Wednesday, January 30, 2013

To Grade or Not to Grade....

To grade or not to grade, that is the question. (Apologies to Shakespeare!)

Maybe that's not the only question, but it is one that I needed to address recently. A new homeschooling friend asked me, "How do you grade?"

So, here goes nothing! Some of you might be shocked; some may be relieved. Some might even agree! But let me add my disclaimer: My own way of homeschooling is not the only right way. Other people find different styles that work well for them. What I describe here is what has worked well for us.

So, to answer my friend's question about grading - I really don't do any. I don't keep a grade book. I don't grade their daily work. I don't grade tests. (In fact, I don't even give tests. But that's a post for another day, I think.) 

Once upon a time, I thought I would keep grades. But, the futility and purposelessness of it nagged at me when my children were in elementary school. So I told myself, "Well, I will keep grades for middle school." However, middle school came and went, high school began, and suddenly my oldest is a senior. He will graduate in 4 months and we still don't keep grades, at least not in the way most schools do.

For math, we use Teaching Textbooks, a computer-based program that automatically grades the work. If they get less than 80% correct, I require them to do the entire lesson over. If they get between 80-100%, I consider that lesson complete and the student moves on. At the end of a year, I don't give them a letter grade in math. In fact, their math books don't usually begin or end according to the parameters of a school year. In addition, my senior is doing Pre-Calculus, which doesn't come with the automatic grading feature. So, my senior grades his own math. Believe it or not, he has the answer book and uses it appropriately.

Other than math, I don't give many letter grades at all, not even for the writing classes that I teach. Why not?

One question I asked myself is why would I model my own teaching methods on those used by traditional schools when I've chosen to keep my children out of school? Grades are a fairly recent invention in the history of humankind, though learning has been going on for all those centuries. Do you think Jane Austen got a daily penmanship grade? Do you think Thomas Jefferson got a reading quiz score every day? Do you think Socrates was graded on his debate skills? 

Additionally, I see very little value in grades the way that they are commonly used. The reason teachers keep grades is so they know how a student is doing in a subject. If a teacher has 25 children to keep track of, is she going to remember that Mabel needs to work on capitalization and Jared should practice the comma rules? Will she recall which students need extra math practice after the chapter test? No. She needs some way to keep track. Thus, record-keeping was introduced. 

However, I *do* know that one of my kids needs to work on differentiating the words that begin with "th" and that another kid will tend not to complete the day's work unless reminded, and which of my children needs to practice math facts. I don't need the numbers in the little squares to remind me. The numbers (or letters) are just symbols of the things that are mastered or still need to be mastered. 

Grades are a time-waster for the homeschool mom. I was a teacher in a school way back when. My duties included an inordinate amount of attention to my grade book and hours and hours filling in those pesky little squares and adding up numbers to complete report cards - wish I could get those hours back! Now I certainly don't have time in my busy schedule to count up picky little points and average them all out, even now that computer grade books do it for you. (Yeah, back in the early 90's, I did that with a calculator. LOL)

One more thing to consider is that every teacher grades differently. I could write quite a bit on how subjective grading really is - in public schools, in private schools, and in home schools, but I'll let that alone for now.  

Most of all, I just don't think grades are an accurate picture of my children's academic work. My senior is more than an A in Pre-Calculus and a C in Spanish 1. 
So, what do I do instead?

Usually if a page is done well, I will simply say, "Good job! You're all set!" He or she may ask for a star or an "A" written on the page which I gladly give. At any rate, I think comments, both spoken and written, are so much more meaningful than a percent score. Maybe you remember getting a paper back with an unexpected poor grade and wondering why. But if no comments were given, you had no way to know. Or perhaps, you worked especially hard on an assignment and the letter grade gave no indication of whether the teacher noticed your hard work. 

In the writing classes I teach, I write a lot of comments on my students' papers. I want them to read them, learn from them, and use them, rather than just look at the large red "C" scribbled at the top of their carefully-written essay and wonder why it's not an "A" as they toss the paper in the wastepaper bin.

So, for all these reasons, I don't make letter grades or percentages a focus in our education.

Do we assess learning? Yes.
Do I know what they need to work on? Yes.
Do the kids have to re-do poorly done work? Yes.
Do I give feedback? Yes.
Do they know when they have success? Yes.

And that's what it's about, here at Cornerstone Home Learning.