I no longer put grades on individual pieces of student writing for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important ones surfaced this evening.
I’m making my way through the first batch of my students’ thorough revisions. These are revised versions of my students’ weekly drafts that they wrote in the first full week of school. These are pieces of writing already filled with comments in the margins from students in peer response groups. These are pieces of writing that students are handing over to me as improved from the first draft.
What about the ones I get with minimal revision? What about the ones that are only one paragraph long of just a few tentative sentences? I just got one of those, and I paused to reflect before I drafted my feedback.
If I were grading it on a rubric, it would lose points in almost every category.
If I were grading it on a rubric, the points I could award it wouldn’t add up to much.
If I were grading it on a rubric, the grade it would get might not be passing.
And how might that affect my student? I don’t know for sure, but I imagine the effect would be negative. This is a student who doesn’t seem to like to write, doesn’t like to spend much time on work for my class, doesn’t push himself to explore his thoughts through writing. I imagine this is a student who has felt little success in his past writing for school.
But yet he comes to class every day. He shows up. He’s an important part of our classroom community.
One more low grade might tell this student one more time that he’s not good at this thing called writing, so why should he even try?
Because I focus on feedback instead of points, I can hunt for the things that are working in the piece of writing and find ways to help the student grow from there.
Because I don’t apply a pre-determined rubric to the piece of writing, I can look carefully to discern what the student is working to achieve with it and provide feedback to help the student revise toward that purpose.
Because I don’t put grades on individual student assignments, I don’t have to put a judgement on the piece that might be connected negatively to my student’s past as a writer, a set of experiences with school that I cannot control.
But I can take the piece of writing seriously. I can tell the student what he’s doing well. I can choose one or two things for him to work on to improve the piece. I can help him feel a little bit of success, success that builds confidence, confidence that can eventually lead him to some risk taking with his writing, risk taking that can mean growth.
My hope is that by the end of the semester this student will be able to see tangible growth.
My job is to encourage it.
And I can’t encourage it by throwing points and grades at this writer who needs support more than anything else.
It’s a huge reason why I’ve stopped grading.
This is the tenth post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.
This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.
Please check out my resources on grading here.