Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Article Reviews

Just read two interesting articles on grading, from the magazine Educational Leadership which is published monthly by ASCD. Their November 2011 issue focuses on standard based grading, which is something I'm considering doing my final Master's project or thesis on. 

   The first article was The Case of Illogical Grades by Lissa Pijanowski. In the article, Lissa describes her school districts efforts to reform their grading system. She described that teachers in the district had all sorts of different philosophies, which amounted to meaningless numbers that were inconsistent from teacher to teacher and year to year. She described the process the schools took to revamp their policies and become more consistent.  
   One of the things the teachers did was separate out of the grades behavioral concerns, so the grade was based entirely on what the students know from the required learning standards. This meant students grades were no longer lowered for missing assignments, participation, or late work -- but neither were students grades inflated for simply turning in work on time.  These sorts of things, specifically the four categories: Assignment Completion, Participation, Responsibility, and Interpersonal Skills were listed separately and graded on a 1-4 scale.  I like this idea, as my grades this year are based directly on knowledge of standards, and so I had been looking for way to communicate these other social skills.  

   The second article I read was Finding Your Grading Compass by grading guru Carol Ann Tomlinson.  This short article describes several revelations Tomlinson encountered during her teaching with regards to grading, several of which I have been learning in my seven years so far.  Some of these revelations are paraphrased below:
  • No matter how hard I try to remove my personal judgement with foolproof criteria for grades, there will always be an element of subjectivity. This means I will always need to use my professional judgement, and that I should not be threatened by that.
  • Consistent and specific feedback is more helpful and powerful than a letter or number grade will ever be
  • I need to grade fewer assignments, as these are places where students can and should be free to make errors and mistakes.  Coaches don't grade the first time you're learning a new move or play in basketball, but how well you use the move in a game when the time comes. Teachers should do similarly   
  • If I have a student who consistently have low grades, there's something I'm not doing well in reaching or connecting with that student. Also, if I have a student who consistently reaches high grades, with no struggle or needs, I'm underestimating their capability, and wasting their time. I need to find a way to challenge them to learn too.
Each of these has been something I have struggled with in my own grading philosophy. Though I know and believe the statements above to be true, in past years my actions have proven otherwise. Likewise, I still often feel differently. These things I am working to change this year, beginning with my actions in implementing a standards-based grading system and moving away from a points based system as I have had in the past.

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