade them. Are they getting better at skills they are weak at?)

3. Performance (How well do they do the things they do?)

At grading periods, the students give themselves a grade. I give them a grade. We average them together and we are done. No grading. No crunching numbers. It is as simple as that.

I would highly encourage you to read more about the 3P grading system here.

I was going to wait until the fall to implement this new system, but I knew I needed to change. As I said, I couldn't go back to the old way of doing things.

On Wednesday, I discussed the new grading procedures with my classes and sent home this letter to parents. I am curious to see how they will respond, because it is a total shift from how grades have been given since the beginning of time.

I am going to be blogging about this experience for the next several months. I believe it will allow students to take control of their education, and allow me to be a much more effective teacher.  I am scared to death of how it will go, but at the same time it has reinvigorated me as an educator.


  1. I have been giving strong consideration to implementing a similar grading system since our state has been more actively pursuing a standards-based grading system. What you have here is great, but to appease helicopter parents, what do you put in the grade book? Surely you don't just put grades in the grade book twice in a year/semester?

  2. Scott: I have modified it some and combined it with Standards Based Grading. I need to do a new blog post on it. Basically, I do the participation part and then add in standards. Everything is out of 4 (4 is exemplary, 3 proficient, etc...). I will write more about it soon!