Monthly Archives: December 2014

Grading Papers on Christmas Day

After the presents were opened on Christmas morning, I pondered the thought of taking a nap or watching a holiday movie. What I opted to do instead was to tackle some schoolwork. I opened my bookbag and pulled out a stack of papers that kids had turned in. I didn’t have a lot of class work to grade but as I move to understanding more about standards-based grading (SBG), I sat and looked at this stack and wondered, “Why in the world am I doing this?” Now you’re probably wondering why I would opt to do this on Christmas day but I was looking at a broader reason:

“Why am I doing this at all? “

Most of what was in this stack of papers was (home)work that students completed in class. It was work they checked themselves after they reworked problems. Most of these grades were A’s and students put a score at the top of the papers and then turn them in. I then record these scores in the gradebook. This process does take quite a bit of time to complete but I feel (or I did feel) that it is important to record these scores. Remember that these aren’t assignments that students do once and then turn in graded but it is classwork students have corrected. They have already fixed their errors. So really what was the purpose of recording the scores? Somehow in my mind I have this reoccurring thought that if I don’t record the scores my classroom is going to implode and my students will learn nothing.

“How do I determine what to record?”

I am determined to change. So I looked over the work turned in and simply looked over the papers and recorded nothing. I put the organized papers back into my file folder and back into my backpack. While I definitely haven’t graded or recorded everything students turned in, this was the first time where two or three consecutive days of work was not recorded. I felt like I was cheating. I felt lazy. I felt like I was failing the kids.

“Would parents think that we did nothing on those days?”

I was determined to change and this was the first step. What was my biggest enemy? Simply put it was me. We are so ingrained to follow the footsteps of how we learned and how we were graded. We follow what we are familiar with. I have always felt like I am an innovator and thinker but why is of all things I feel the most resistance within myself to change is grading/recording student work – which ironically is one of the more time-consuming, daunting procedures we as teachers dread. Why do we feel that we must do it?

As I stated earlier, in front of me was a stack of class work. What I didn’t tell you was the rest of the story. Also in front of me were assessments that students turned in over the material that the class work covered and like a ton of bricks it hit me (actually rather than bricks I saw my colleague, an SBG instructional coach, slap me across the face). Why, if I graded the assessments that covered mastery, does it even matter what they got on the classwork. SBG is all about an end goal or result in mastery so if students reached that goal, why am I wasting my time recording the grades leading up to that?

“What was I thinking?”

So at that moment, I made the decision that my goal for the rest of the year was to not record as much work. Let the work lead up to the end result of mastery and then assess that instead. It was a novel idea and one I honestly already knew in the back of my mind but I just couldn’t break the chain. Leading into the new year my underlying goal is determination. I am determined to change the things that are ingrained in me the most…all of which have to do with grading and recording.

To my readers, what are your biggest challenges regarding grading/recording and SBG? Any tips?

Jumping on the SBG train…

Standards-based grading. I love it. I agree with it. So what’s the problem? I don’t do it. My classroom environment is set up in a way that would perfectly lead into standards-based grading. Students are allowed to reassess, review and always improve mastery among standards. I have fostered an environment in which students feel comfortable making mistakes and learning from them. I don’t include anything in a child’s grade other than academics. You won’t find extra credit, participation or any other fluff that would make a student’s grade invalid but the truth is that I still put in grades for assignments and the computer program I use averages out all the grades of a student, however, I do feel that the end grade a student earns is a reflection of their mastery of the standards.

So it’s time for me to delve deeper into changing into standards-based grading. I’m unsure where to begin or how it will look for me. Teaching three grades of gifted math all of which have multi-grade standards makes me wonder how do I pick standards or, better yet, how do I adapt my computer grading program to meet the needs of SBG? I also worry it will become more work to assess each individual standard for each student, but I am ready.

I’m ready to make the move to SBG. I’m excited to see students care less about grades and more about learning the material. Grades will happen as a result of the learning. I’m excited to take this major shift in my classroom but I still have questions. Have any of my readers used SBG and what tips can you offer me in the switch?

“I can…”

The infamous, “I can” statement. So little, so powerful and so much fun. Throughout my teaching career I often thought of things I could do but talked myself out of it making excuses and eventually saying, “I can’t.” But over the last few months, the tides are changing and so are my discoveries. I have given my class to the kids. It is theirs and all theirs. I refuse to tell myself that I can’t do something because everything my students have achieved has come from an idea that I knew I could try out in the classroom.

Currently in my flipped classroom at the beginning of class, I call a student up to the board and with no direction I let them begin. I watch in silence as they take that pen and take what they learned from the previous night’s video and explain it. I watch as they call on each other. I watch as they fix their mistakes. I watch as they give guidance to their classmates. I watch as they teach and to emphasize the point, I watch as I say nothing. That’s right. I don’t get in the way. Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 10.36.31 PM

I watch as they take the concepts farther than I ever would have imagined if I was at the board reviewing concepts with them. To say that I am immensely proud of them is an understatement. So you think I would be content. But you thought wrong.

Just this week I had planned on giving a quiz over systems to my Algebra class. A quiz that would have been a good quiz. A few questions that applied to real-world examples in which I would ask them to solve systems but then I got another one of my ideas. It would have been a good assessment and it would have been challenging, however, rather than giving them problems I simply sent them a Google Doc that had the 8th and 9th grade Algebra standards and then I wrote this under the standards,

“Prove to me you have successfully mastered the standards of systems.”

That was all I said. One sentence. I had planned for one day for students to do this but ended up taking two. What once would have caused me to have a mild stroke by “wasting” a day and getting me off my pacing guide now didn’t bother me.  On Wednesday when they came in, this is what they turned in in response to what I sent them.


The quality of work was amazing and far better than if I gave them a quiz. They went above and beyond. EVERY. SINGLE. KID. They created their own problems. They solved their own problems. They explained and critiqued their own work. Oh and there is this one too…

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An entire PREZI over systems. WHAT?! Excuse me as I pick my mouth up off the floor from shock and excitement. How dare I think about giving a quiz when THIS is what they turn in instead. I now realized that the biggest road block between a student and greatness in education can be the teacher but when you let students have freedom and you let them discover then the biggest encourager and instigator in a child’s education can be the teacher.

So now I am trying new things. I want my classroom to be amazing and that is why I continue to evolve. I continue change. I continue to learn. I continue to grow. So what’s next? I’m not sure but please join me on my journey because the only words in my vocabulary are now, “I CAN.”

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