Tag Archives: grading

Hacking Your Online Grade Book: A Review of Pointless by Sarah M. Zerwin

Things students do that result in grades but not learning:

  • Copy work from another student
  • Game rubrics to figure out what you can do to get the most points with the least work
  • Use Sparknotes instead of reading
  • Watch movie instead of reading
  • Get too much help from their friends
  • Plagiarize

I am sure you can list more but this is the start of the list that teacher and author, Sarah M. Zerwin shared in her book Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020). This book was a refreshing read for me and it helps me to rethink how I will use my online grade book and the role of feedback in my classroom. I have had numerous conversations with my principal about getting rid of grades in my middle school classroom and Zerwin’s books shows how.

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Zerwin is a 20 year veteran high school English teacher in Colorado and she begins articulating the problems with points and grades. She argues “points based grading gets in the way of student learning and a grading system rewards compliance over learning.” She pulls in support from Rick Wormeli,  Alfie Kohn, and Maja Wilson. If we remove grades, points, and letters from our classroom we can see more meaningful learning and growth happening among students.

You are probably wondering how does Zerwin hack her grade book and traditional grading practices.

First, it is about establishing clear and meaningful learning goals to creates a focus for students and the teacher. These learning goals articulate the work that students will do and how teachers can help them get there. The goals are simple, clear, and specific. Each is grounded in multiple standards. In her classroom, “learning lives in the process, in the work that writers and readers do along the way” NOT the final product.

As for the grading hacks and how she sets up her online grade book:

* Zerwin’s grade book still boils things down to a percentage through the semester. But this percentage reflects nothing more than how much of the work students have completed. She states, “We all need to think of that percentage not as a grade in the traditional sense but rather simply a percentage representing how much of the course’s tasks a student has completed. If it’s not 100%, there is work the student needs to do. And at semester’s end, that percentage is just one data point of many included in the determination of the semester grade.”

* She makes heavy use of the comment boxes in the grade book to build a qualitative data record of students’ journeys as learners. For example, students complete weekly reading comprehension checks on Google Forms and Zerwin cut and pastes student responses in the comment box to use as data. Additionally, after students meet for a reading or writing conference, the student completes a Google Form stating the outcome of the conference and what they are going to work on that week. 

* Students continuously reflect on their work alongside a set of learning goals for reading and writing and collect evidence of their learning toward those goals. These include progress reports and weekly goal planning. 

* At the end of each semester, students write letters in the form of stories about their journeys as learners. Examples of these letters are placed as interludes in between each chapter. The letter is a narrative that asks students to make sense of what they’ve learned, how they see it and know it clearly.  The semester letter/story is also where students select their final grade.

My copy of this book is filled with post-it notes on numerous charts, marginals notes, and dog-eared pages. Her focus is on the process and not a final essay to show whether students are meeting learning targets. It is all about a culture of feedback and the multiple ways that students are gaining feedback from the teachers, their peers, and even mentor texts to grow as readers and writers. Chapter Five and Six alone articulate how our grade book can become a “data warehouse” rather than a mathematical jungle gym of vague numbers and points. Starting this fall, I will be adapting Zerwin’s grading system in my own classroom because students deserve better and we need to shift our focus on vague numbers and subjective rubrics to actually helping students grow as deep readers and creative communicators.

 

 

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Game Based Learning Vs. Grade Based Learning

In my classroom, my focus is on learning not grades. In my classroom I offer student choice. What my students put into the class is what they are going to get out of the class. I understand that many young people are motivated by grades, but grades are arbitrary. Many of my students master learning outcomes in different ways.  

I want my students to be lifelong readers and proficient writers. Some of my students are avid readers and are authors of their own blogs. At the same time,  I have struggling students who have never read a book for school, rather comb through the internet for plot summaries to pass a test and copy quotes. With these diverse learners in mind, I have introduced Game based learning in my classroom to motivate the diverse learners in my classroom, teach content in creative ways that engage students, and allow them to work collaboratively.

Traditional Grading System Standards-Based Grading System
1. Based on assessment methods (quizzes, tests, homework, projects, etc.). One grade/entry is given per assessment. 1. Based on learning goals and performance standards. One grade/entry is given per learning goal.
2. Assessments are based on a percentage system. Criteria for success may be unclear. 2. Standards are criterion or proficiency-based. Criteria and targets are made available to students ahead of time.
3. Use an uncertain mix of assessment, achievement, effort, and behavior to determine the final grade. May use late penalties and extra credit. 3. Measures achievement only OR separates achievement from effort/behavior. No penalties or extra credit given.
4. Everything goes in the grade book – regardless of purpose. 4. Selected assessments (tests, quizzes, projects, etc.) are used for grading purposes.
5. Include every score, regardless of when it was collected. Assessments record the average – not the best – work. 5. Emphasize the most recent evidence of learning when grading.

