(This is the concluding part of the two-part series we started in the previous edition)
Students should get grades for everything. One problem students have at the beginning of the year with my class is they are surprised that everything goes into the grade book. “You actually grade everything,” they tell me with a confused look. My grade book at the quarter right now has about 35 entries per class. Those grades include classwork, homework, tests, quizzes, group work, projects, essays, presentations, and participation. I don’t say that to make myself sound cool, I simply say that because that’s what I thought grading was supposed to be.
Here is where the art part comes in.
Grading is a dance. It is ballet and you are gently tiptoeing around your classroom, only your partner is a one-legged Ogre with the gout in that one leg. Grading is HARD. It is even harder to get right.
Okay Matt, then how do we perfect this art?
Get a participation board with their faces on it and give them points for participating. On that same board, you can mark assignments quickly and easily. Go around the room and see who did today’s assignment and mark with a check those who did.
Go around with a big Post-It and mark those who didn’t do the homework. Don’t write anything for those that did, then go to your computer and…
Use the Fill All button in your grade book. When giving them credit for simple things they do in class (like the two suggestions above), hit fill all and give everyone a 10, excuse the kids who were absent, and take points off for those who didn’t do it. This takes one minute.
Get a Teacher’s Assistant you trust. Data entry is a killer, so you need to procure a senior assistant by any means necessary and have them enter the data. Threaten them with expulsion if they mess with the grades, double check their work, and never give them your login and password.
Have your TA grade things that aren’t evaluative. Notes are a good example of this. They either wrote a lot or they didn’t. You should never be the one grading multiple-choice tests.
Have a stamp or check-off system. Like the tip above, they either did it or they didn’t. Do they need feedback on this assignment? Try and adopt a system that gets through a stack quickly. Ask yourself this: Will they even look at it? The answer to that question is almost always NO.
Make yourself available to all your students. There should be a time when students can come see their grade. They should also be able to see every single assignment and what they are missing. We make mistakes, our TAs make mistakes, and they should have a chance to defend grades and find things you missed.
Be fair. Look at your grades, be critical. Look at a bar graph of the class as a whole and ask yourself this hard question that many of us are afraid to ask ourselves: What do YOU need to change about your grading? This is critical pedagogy at its finest. Don’t just let grades happen, work at making them fair.
All of these things take time and are sometimes very, very annoying. Students forget to put their names on papers, turn things in late, are absent, and every once in a while you may lose something too. THIS IS YOUR JOB. Of everything we do, for the students, and for college, the grade is the most important facet of the year. Grading cannot just be another way our low-income kids get left behind. To colleges, our students are simply a collection of grades, so it is too important to leave to chance.
If teaching is an art, perhaps the sub-genre that incorporates all the others—inspiration, motivation, community, knowledge, learning—is that one letter, the letter grade, which defines who that student is in your class. Grading is an art, and it is also the manifestation of all of the smaller genres that define the art of teaching. Everything a student is, and everything you have taught, is pooled into the art of grading. This is a pool of blood, sweat, and tears, a mixture of both yours’ and your students’. This is why teaching, and grading, is an art; sometimes the best art is painted with our own blood. Why else do we use red ink?
Matt Amaral is a teacher, an author, and a blogger. He is the founder of www.teach4real.com, a site where he provides effective educational resources and support to educators, especially new teachers. SchoolTips Magazine is pleased to use this article with his permission.