Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#70Days Will you stop putting grades on papers?

Whoa!  I just watched "Why I stopped putting grades on papers" and was blown away at the possibilities.

First thought at the title ... that won't work in my community!  Second thought ... write a comment on every paper every time?  No way!  Third thought ... but imagine the possibilities in awesome conversations!

On Wednesday night we are discussing this blog post on #EduRead.  We meet online at 8 central time and if you have even a few minutes I hope you will join us for the discussion.

Maybe you already grade differently than the norm.  I read a LOT about SBG (standards based grading) online.  Our school doesn't participate and in fact a few years ago, when the math department tried it, there was a district wide uproar.  I know I can't go down that road.

But there is no reason I could not withhold the grade until after the conversations around the feedback occurred.  The idea that students might actually examine their papers, read the feedback, and talk with classmates about their work is powerful!

I have these questions ...

  • In recent reading I realize that students need quizzing often, even daily!  Would you write comments on 150+ papers daily?  Or is this routine saved for the more developed quizzes or tests?
  • And over time would you develop a set of typical questions to put on papers to help automate feedback at least to some degree?  I realize it couldn't be canned feedback and be helpful.

After listening to the video and re-reading the blog post, I went to the article that Ashli noted - Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom.   Two key ideas from this article that I plan to put into action include:  better questioning and student reflection using the red, yellow, green ideas.

IDEA 1: One simple and effective idea is for students to use “traffic light” icons, labeling their work green, yellow, or red according to whether they think they have good, partial, or little understanding. These labels serve as a simple means of communicating students’ self-assessments. Students may then be asked to justify their judgments in a peer group, thus linking peer assessment and self-assessment.

IDEA 2: Another approach is to ask students first to use their “traffic light” icons on a piece of work and then to indicate by hands-up whether they put a green, yellow, or red icon on it. The teacher can then pair up the greens and the yellows to help one another deal with their problems, while the red students meet with the teacher as a group to deal with their deeper problems.  This would create a student self-assessed opportunity for differentiation.

IDEA 3:  A useful guide is to ask students to “traffic light” an end of unit test at the beginning of the unit: the yellow and red items can be used to adjust priorities within the teaching plan.  This could be especially helpful in Algebra 2 - first semester - when much of our content reviews Algebra 1 topics.  You could also then review the traffic light pattern towards the end of the unit to help students determine an efficient review plan.

I look forward to hearing what others already do, and how they will respond to this article!


  1. Beth, this past year one of our 8th grade science teachers taught one section of literature where all she did was provide written and verbal feedback with no grades issued until the end of the quarter--and the students graded themselves. She modeled her classroom using elements from the book ROLE Reversal Results Only Learning Environment.

    We all know putting a grade on a paper tells the student this is the end of the process. When I teach writing I rarely put grades when it's still a work in progress. Sometimes the student wants it to be over, but not me! When I give feedback on final paper with a grade, the feedback never seems to be applied to future writing because the student only looks at the grade.

    In math I think written feedback could be structured around the 8 mathematical practices. I've only done it a few times with Shell Centre tasks, but I've found myself writing the same comments over and over and they've tended to focus on 2 or 3 of the math practices that are pertinent to the concept.

    One could argue that if English teachers spend hours and hours providing written feedback to their 150 students math teachers could do the same! I wonder if there's a way to streamline the process.

    1. Mary - thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. The idea of using the mathematical practices makes sense. I'm thinking eventually I would have a bookmark of sorts with a list of statements or at least sentence stems to use in the feedback I give.

      Many teachers do spend more hours grading than math teachers - that's for sure.