As an English teacher, I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient, especially when grading time approaches. For years, I used the archaic point-percentage based system because I didn't know other approaches to grading existed. Even then, I knew my approach to grading needed some revision because I wanted to incorporate a portfolio system that allowed my students and I to take a more holistic look at their growth and achievements, but I found something better.
A Real-World Approach to Grading
A few weeks into the school year, after my students and I have had a chance to finish our first writing piece and read a novel, I introduce them to my grading system. This approach to grading views the student holistically and is grounded in clear, student-friendly language that allows my students the opportunity to share half the responsibility that comes with grading.
First, I talk about how grades should mirror how people are evaluated in the real world. I explain that grades in my class are defined as follows:
A = Above and Beyond
B = Basically Good
C = Could Have Done Better
D = Didn't Try
F = Forget about it!
Then, I go on to explain that an "A" worker is someone who comes in early/stays late, does more than is asked of him/her, exceeds the boss's expectations, and really shines. "A" workers get bonuses, awards, and are recognized for the efforts they make to go "Above and Beyond." In reality, there are few "A" workers out there.
Most people are "B" workers who work hard enough to get the job done, but don't really do anything extra to go Above and Beyond. "B" workers follow rules and procedures, show up to work on time, do everything that is asked of them, and don't cause any problems. They're "Basically Good" at what they do.
A "C" worker is someone who slacks off every now and then, may show up to work late every once in a while, and doesn't complete tasks in the time required. This person simply "Could Do Better" by putting more effort into the work he/she does and completing all tasks.
A "D" worker is someone who does little to no work. This person shows up to work late, misses work without calling in, makes excuses, and is someone who has a difficult time keeping a job (if he/she can keep a job at all). This person simply "Didn't Try" to improve.
An "F" worker is someone who does nothing when he/she shows up to work, has a lot of absences, and is summed up by that catchy Jersey phrase "Forget about it!"
I then use an analogy with nearby convenience stores my students are familiar with, Circle K and Quik Trip (QT). We evaluate the workers in both convenience stores by discussing the qualities each has (which I list on a large Post-It note) and what sets them apart. We always agree that the QT workers are "Basically Good" and the Circle K workers "Could Have Done Better."
Once we've had this discussion, it's time to introduce my students to the 3Ps.
Because I want to prepare my students for the "real" world, I also want to evaluate them in similar ways they will be evaluated when they enter the work force, and I also want them to have some ownership over these evaluations.
I begin with our Participation Guidelines which equate to 50% of a student's grade, and I believe are the most important components of our grading system. Our Participation Guidelines provide a solid foundation upon which our Progress and Performance Guidelines can be built. They're the most important because student participation is directly linked to student learning. Those students who are engaged are a lot of fun to work with, and they share their positive habits with everyone around them.
Participation = How hard have you tried? (Effort)
- Be attentive. Follow directions the first time they're given.
- Be present. Come to class on time, every day. All materials ready. Have your brain here, too!
- Be a contributor. Share regularly, give good feedback, ask good questions.
- Be accountable. Take ownership of your learning and your results; meet deadlines; follow the advice I give you. Don't blame; don't demure; don't discount.
- Be engaged. Work hard, use time wisely, do your best.
- Be helpful. Help yourself, help others, help me.
We talk about how they have half of the responsibility in class, which requires they work hard. Many of them will work hard because they choose to, which helps me do my job more effectively and gives them ownership over their learning at the same time. More importantly, my Participation Guidelines are directly linked to the Core Beliefs and Values I hold as a teacher.
Next, it's time to discuss how I monitor and measure student Progress Guidelines, which account for 30% of a student's grade. Progress can be defined as new learning and at the end of each term, I ask my students to explain what they've learned by answering this question:
What do you know now that you did know at the beginning (of the year/term)?
Progress = What have you learned? (Improvement)
- Better participator. Have you improved in our Participation Guidelines? How so? What are you doing now that you weren't doing at the beginning of the school year/term?
