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Assessment Over Grading and Effort Over Accuracy

Maximum Effort.jpg"No, you keep it," I told students, as they tried to hand me their papers at the end of class. "Why did I do it if you're not even going to collect it? What kind of teacher are you?" students replied, before balling up their papers and throwing them on the floor.

Did I appreciate students responding like this? No, but I did appreciate why they responded like this. It was early in the year, and they'd been conditioned for years to see it as a teacher's duty to collect every assignment. There was no incentive for students to lift a finger unless they knew an assignment was going to be collected.

But if you think about it, there are really only two good reasons for collecting students' work:

  1. To see what they do/don't understand--and why they don't understand something; and
  2. To give them feedback that will help improve their understanding.
Why collect an assignment, then, if you can fulfill both of these purposes during class, as I was able to? (See Differentiated Instruction: A Practical Approach.)

To students, of course, there was a third (and only) reason to collect their work: to grade it. But there's a difference between assessing what students know and assigning them grades based on what they know. Or, more accurately, based on what they appear to know, since you often get a truer gauge of students' understanding when you don't grade assignments than when you do grade them. (One reason for this is that kids are more likely to cheat when you grade assignments based on accuracy than when you grade them based on effort or don't grade them at all.)

Still, no matter how compelling this sounds in theory, it's never going to work in practice unless you reverse students' view of grades as the main motivator for doing something. And a key to doing this is helping them see a connection between their effort on routine assignments and their performance on tests, quizzes, etc. (This explains why "e" is for "effort" in my Success Comes From the H.E.A.R.T. acronym). Here are two ways to do this:

  1. Design tests and other graded activities so that earnest effort on class work (and homework if you assign it) ensures success/improvement on those graded activities.
  2. Assign grades for class work (and homework) based on effort rather than accuracy.
Just a couple of ways to establish why students should lift a finger even when they aren't being graded: it'll lift their performance when they are being graded.

Image by Jimsphotos, provided by Dreamstime license

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