Adapted from O’Connor K (2002).  How to Grade for Learning: Linking grades to standards (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

 

Where does Gamification (ie Classcraft) fit into this grading dichotomy?

As my colleague and author, Michael Matera, describes, “Gamification provides the structure needed to move beyond the regurgitation of memorized content. It allows teachers to create challenging and motivating experiences that meet and go beyond the required curriculum standards, while captivating students’ minds and feeding their hunger for knowledge. Gaming offers a personalized experience and a sense of autonomy.” (EXPlore Like a Pirate, 2016)

So what is Graded in 8th Grade English?

Essays Writing

Short Response Quizzes

Interactive Notebooks

CCSS Standards Based Objectives for reading, writing, vocabulary acquisition, speaking and listening

 

What earns Game Points?

Outside reading

Participation in twitter book chats

Articles of the Week (weekly reading practice and current events)

Collaborative activities in class and Teamwork

Attending X-Period

Positive Interactions w/Classmates

 

What are the rewards for Collecting Game Points (XP & GP)?

Food Rewards

Extended Time on Assessments

Earn Exempts on Notebook Checks

Limited Answer Choices on Quizzes and Tests

Preferred Partner Work

Preferential seating

Preview Final Exam (10,000 XP Points)

*Negative behaviors can also lead to having one’s game points raided (taken away).

 

Rewards are always evolving.

The one thing I know for sure, is that eliminating extra credit requires my students to put forth their best effort on every assignment. Revision is always an option to improve ones grades because learning is never “one and done.”

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Sign Along the Dotted Line: Grading Contracts in the Classroom

Grading is tricky and as much as I would love to throw away all numerical and letter grades in my classroom, it is not a reality in the school where I currently teach. I envy those teachers who have created successful classrooms without grades like Pernilles Ripp author of the blog, BloggingThrough the Fourth Dimension. But until the opportunity arises in my district to eliminate those numbers and letters that are loaded with emotions, expectations, judgements, and measurement limitations, I have turned to contract grading as a way to balance my own concerns about the grading dilemma.

What is contract grading?

Think of a grading contract a clear set of guidelines. Students need to complete all the requirements in order to earn a possible grade. I allow my students to contract for an A or a B. Nothing less. The contract offers multiple opportunities for students to earn a specific grade, there is no “one shot grading.” Students are working throughout the marking period to earn the grade. Students determine how much effort they wish to put into the class and take responsibility for their own work. Individuals must meet a minimum of the requirements of the assignments as defined by the rubric. There are no letter or numerical grades for the specific requirements. Thus students’ grades are based on effort and achievement of meeting standards. I tell my students their efforts and participation have real effects on their own and other students’ abilities to learn and develop in class. 

Each marking period, 40% of my students’ grade in English 8 is based on the grading contract below.

Thus, 40% of a students’ grade is based on their own conscientious efforts and participation.  The criteria for each potential grade is directly tied to how much the student wishes to participate and how hard s/he is willing to work. 

Here are some elements of the current grading contract I have in place:

Characteristics of “B” Quality Work in English 8

  • Be fully prepared every day so that you can engage with the work of that day. Have all assigned reading and writing completed according to the specifications of the assignment and available at the beginning of the class period.
  • Bring a writing utensil and your Interactive Reading Journal to class every day.
  • Actively engage in a positive manner to class and group discussions:  pay close attention to what others are saying; respond respectfully and thoughtfully to others’ ideas; and be willing to offer input on a regular basis.
  • Be on time consistently.
  • Turn in all formal and informal assignments at the appropriate time and meet all the criteria for the assignment.
  • Maintain a neat and legible Interactive Reading Journal.
  • Read an Outside Reading (OSR) book each quarter and complete a project on the book. 
  • Complete a Genius Hour Project that positively impacts the community each semester and share your final product with the class

Characteristics of “A” Quality Work in English 8

Students will complete all the components of the “B” Quality Work and in addition,

  • Make revisions on formative & summative writing assessments – extending or changing the thinking or organization – not just touching up or editing minor errors.
  • Volunteer to participate in a Going Global* collaborative project  – come to x-period twice a month to complete a small project in collaboration with students around the world. *Going Global is a closed networking site through the Japan Society that allows teachers and students to interact, collaborate, and share ideas beyond our classroom walls.
  • Read an additional OSR book each quarter and participate in twitter book chats about the additional text.
  • Publish the Genius Hour Project  in a TED-style reflective presentation on the entire experience  

 

 

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