You Should Probably Just Grade Less

I have the pleasure of getting to pop in to the 2012 CSUWP Summer Institute this week and next, helping in a variety of small roles. Yesterday, I was present for a discussion of , a common text for the SI that I think is worth your time to read if you’ve not yet had the opportunity.

I was there as someone who knows a bit about digital writing, and so a question was posed to me by a teacher in the group. She’s working on an inquiry project about how technology can be useful to streamline grading. I believe her question was something like “How can I streamline my grading practice using technology.” She was hoping I could suggest some things she might try.

I don’t think she liked my answer.

I suggested that she might want to remove the words “using technology” from the question, as most of the things that I think would streamline a teacher’s practice when it comes to grading are things that have very little to do with technology.

For starters, I think teachers, in general, grade too many things. So one way to streamline would be to “grade” less. And that doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t ask students to write, and write often. But we don’t need to grade everything that comes to us. In fact, we should grade very little of it. Heck, and I know this’ll sound a bit weird, but we shouldn’t even read all the writing we ask students to do.

One of the choices that a writer makes, and that a student writer should get to make, too, is when and how and where and with whom we share our writing. Reading and grading everything doesn’t help there. Nor is it manageable for the teacher. I find that we’ve built an expectation into school that teachers are there to write lots of notes in margins and markup student writing.

We’ve built the wrong expectations.

In an #engchat conversation a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that we should take Peter Elbow’s suggestion to read and respond less like evaluators and more like interested readers. I suggested that a copy of Elbow’s would be worth reading.

Another thing that I suggested, before thinking about technology options, is that we need to make sure the assignments we are asking of students are the right things to be asking them to do. And, we need to build structures that support our students reading and writing and making things in partnership with each other.

Then I think I did suggest that many tools of the Web can help to make the work of putting writing in to each others’ hands and eyeballs easier than ever. But that only matters if you’re thinking about how you want students to spend their time. I’m eager to help this teacher in her inquiry work – the question, with or without the last two words, is a good one and worth her time.

Were I thinking about it, I probably would’ve recommended Dave’s recent posts about contract grading. While he’s teaching at the university level, I think they provide some useful ideas for thinking about assessment.

Too often, when we reach for technology, we do so in the service of something that isn’t just a technology issue. When a grading load is unreasonable. that’s likely not a technology problem. Taking a look at the whole picture is sometimes necessary before moving to suggestions of new tools or platforms. Then we can look for tools or apps or whatever that will help us do what needs doing. The problem is, taking that look takes longer than handing out a list of apps or websites.

So guess which thing happens?

77 thoughts on “You Should Probably Just Grade Less

  1. The only thing better than grading less is not grading at all. Just give out an occasional merit badge with a student demonstrates mastery of some skill or body of knowledge. As it is, barely passing is good enough even though the student who barely passes doesn’t understand much. Grades are extrinsic motivators that take the focus off learning. Keep up the good work.

  2. Ms. V says:

    Oh, absolutely! I’ve watched students get so discouraged with their writing when the grade is the only thing that matters. I say students should write for themselves and the progress will come with each new attempt.

  3. I think everything we give students to do should be worthwhile. It should be a learning experience in and of itself. Grading is important for assessment and guidance, but a teacher only needs to see a few examples of student work, rather than every single assignment. If a teacher has to grade every single thing, it takes away its value. It becomes just a grade, not a learning experience. I was in a long-term position where the teacher’s grading system had me grading SO much stuff, it literally took over my life. I didn’t care about the quality of the work, just that they got it done so I could grade it and get on with my life. Thats how bad it was, just too much work. Each assignment, in an effective classroom, should be as rich as possible, for the student to learn, not to get the grade.

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