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November 2011 | Volume 69 | Number 3
Effective Grading Practices
Carol Ann Tomlinson
I wanted to be students' mentor; it was a difficult role reversal when I abruptly became their judge.
I recall standing in the doorway to greet my students one morning during my third year of teaching after I had just completed report cards. As I made small talk with the kids entering our room, I had a profoundly troubling insight. I heard these words in my head: "You could fill out their report cards right now for the rest of the year with 90 percent accuracy." This realization that my grading practices were contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy marked a transition in my uneasy relationship with grades.
Up to that point, I'd seen student assignments as a mechanism for generating grades, which I recorded faithfully in my grade book so that when parents came to school for conferences I could justify report card grades ("See—here are the 19 grades I averaged to arrive at Jason's C.") The more grades, the more secure I felt.
I'd like to think that even in those days I didn't see grades as rewards or punishments, but maybe I did. Maybe I said to myself, "If I don't grade homework, they won't do it."
I was worried about students who went home class after class, quarter after quarter with low grades. In a naïve way, I understood that such discouragement does little to motivate students to embrace the next task with trust or enthusiasm. I also worried about the kids who were supremely motivated to get As but had little interest in learning. I wanted to be my students' mentor; it was a difficult role reversal when I abruptly became their judge.
That epiphany caused me to be more reflective about grading. I can't recall in which order I drew the following conclusions. Some of them were a long time coming. In the end, they led my grading practices to reflect what I believed about teaching and learning—rather than to dictate how I taught.
Embracing these conclusions has made me a better teacher and made my students more thoughtful, engaged, and self-confident learners. These principles are a compass to guide and stretch me as a teacher. Think about them. Question them. In the end, what matters is not that teachers have identical approaches to grading, but that we all have approaches that stem from and reinforce what we know about teaching and learning.
Carol Ann Tomlinson is William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundation, and Policy at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia in Charlottesville; firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author, with Marcia B. Imbeau, of Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom (ASCD, 2010).
Copyright © 2011 by ASCD
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