Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My dislike of grades...

...the way they are currently.

I was out with my husband today - geocaching.  We found two of the five we planned to find, in the three hours we had along this small stretch of the Salt Creek in a neighboring town.  After an air-conditioned stop at the local library, we came across a young man and his father outside working on their bicycles.  Turns out, it was one of my current students!  We said hello, and explained about geocaching, and then went on our way.

My husband asked about the student.  I explained that he reads a ton, he uses a lot of humor and sensory details in his writing, and he is a pleasure to hear during discussions.  He also turns hardly anything in to be graded, and so his grade is not where it should be.

On what am I grading him?  On his ability to turn in assignments that I give.  Even when I see him doing them in class, they do not get turned in.  And yet, he reads constantly, and writes well in LA/LIT!  How is he doing for our Genius Hour (currently still called "Independent Reading")?  The last four blog posts have been completed, and I think it's because I gave him time in class to complete them (because they were not getting done at home). We had a talk, and completing this teacher-generated task in class has worked out for both of us.

I've been trying, with Genius Hour, to let students lead their learning.  But I still even give THAT a grade.  What am I grading?  The proof that they actually read, and have plans to read more.  If they present on what they have read, I give them a grade for speaking (eyes on audience, volume, visual aid...).  If the presentations have spelling errors in them, I consider that my fault - I did not preview the presentation with the student first. I have told myself I will NOT add that to the speaking rubric; I will only make sure the student shares it with me in a one-on-one conference first, to make sure spelling and grammar conventions are addressed.

I hope to take this grading to the next level next school year.  I hope to let students decide how they will show me what they've learned for the Common Core Standards.  I'll need guidance, and I'll need patience from the students.  I'll also need a certain maturity from the students, if I expect them to come up with what/how I should grade. Rubrics I have taken hours to create and have changed from year-to-year just aren't cutting it anymore.

And you know what?  If I were to be graded on my geocaching today, I'd have a 2/5 = 40%.  But if I were graded on my effort, I'd have 100% - and I'd get 100% for teamwork, too!  Thanks to my husband for helping me reflect on my teaching once again...  Any musings or ideas from readers is greatly appreciated as well!


  1. Joy,
    I am so pleased that you are tackling the beast of grading too. It is nice to know there are others' struggling through it so we can learn from each other. Something has to be done! I love the change in my students since we've been doing genius hour. I believe they are catching a glimpse of what school can and should be, and grades are the nemesis of that kind of learning!

    Thanks for sharing your thinking on this. I have no answers, but I'll be struggling through it too, and sharing my learning and mistakes on my blog.


  2. By the way, Joy, I forgot to mention the awesome example of geocaching! Thanks for pointing that out. Just an incredible illustration! I definitely made a note of your blog post in my Grading Diigo folder so I don't forget it.

  3. I am lucky to work at a school with standards based grading, meaning that if a student can show mastery of the objective, then they get a 4 (A) and missing work doesn't count against them - obviously this is a super simplification of the process...

    Sadly, I hear teachers complain all the time that that aren't ALLOWED to give 0s. They complain that we are teaching kids to be irresponsible, and that kids "know they don't have to do all the work."

    It's a hard balance to find. I feel that if work is engaging enough, students won't want to miss out. This, of course, doesn't always work either though...