A colleague of mine showed me one of her old gradebooks from a decade or so ago, and I’m restructuring how I go about grading as a result.  My school already has four “metacategories” which inform our comment-writing process, by dividing student work along social-emotional development, cognitive growth, academic behaviors, and personal attitude toward learning.

My colleague showed me that by using these themes as my grading structure, I could more immediately evaluate students.  Rather than grade by percentages, I could structure my responses to individual assignments by examining whether they were learning from mistakes on earlier work; and I could build a gradebook that also included space for commentary about their work, and their reflection on what they were learning.

I’m not really sure how I’m going to go about assigning kids an A+ or a C- or an F based on this structure yet, but I really LIKE what I’m seeing as I add information to this paper database.  I’m ranking kids on what I see their growth pattern like, and I have my own notes in my own handwriting that present a different picture of kids.  And the boxes are giving way to flexible spaces, some for comments and some for numbers.  It’s looking good.

I also feel like these grades are going to spark much more discussion in class.  It’s harder for a kid to say, “Oh, I’m getting an A right now, so I don’t have to speak up.”  It’s not clear that many kids understand that I’m using their class participation as a way of judging their cognitive development — that I’m trying to assess an internal, private mental process using their public statements… but that I’m also trying to understand the difference between their enthusiasm, and over-sharing for the sake of overwhelming Mr. Watt’s processing capabilities.

How do you capture all of that in a tiny little box?

You don’t. Which is why this gradebook is in a sketchbook.  The box for each kid is about a half-inch tall, and the ‘boxes’ after their names range from an 1/8″ “lancet” for putting a 1-6 in, to two-inch long “picture windows” for substantive comments attached to a date.

Why 1-6?

Here’s my thinking there.  A

  1. doesn’t contribute to my understanding of this child
  2. work that’s off topic, vague or incomplete
  3. “phoned in” — did the work to be done with it, not to make appreciable gains
  4. Solid work, not genuinely bad, but not top of their game.
  5. High quality work, top-notch effort, put it all right there.
  6. This particular kid’s “I get this, and I get it so much I’m going to show off.” A serious advance from what this kid could do before.

It’s a lot more subjective than a formal “percentage average” system, I suppose, but now I’m looking for evidence of cognitive development, and social learning, and trying to encapsulate it both in quick comments, and in numerical spot-checks.  There’s a double-tap system now in place on paper.

Oh, yeah.  Did I mention I’m going back to paper? It turns out that paper is much more versatile than a typical grading program.  With a grade program, it’s hard to decide how to assess individual assignments. Is this one going to be 20 points, or 100? Is it a major grade in this category, or that one?  I feel like I suddenly have much more freedom and flexibility.  I can see a story emerging in my analysis of materials, and I like that.

More on this as it develops.