Rethinking Grading

Previously I had read a book by Cathy Vatterott called Rethinking HomeworkRethinking GradingGrading which is also by Vatterott.  Grading harmonizes a lot with Homework and shares Vatterott’s base philosophy that grades should be grounded in learning objectives, should be as objective as possible, and behavior should be kept separate.

For example, some teachers incorporate attendance as one of the categories that factor into the overall grade.  While attendance is important to the educational process, does it relate to how well you wrote an essay?  Now, is participating in a group discussion or presenting a speech to the class part of an academic grade? I’d answer yes.  It’s topic like these that Votterott discusses in her book that made me think about what I give grades for and what a grade in my classes represents.

Another topic that I thought about a lot was what an “A” represents on my rubrics.  Does it mean exceeds expectation or does it mean that it meets expectation?  When Vatterott asked the question in the book it seemed like a no-brainer, but then she posed the next question, does earning a 100% (what an A usually means) show that you’ve exceeded the expectation or that you’ve completely met the expectation?  And if “A” means you’ve exceeded the expectation, does a “B” or 80% mean that you’ve met the expectation?

Vaterott gave me a lot to think about and like I’ve said before I appreciate that she presents the material in a conversational/dialogue style and avoids sounding preachy.  My only critique is that I would like to see concrete evidence of how other teachers have incorporated what she’s suggesting into their classes.

If you’re looking for an introduction to standards-based grading including where the idea grew out of, this is a great book. There are a few specific suggestions for how to implement the program in a classroom but since this is only a jumping off point, I recommend looking at some of the resources mentioned and digging deeper.

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Rethinking Homework

Homework.  It’s one of those universal things that we have all had experience with.  And, sadly, it has probably been a negative experience.  Most of the time we, as students, despise homework and don’t see it’s value.  For teachers, homework is one of those things we tell ourselves is worthwhile but deep down we wonder if it’s actually valuable.

HomeworkCathy Vatterott’s Rethinking Homework addresses the old and new paradigms of homework and suggests ways in which teachers can improve their homework practices.  Old paradigms are the stereotypical thinking for teachers and students; the teacher assigns homework and the student does it.  But research tells us that due to changing home lives and family make up, not all students have time or the ability to complete the homework we give them.  Beyond that, research also tells us that most of the time homework doesn’t have educational value.

Ms. Vatterott argues that this broken cycle of assigning homework, the students not doing it, and then students failing doesn’t have to continue.  We educators can change our approach to students and homework. One of the first things we have to understand is that we cannot make students do homework.  We have to understand that when we release our students to go home we are sacrificing control over their time.  Instead, we have to work with the students to make the activities we need them to do at home worthwhile and something they can buy into.

This is what I liked about the book.  She clearly points out that if we communicate to students what we are trying to accomplish with homework and then get students to brainstorm ways in which to accomplish this goal, we are ultimately going to have a higher rate of completion as well as students engaged in the learning process.  At the same time, we will be able to differentiate the homework for students at different levels of learning.

The one frustration I had with the book was that the ideas Ms. Vatterott provided were brief and general.  I like to have depth and specifics.  Instead, this work just whetted my appetite to reflecting on my own homework practices.  Maybe that was her goal was to start the homework conversation and then direct those interested parties to look up the research in her book.  It’s still a good, academically researched work that is approachable and not preachy.