Thoughts On Grading

Fair and Square

First of all, I prefer to grade in a way that is what I call “fair and square.” If there are twenty-five questions, then they are each worth four points. If there are thirty-three questions (or close to it), then they are worth three points each. Crazy weird in between numbers? An EZ Grader has been one of my favorite teacher toys since 1989. I feel that if I have to take off fewer points than that because of low scores, I either need to get new curriculum or teach better.

Grace vs. Pickiness

Note: This section only applies to daily grades which do not get recorded. For tests that get recorded, everyone gets the same treatment.

There are two main types of students (with a few in between). The first extreme is the hard-working-but-struggling student. This student is really trying hard, so if the math problem says to round the decimal number to the hundredth’s place, and she writes 5.684 instead of 5.68, I will probably write “read directions—hundredth’s place” on it, but I won’t mark it wrong nor take off an extra point for it. (Not yet anyway. The next quarter is coming.)

The second type of student almost always gets grades of ninety-five to one hundred. Those are the ones I try to be really picky with, so that they will strive to excel even more. I will write a note on every little thing and expect the pre-algebra answer to be 5.68.  

I will also be extra picky with their writing, because it is usually pretty good, but there is always room for improvement.  If there is a word that works but is a little more “first grade” as I call it, I will draw a squiggly line under it, which they know means to go get a thesaurus and put a more complex word in there.

I have a former student who hopes to be a teacher someday. She was one of those 98-100-type of students, and she stops by a few days a week after school to help me grade papers. She was grading with me one day and asked me how picky she should be on a paper she was grading. I asked her whose paper it was and how far it was off. Then I replied, “She’s pretty sharp. Be picky with her and expect more.”

“Okay. It certainly didn’t hurt me,” she replied with a smile, acknowledging the fact that I had done that to her when she had been my straight-A student.  

Project Presentation

For projects such as science fair boards, history research papers, or three-dimensional history projects, I give my students a rubric with the point values on it when I introduce the project. Then I use that exact same rubric when I grade it, and give that back to the student with their grade on it so they can see where they excelled and where they fell short.

I have found that after the first time of my doing this, they know exactly how it works, and their completed projects as well as their grades are much better the second time around.

Friendly Feedback

Supposedly, studies have shown that it takes seven positive comments to balance the impact of one negative comment. It would be pretty difficult to write seven positive comments for every negative one or for every “X” I write on a student’s paper, but we can certainly try to give lots of positive feedback.

This can be written, and I try to write something positive on each paper, whether it’s just a smiley face or a “YAY – an A!”, but there are many other ways we can give our students positive feedback.

A smile or a “yes!” is great positive feedback when a student gives a correct answer in class. If they are close to the target but not right on it, encourage them to think a little harder, or lead them a little, based on their first answer. We can also say, “Great job!” or “Very impressive” quietly when we pass their papers back to them.

For older students, especially the guys, I have found that writing one or two encouraging words on their papers does wonders. I’m teaching a new student this year who has brought his grades in English up an average of thirty points. When I handed back his last quiz, which was almost an A, I said, “See, I told you that you could do this,” because I had. I had told him that he could do it, and he did.

Believe in them, encourage them, and cheer them on.

Photo by Andy Barbour:

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