Traditional Grading vs. Learning Process

Over the past few years, I have been concerned about how I, as a teacher, assess students.  I was taught in college and at my job the traditional assessment methods of assignments, tests and quizzes, and the standard grading scale was how things were done.  As time has progressed, I have begun to realize that this may not be what is best for current students.

The traditional method of assessment was designed for the Industrial Age and prepared students for the industrial work force.  Students are no longer entering the industrial work force, but rather a technology rich environment that needs creativity not linear thinking.  The traditional teaching methods often stifle creativity.  This is one of the reasons I believe some teachers have such a hard time incorporating technology into their classrooms.

Over the past few years as I have added more and more technology into my classroom, I have found that emphasizing the learning process is critical for keeping students motivated. This has led me to reevaluate the traditional grading scale.  If I want to keep students working through the learning process, the finality of a grade seems to end the process.  This is what I do not want to see.  Since learning is a process, the grade needs to be seen as a check on their learning, not the status of completion of an assignment.  I have found that the negativity behind the letter “F” to be the most devastating of all.  I have noticed that the letter “F” is viewed as the end all-be all.  This was of great concern for me, since I believe that learning is a process that does not stop with the first attempt.

Students need to realize that failure is not a bad thing, but rather it is part of the learning process.  So often, however, it has become synonymous with the end of a process.  As teachers, we need to change this.  I often remind my students that the first time you do something you are not always going to be successful at it. This does not mean that you will never become successful at it, but rather you just need to practice.

This led me to try an experiment in my classes in which I removed the letter “F” from the grading of assignments.  Instead I used “INC” for incomplete.  What I found was very interesting.  When I handed back an assignment to a student with “INC” on it, they had a very different attitude about that work.  They were more willing to rework the assignment.  They did not seem to view it as the end, but rather as part of the assignment.  So then I took the use of “INC” one step further and used it when I posted grades for students.  Students, who would’ve had an “F” posted, now have an “INC” posted.  These students seem more motivated to try to work to get their grade up.  Before they often just saw the “F” and gave up all hope.

While I definitely don’t have all of the answers, I have found the use of “INC” has really helped in keeping struggling students motivated.  As teachers, we need to be aware of how we evaluate students and always ensure that they feel there is always the ability to improve.  If a student does not have any hope, they will not continue to attempt to learn.  Learning is a process of trial and error.  Teachers must remember this process and teach it to their students.  Failure is not the end, but rather the beginning of the learning process.  If we truly want to prepare our students for the 21st century and a work environment that needs creativity, we need to teach our students that learning is a process.  As the old adage goes, “If at first you do not succeed… try, try again.”


One Response

  1. Would you please figure out how to bottle you attitude about grading for learning? I would gladly order a few cases for distribution!

    When students find out that failure is not an option, a way to escape “work,” learning happens.

    Doug Reeves offers support for your point of view in this article from Educational Leadership (ASCD).

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