Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Not Grading Notes

Formative assessment is nothing new; however, so many of us still grade notes and worksheets.  It can get exhausting, overwhelming even.  On top of all that, some people will say, it’s hard to “catch” cheaters.  But at the same time we argue that the practice of grading worksheets and notes helps students learn.  Or perhaps we argue that we need to hold them accountable.  We need to know that they’re learning.

When it comes down to it, though, if we assigned the same task to adult learners, we would allow them different ways of showing what they know.  Take for example chapter 2 of our textbook Everything’s an Argument.  If I were to take notes for this chapter, they would be 4 sentences long.  I get it.  There are big concepts in this chapter, no facts or details.  It’s the application of the theory that’s important, and that’s what we work on immediately after reading the chapter.  Yet up until last year I would “check-in” that students did notes as a completion grade to “show” that they were doing the reading.  Did that increase quiz scores?

This year I’m doing something different.  I’m marking in the “Notes” column of the quiz on Infinite Campus just the word “notes,” which indicates that the student showed me that they did notes either on paper or digitally.  This, I feel, provides me more information than a grade would have ever shown me.  First of all, fewer students, I believe, are going to “cheat” and copy someone else’s notes because it’s not for points in the first place.  I say to the students, “If you’re reading and not taking notes on this task and doing well, good for you.  If you’re reading and taking notes, and not doing well, we need to have a conversation.  If you’re not doing well and not doing notes, we need to have a conversation.”  And it has become just that: I was able to check in with students who did read and take notes.  We are able to talk about note taking skills and how to determine what’s important and compare note-taking theories across subject areas and texts in order to increase their comprehension of the text.

The next step for me is to do away with quizzes.  Why give a quiz on theories when it’s the application that we as teachers care about?  If students need to apply these concepts, and that’s my goal, then I need to assess that goal instead, not how they got there via theory quizzes.  I’m not there yet—that’s my next step: to make authentic application-based assessments that aren’t down-the-road essays.

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