Sunday, May 15, 2016

Failures 2015-16: Grading

Last time I posted about how we really need to share our failures. This post is a reflection on one massive way I've failed this year, what I've learned from it, and how I plan to not fail the same way next year. Based on last time's list, today's featured failures are:

  • Standards-based grading and consequently my whole grading system
  • Getting papers back to kids on time
  • Rigor (I'm okay with learning the material being easy, but I'm not okay with it being easy to pass when you don't do any work)

Okay, time for some self-recrimination!

Best Laid Plans

The plan looked like this. I was going to use rubrics and these rubrics would each be 25% of the grade and it was going to be ever so forward-thinking and objective and proficiency based.

What Happened

Overall, students hated it.

They really didn't like being penalized for classroom behavior in the "Communication" section. "Communication" wasn't actually objective at all since it was largely based on my recollections.
"Presentational" was really hard to figure out how to grade since all I had were Timed Writes & Free Writes, which the kids hated to do, and I'd made the rubric before actually seeing what they could do.
"Comprehension" was basically okay since it was based mostly on written "comprehension checks." I didn't even assess any culture, so that 25% was empty. I also hadn't realized yet that Output should really really really not be graded as hard as comprehension, so the 25% each categories was a terrible idea.

My gradebook now is a mess. My categories eventually just became Classwork and Understanding. The former is stuff we do in class that isn't meant to be major and is mostly a completion grade. The latter is comprehension checks. There used to be categories where Dictatios went and I tried doing DEA-style grades for Communication for a while, but it was bad. It was a mess. It's still a mess, honestly, and I don't feel like the grades really reflect student proficiency or effort. I have kids with B's who know almost nothing and do even less. That is a problem.

My students generally have no idea how any given assignment will affect their grade, and neither do I! Since I'm so bad at handing back papers on time, they're also usually entirely in the dark about their grades until progress reports time. Some surprises are good, like when you find a dollar in your pocket. Grade surprises can be good, but even then they shouldn't be happening.

In the future...

Oh boy. Man, I don't know. All I know is I need it to be much more flexible from the beginning, and I need to design things so that both the kids and I have constant, current access to their grades. I'm thinking it might be one big category of points rather than differently weighted categories for different types of work. One day in the future I may try SBG or PBG again, but I now know two things:

  1. It's really important to design your rubrics based on actual student work, not what you hope they can do.
  2. New grading schemes are bewildering and upsetting for all concerned. Do not implement them all at once. Bad idea!

As for the organization thing, I'm planning to try to go (mostly) paperless. I want to use Schoology or another Learning Management System to collect student work in one place where we can track their progress and communicate about grades on a regular basis. The plan is for them to always have access to the grading scheme, their own work, and my comments. If they come up to me and ask what their grade is, I want to be able to say, "Go check." If they ask what they can do to bring it up, I want to be able to say, "Go check." I don't mean I want to push them away; rather, I want them to have a means of taking ownership of their progress themselves. Once they've looked, we can talk about it. But I shouldn't be the one holding all the keys. And I definitely shouldn't have custody of papers.

Anyway, that's one big way I feel I've failed this year. How about you? What's your biggest grading mistake?


  1. Oh man, I'm in the middle of it now!! Grading my most latest assessments (which- since it's the end of the year and this was my first, ended up requiring way more than any other. So far (1/3 in) I'm blown away impressed with my presentational writing of my Spanish 1s!!! On the other hand- not super impressed with interp reading of my 2s, but not sure if it's their understanding or my lack of clear instruction! I actually came across this post because I came to langchat to post a question about this!!! If you want to respond, tweet at me or something- not sure if I'll get notice from the blog? Cheers and all the best in finishing the year!! And have fun revamping! One downfall- I decided not to fit again next year so no improving for now- grrrr. You got this!! Carry on!!

    1. I'll totally Tweet at you if you have a question but I do not know your handle! :) I'm @magistrissima.

  2. I'm really glad you posted this. I'm thinking about implementing SBG next year, because the students at my school are obsessed with grades in a bad way--they only care about points, not about making progress. But this post has given me pause. Are you saying that you wouldn't recommend SBG? Or, if you want to keep it, how would you keep SBG but change how you set up your gradebook?

    1. I would say make sure you really know what you're doing before you set it up, and do it gradually. Perhaps you could start by grading certain assignments on a standards-basis and get them used to using a SB rubric. If you have grade-obsessed kids, going full SBG all at once will probably confuse and upset them at first rather than changing their minds about how we measure learning. They won't want to know how they're improving; they'll just want to know what grades your scheme translates into. The process of grading SB is also more complicated or can be, so definitely go gradually and practice before you try to switch your whole system up.

      If you're really determined to change over entirely, perhaps you could make up your Standards, and then grade various student work from this year on that basis. You'll quickly find out where your Standards don't match up with your assignments, and you'll be able to adjust them both accordingly.

      In my case, I tried to switch to SBG at the same time as switching to CI, so I had almost no idea what kinds of work I'd be getting. Consequently, my rubrics for SBG were way off. I may try it again in the future but not anytime soon. I'm not saying NO ONE should- just that it's definitely my biggest failure this year :)