On Grading

Carly recently commented here on the subject of grading kids – find the text below. I find her statements to be powerful and true, except for one, the part about grading “behavior”. I would replace that sentence (in the third paragraph) with a recommendation that we learn to grade in our students what I call “observable non-verbal behaviors”. Why? First of all, it would allow us to align our assessment with the Communication standard and not on some kind of point scale. We can transfer grades into a point scale via a rubric later, but we cannot immediately quantify what a student retains from all of our input. The only possible way we can “measure” what we cannot quantify, is to assess (via a rubric) the nature and quality of the interactions we have with each of our students on a day to day basis. Those things we can observe. And we can give little quizzes for those who cannot live without some degree of quantification, but the. idea of quiz grades is insufficient to give us a picture of what our students know. Again, since acquisition is an unconscious process, how can we then measure it? How’s that for a paradigm shift? So why do we fake doing it? This is what Carly addresses below. I won’t go into all the reasons shown in the research why what I’m saying has merit, because it would take too long, but there are lots of articles here in the primers and over the past ten years that directly support that statement.  The fact is that we cannot measure what our students cannot yet produce, and we certainly can’t measure what is buried away in their deeper minds in the first four years. That’s the part that is the mind blowing part, the part that so many of us resist, the part that makes us cling to the old ways, the part that makes us waste so much time each year. But think about it – we can’t measure what they cannot produce because it takes many thousands of hours of input before they can even start to produce in an authentic way. Even in a full-blown four-year program where the teacher is providing input 90% of the time, we only have the pathetic amount of somewhere between 400 and 500 hours. It’s a joke and we need to get a hold of ourselves when we grade kids, which takes us back to the what Carly said: 

“I have been struggling with giving grades since I started teaching 7 years ago. What is it I am measuring? How possible is it to measure what I really care about? My grades feel fairly arbitrary and sometimes unfair. When I assign number or percentage grades I usually feel I am causing more harm than good to a students psyche and to my relationship with that student.

“I have been really thinking about rubrics that grade student behavior instead of “knowledge” or output. I know student behavior shows their attention to the input and their attention to the input will result in their acquisition. We don’t really have to grade their acquisition, right? Language acquisition will happen if they are paying attention, right? So why bother measuring it in a way that makes students feel bad?

“What if instead I grade their behavior, and then I get better classroom management as a bonus. Or not really as a bonus but as the main thing that allows me to deliver input. This makes sense to me but is a tough sell to admins. What to do?

“I have a version of the jGR/Interpersonal Communications Skills Rubric for class discussions, the Habits of Strong Readers for SSR, Habits of Strong Writers for timed writing. With these rubrics I can reward students for doing the right thing during class time. I just made up point values for the different categories on the rubric and mentally or on paper do a little checklist. It comes out to something I can turn into a number for the grade book.

“I always feel better about those grades based on the rubrics. The rest of my grade book feels random and fake. I can say that here because my admin isn’t reading it, but I also feel bad saying it.”

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