Fellow English teacher Heather recently asked, “How do you do grades?” With her permission, I’m posting our email conversation in a Q&A format. Maybe you’re new to the classroom or, like Heather, just looking for a new approach. Either way, here’s a look at how I keep scores.
1. Do you record the grades on paper and then post them online? Do you just post the grades online and skip writing down the grades on paper? Or just write them all down on paper?
I’ll grade a stack, marking the score on the top of each student’s paper and then enter those scores straight into the online grade book. I don’t ever write homework or quiz/test grades down on a piece of paper because it seems like lost minutes and I’m all about efficiency when it comes to dealing with papers. The fewer times I touch ‘em, the better.
2. How long does it take you to grade a quiz, test, or assessment that does not use ZipGrade? That’s a tough one because it’s all dependent on the type of assessment. For a quizzer (a quick one-question reading check), I usually get those graded in that same class period while students are reading or having small group discussion. It takes less than three minutes to grade a stack of 34 quizzers, so I’ll immediately know in that same class period who isn’t doing the work or who’s struggling with comprehension. Essay-based exams, obviously, take longer, but I’ve been able to carve my grading time down to just five minutes per essay because, rather than writing out lengthy comments, I use a memorized coding system as a sort of shorthand to mark the most common errors in my students’ writing. (Click here to learn more about this sanity-saving system.)
3. Do you throw away assessment papers so students won’t be able to give answers to friends or siblings in lower grades, or do you give them back to the students?
I hand back reading quizzers and vocab. quizzes because I change the questions on the fly all the time, but I keep the ZipGrade answer sheets when they’re used on major exams. I encourage students to come review their graded tests at lunch or after school. Less than a third of my kids actually swing by to check their answer sheets, though. Sad, but true. No cameras/phones are allowed while they review their exams because one quick snap would mean I’d have to spend three hours rewriting next year’s exam. Um, no, thank you. When a student’s done comparing her paper to the answer key, I collect everything. At the end of the year, all of those papers are thrown into the recycling bin at my house. (Yes, I’m paranoid and don’t dispose of answer sheets at school. Is that weird?)
4. Have you used your code system to grade speeches (written down)? Do you think it would be effective to use codes to grade them?
Nope, I haven’t. The codes are focused on common grammar errors and writing content mistakes, so they wouldn’t be a good match for speeches. I don’t require manuscripts because I want speeches that are prepared but not memorized. I enjoy presentations so much more when students are comfortable with their talking points without trying to stick verbatim to a memorized script.
5. How do you grade speeches (delivered)? Do you grade right on the rubric while the student speaks? Do you take notes on the speech and then give the grade later? And how do you mark down students’ grades when they go over/under the time limit?
I have a rubric that I fill out while the student is speaking, quickly marking performance levels and making brief notes. I do some fast math once the kid is done and finish my final comments on the rubric before the next speaker begins. If I waited until the end of the hour or even until my prep period to finish scoring the rubrics, I’d forget absolutely everything and those grades wouldn’t have any kind of accuracy. On a good day, I have the memory of a goldfish. After a long day of freshman speeches? It’s a miracle I can find my car in the teacher parking lot. If a student doesn’t hit a required time window, I’ll deduct a pre-determined number of points from the rubric score. Kids always know beforehand what the time window needs to be and how many points will be deducted if they don’t hit the mark. Most of the speech assignments I give are required to be between three-to-five minutes, a pretty wide window that’s easy to hit if a kid has properly prepared.
6. When do you give students their speech grades? How do you give them back their speech grades? By giving them a rubric with circled categories/scores and comments? By just posting their grades online?
I call myself “the grade-o-matic” on speech days; if you give your speech today, you’ll get your grade at the end of class today. I keep a master list of speech grades as everyone presents and hand out the individual rubric sheets with my comments to students at the end of class. They are allowed to keep those rubrics because I’ve already written down their final score on my master list. Once the entire class has presented, I enter the master list of scores into the grade book.
7. How do you give students back their essay grades? Do you staple a rubric to their paper or just write down the score?
Before I hand back a stack of graded essays, I’ll choose an “A” paper to serve as a model for my classes. From the stack, I always pluck one of the top-performing essays which my T.A. types up for me. I give copies to my students and, as a class, we talk about the qualities that allowed this paper to earn a top score. These models are very helpful for students, who appreciate having a concrete example of what good writing looks like. It also helps me explain to some of my grade-grubby honors students why their essays earned a “B” instead of an “A.” When they see what an “A” looks like, they quickly understand the validity of their own grade and learn what they’ll need to do to reach the next level of performance. Each essay is turned in to me with one of my rubrics already attached. When I hand back the scored paper, students get my feedback on the rubric and then get to work making essay corrections on my grammar and content codes.
8. Just curious, what grade service does your school/district use?
We use PowerSchool. It’s alright.
As always, I feel the need to add a disclaimer that this isn’t necessarily The Best Way to do things; it’s just the way I do things. Finally, after conversing with Heather and a few other teachers this month I decided to dive deeper into this topic with a new YouTube series. About once a week for the next month, I’ll share a few ideas to help you give meaningful feedback to your kids while still enjoying nights and weekends with your friends and family. Episode #1 – Slash the Stack (Be sure to watch to the end for some unexpected teacher love!):
Teach on, everyone!
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