- Better reader. Have you improved in reading? How so? What "proof" do have to show this improvement?
- Better writer. Have you improved in writing? How so? What "proof" do have to show this improvement?
The first time we discuss Progress, I give an example of what improvement might look like in each of these areas. A Better Participator is someone who wasn't working the entire class period the first few weeks of school. As a result, she missed our first two writing deadlines and first two book deadlines, but as we progressed through the term, she realized she needed to work the entire class period in order to turn work in on time so that it would count. She hasn't missed a deadline since.
A Better Reader is someone who may have been reading too fast in those first few weeks, but after a couple of reading conferences with me realized she needed to adjust her speed. Now, she's reading at a normal talking speed, which allows her to keep track of ideas she was missing when she was speed reading. She's also noticing more as she's reading. I can hear these improvements when she reads aloud and have noticed improvements in her reading journal entries as well.
A Better Writer is someone who may have spent little or no time in the revising and editing phases of the writing process early on in the semester, but has made improvements by following the strategies I've shown her in each of these phases. Now, she spends time revising for beginnings, endings, ideas and details, and titles. She also takes the time to look for mistakes in capitals, spelling, punctuation, words, sentences, and paragraphs. Her more recent writing pieces serve as evidence for these improvements.
Because we need enough time to pass to see improvements, I typically introduce my students to my Progress requirements towards the end of 1st term. Student ability level varies, which requires me to differentiate my instruction so that my higher performing students are given the same opportunities to measure their progress as my lower performing students (whose growth is far easier to see).
I also provide students several opportunities to progress in similar skills so that we can compare several samples of work, which is why I try to guide my students through the reading and writing processes several times throughout the semester. We typically shoot for completing 10 writing pieces and 10 books in a semester. There are some students who take an entire semester (or an entire school year) to make Progress in each of the defined areas, which requires me to be inclusive. So, I do my best to keep inviting them back into my lessons, sharing, etc.
Finally, it's time to discuss our Performance Guidelines, which account for 20% of a student's grade. Peformance has to do with the quality of student work: how well are my students doing in their writing pieces, in applying the reading strategies I've shown them, on district tests, etc.?
To teach kids about assessing their Performance; however, I have to give them models. For example, in research writing, this looks "anchor" papers that include high, medium, and low samples. In reading, this might look like high, medium, and low reading journals from students I've had in previous years or recordings of what good reading and bad reading sounds like. I also must have some criteria in place for each genre/form of writing or anything else students keep in their collections (portfolios) of work. Only then, can we have a real discussion about what Performance is. Students also need to have written several pieces, read a few books, and have written several journal entries in a collection of work, which allows for comparing quality over a period of time.
Peformance = How good is your work? (Quality)
Your quality of work compared to:
- your best work.
- the best work by your peers.
- our classroom criteria.
- samples produced by high school students in this school, district, state, country.
- rubrics created by me, or those used by the district, state, country.
Performance is the easiest part of the 3Ps because it's closely related to how we traditionally think of grading, which is why I save it for last.
A System that's Better For Me, Better for My Students
Once we've discussed the 3Ps in detail, it's time to begin working on Grading Conferences, which I'll talk about in my next post. In the meantime, I like the 3Ps system because:
- Grades match real life.
- There isn't room for excuses.
- We're grading a collection of work.
- Self-assessment leads to goal setting and commitment.
- Students have ownership over their Participation, Progress, and Performance.
The best reason I have for incorporating the 3Ps grading system into my practice is that I decide what my Participation, Progress, and Performance Guidelines are. If I'm teaching freshmen, maybe my Participation Guidelines are slightly different than if I'm teaching juniors or seniors. We can adjust them at any time, and I don't have to spend hours assigning point values and percentages to individual assignments or calculating grades. Instead, I can look at a student and his/her work holistically in ways that are more connected to the "real" world.
For more on the 3Ps, see: The 3P Grading System: A Faster, Fairer, Easier Way to Grade.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.