How many times on a Monday, after a long weekend of grading, have you seen students throw their papers in the garbage as they leave class? Before I revised my grading (and teaching) practice, this happened regularly, and it really bothered me. Students weren’t appreciating all my “hard work” in grading, and they didn’t seem to use the grade they received to learn more. How could this be?
I’ve come to realize that it is because grading with a number ends learning. How can we modify our practice to encourage students to grow and learn, all while building their content comprehension? By giving timely and descriptive written feedback and allowing chances for reiteration with the material, we can provide students with meaningful opportunities to truly learn.
When we provide a finite measurement of a students’ work with a number, we have completed the mental exercise of what was right and wrong for the student. By providing quality written feedback, students begin to think about improvements to their comprehension in their own head space. By reexamining their work, students gain insight into where in the process they are, often determining on their own what steps they need to take to fill in the missing pieces and fully grasp the content.
Providing Opportunities to Build Understanding
By treating learning as an ongoing activity rather than a truncated experience punctuated with finite assessments, we can teach students that growth is ultimately what is most important. Rarely does anyone learn something right away; therefore, reiteration is an essential life skill! Regardless of the content area, learning how to learn is so important. By providing a structured approach to relearning material (i.e., teaching study skills) and developing a time frame for reassessment of skills, we can help students develop a more intrinsic interest in their improvement.
Establishing Positive School/Student Relationships
Nothing builds stress more than low grades or student failure. There is a reason that so many students are disenfranchised with the system. Grades represent a “gotcha” mentality that is, in my opinion, counterproductive to the ultimate goal of education, which is learning. By truly partnering with our young people with the common goal of building learning capacity, we ultimately build more than comprehension. Partnerships built on trust—that is, when it is clear to students that our goal as educators is for them to learn in a safe environment—help improve the overall opinion of students and their families.
I’m willing to bet that your most profound learning experiences included making mistakes—ones that you learned from and built upon. Students deserve the same opportunity in our schools and classes. Don’t just take my word for it. I encourage you to ask them yourself! See what they say about a grade they recently received. Did it tell them exactly how much they know? Did the number indicate where they needed to improve? Once they saw this number, what was their incentive to improve their knowledge? Their answers to these questions will indicate two things. First, that a number grade really doesn’t show what students know or what they need to do to really understand a topic. Second, their answers show how much we can do to refocus our efforts on learning rather than simply measuring student knowledge in snapshots.
Jasper Fox Sr. is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. Fox teaches science at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School in Shrub Oak, N.Y., where he is in his thirteenth year of teaching. An avid writer and connected educator, he maintains an active Twitter presence as @jasperfoxsr and writes regularly for Inservice on improving educational practice to help all students succeed.