Grading Practices That Impact Learning

Last week, I shared ways to shift homework practices to maximize student learning and understanding. This week, I turn my attention to grading practices. Just as with homework, when students receive their projects or tests back with grades written at the top, they simply look at the grade, make a judgement about whether or not they are good at math or if their teachers like them, and pretty much disregard any other comments on the paper.

We, as teachers, know that reflecting on work and learning from mistakes is where real learning takes place. However, even when we ask students to reflect on how they did, that score at the top of the page supersedes anything else on the page that could lead to a learning experience.

So…what can we do to push students to focus on the learning rather than on the grades? Here are a few ideas you might try…

  • Grading Practices 1: Give students the opportunity to share everything they know. As teachers, we hold the power to choose which facts and details we deem most important to include in an assignment or test. However, our students have so much more knowledge to share than we have anticipated with our questions. Why not include a blank page at the end that asks students to tell us everything they know about the topic at hand that wasn’t asked? The example below is from a science class, and is easily transferrable to math class!

  • Grading Practices 2: Highlight mistakes, but don’t give a grade. When grading an assignment or test, simply highlight the mistakes each student made. Do not assign point values, and do not put a score at the top of the page. At first, your students will ask, “What did I get?” or “How much is this one worth?” Resist, resist, resist! Do not go there.

  • Grading Practices 3: Give students time to reflect upon and discuss mistakes. Rather than going over the assignment or test as a class, ask students to reflect on their on their own work. They may discuss and compare answers with their friends, but in the end, everyone must learn from his/her own mistakes if learning is to take place. As teacher Leah Alcala says, “Learning from mistakes is really what learning is.” Click here to see Leah and her students in action.
  • Grading Practices 4: Share “my favorite mistakes” before passing out papers. After highlighting mistakes as described above, go through the papers again to look for trends and teachable opportunities. Select 3-5 of your favorite mistakes to discuss with the whole class prior to passing out their papers. This helps to glorify mistakes, communicating that mistakes are among the best learning opportunities we have.

I’m hoping that between last week’s homework post and this week’s grading post, you’re seeing ways in which teachers might shift their practice to maximize student learning without adding to the plethora of things they already do every single day. Simple tweaks in our practices can bring about tremendous shifts in student learning.

Please let us know how it goes by sharing your thoughts and stories in the comments box below.

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., works with teachers and leaders to develop system-wide change in mathematics teaching and learning.

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