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New Grading Experiment: Student Tracking for Enhanced Metacognition

Philosophically, I appreciate the debate over grading in schools. I even agree with parts of Alphie Kohn's case against grading. All that being said, in a few weeks I go back to school. To my classroom. To a vocation I LOVE. To a career that provides for my family. And grades are a reality. They are required. They aren't going away. 

Keeping this in mind, it does me no good as an educator to engage in debates around the efficacy of grading. I simply want to serve my students the best I can. And, in some ways, I don't think grades should be terminated. Perhaps it is up to us, as educators, to develop new, and thoughtful "hacks" to our current system. 

To maximize the A-F system in our favor. In a way that serves our students. Builds metacognition. Limits apathy. Motivates. etc., etc., etc. I believe this is possible. And, here's the clincher: IT IS MORE POSSIBLE THAN WAKING UP TOMORROW AND GRADES BEING ELIMINATED. SO, IT'S ON ME TO BE BETTER FOR MY STUDENTS. 

So...in the spirit of sharing super tangible, grassroots techniques, below is what I'm going to try next semester. Disclaimer: It involves some "old school" moves, such as transitioning to a teacher paper and pen gradebook, but please know, it is all in the spirit of pedagogy. In the spirit of my Ed Tech Mission statement if you will. 

  1. Organize each topic into 3 standards for simplicity and consistency. (e.g., 1.1-1.3; 2.1-2.3, etc.)
  2. Grade one short free response quiz, and one activity/lab per standard. That's it. 
  3. Create Google Sheet template for students to track their own performance. The template should be pre filled with standards for the year to instill student awareness of curriculum, and should also automatically generate their grade. Click here for template in my chemistry class. Click here for template in my medical biology class (note: I created these today. They are rough and will change). 
  4. Keep track of grades in a paper gradebook and NOT in our school's online system. 
  5. Only update grades at the quarter time. 
  6. When students ask me "What's my grade?". Respond with "Update your spreadsheet with your grades. Then tell me."
  7. When parents ask for, or are interested in, student grade updates, tell them "Your child has a spreadsheet that outlines their grades. Ask them. Here [insert link to students gradebook] is view only link to your child's gradebook that THEY maintain."
  8. Inform administration that I will be using this system, rather than the required system of posting grades to our online grade book for parents and students to freaking OBSESSIVELY check. Recite the below rationale: 

This revised system will provide students with the ability to constantly know their "grade" in our class, while simultaneously developing enhanced student awareness of their own performance and build student agency over the grading process. 

Ramsey Musallam teaches science and robotics at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California, with the aim of fostering inquiry-based learning environments fueled by student curiosity. He presents widely on sparking student curiosity and teaching with technology. Musallam is a Google Certified Teacher, a YouTube Star Teacher, and a Leading Edge Certified Teacher. Watch his TED talk here and read his blog at www.cyclesoflearning.com.