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Grading: Only forward, never backward

favicon This year, I’ve become a little more clear about my philosophy of assessment and grading. It’s called “Only forward, never backward.”

My Old Way: When a student didn’t turn in an assignment, I’d get really frustrated, admonish the student, predict the end of the world, and make grandiose plans for the student to go back in time and make up the work.

But that way never worked — for two reasons:

  • It didn’t increase the student’s turn-in rate of future assignments,
  • It didn’t increase the student’s sense of responsibility.

Most important, My Old Way confused students by putting them in two places at once. I expected them to go ahead with the new unit while simultaneously finishing up the work from the last. That’s too complicated for everyone.

Here’s My New Way: I teach, give assignments so students can demonstrate their skill and understanding, offer scaffolding and coaching, encourage students to work hard, collect the assignments, grade them…and move on.

If I’ve constructed a class with many opportunities to succeed (and fail), then missing one assignment shouldn’t be the end of the world.

Of course, it’s important to make sure the student (and sometimes, the family) is aware that I have noticed the missing assignment — and that I am disappointed, that I expect more, and that things had better change soon.

I like My New Way because it focuses on the future instead of dwelling on the past. That said, the disadvantage of “Only forward, never backward” is that it doesn’t necessarily teach students the importance of 100 percent turn-in, which is crucial in college, where there are fewer assignments. Plus, it doesn’t work well with classes that have culminating projects (like my old Mock Trial and this year’s Theme Study).

Overall, though, I’d much rather spend my time in the present — about what can be done now — than running around being in more than one place at once.

Even though my classroom may include 25 students, all different, it’s my job as a teacher to do my best to create one narrative — one bigger story that we can all participate in together, that we can all grab hold of. favicon


    • Mark Isero

      Thanks, John. Today, a student who didn’t turn in the last project wanted to know what he should do. I told him to figure out what went wrong and then do well on the next assignment. He seemed content with that. Students want to go forward. It is hard to be in two places at once.

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