Friday, July 3, 2015

Paper/Pencil Grades in an Online Gradebook World

This year I have the pleasure (at least it's a pleasure most of the time) of teaching summer school geometry.  The 23 kids currently enrolled in my second semester geometry course are all students that have failed the course during the school year and are retaking it with the hopes of catching up on credits.   With a class full of at-risk students, the environment can be both challenging and rewarding.  For visualization purposes, consider the magnitude of completing each set of notes, homework assignments, worksheets, quizzes and tests for a semester in 64 contact hours.

As part of the summer program, I am required to enter a final grade for each student in our district-wide gradebook program.  I am not, however, required to enter each daily assignment, quiz, etc as I typically would during the school year.  So, at the beginning of the semester I gave each student a list of all worksheets, quizzes, and tests that would be collected for a grade.  This list also contains the points possible for each assignment, as well as a list of cumulative points possible.  (This semester we have 1235 points possible.) Once papers are graded and passed back, each student is to record the number of points he/she earned and find the cumulative number of points earned.  After a short lesson on how to do so, students are now able to compute their grade independently.

I realize that this is neither a novel idea, nor a new one.  Years ago, prior to the onslaught of online gradebook programs, I had students keep a handwritten list like this in the front of their binder.  Somewhere over the course of time and after falling into the realm of thinking that technology is meant to make things simpler, I stopped this practice.  I expected my students to check their grade online periodically - some did, others not so much.  (I really don't know why I decided to do it this way for summer school.)

Here's what I've learned....
1.  The majority of my students are taking a more active role in their learning.  They see the benefits, and the pitfalls, of doing well/poorly.  Some that failed miserably during the school year are now earning A's and B's on most work, want newly graded papers back daily, and are quick to determine their most recent grade.
2.  The students prefer to have the paper/pencil list in front of them instead of the online option.  Some students have pointed out that they don't have access to the internet at home.  So, having this list makes it possible to know their grade without asking the teacher.
3.  The students are aware of any work they have not turned in or work that was turned in without a name.  This saves them having to ask me questions like "What's my grade?" or "Is there anything I can do to bring my grade up?"  Note:  When they do ask, I simply reply with something similar to "Check your grade sheet."
4.   Since this list contains a list of all possible points for the semester, the students are able to determine the minimum number of points necessary to pass the semester (in our case, 735-ish).  This number has become a goal for them.  They know attaining at least 735 points will GUARANTEE a passing grade and that any number of points above this cut-off value equates in a higher semester grade.

Watching these kids progress has been AMAZINGLY rewarding.  (Don't get me wrong.  There have been hiccups.)  These kids have convinced themselves over the course of many years that they can't do math.  Watching their points earned climb seems to be convincing them that they can be successful.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to make it work for a quarter length course.  (It might also be something useful on our evaluation tool.)


  1. This is an awesome idea. Are you keeping track of the grades digitally as well, or do you rely on the students?

    1. I kept a paper copy in addition to the student's copy. Students would periodically ask to compare their sheet to mine to see if we agreed. Most common mistake I saw on their grade sheets was the way they began the "Total Earned" column. They would add the points earned on the first assignment to the number of points possible for that assignment. They never realized this gave them a grade over 100% for the first grade either. During the school year, grades will be kept in our online grading program in addition to the student's copy of the gradesheet.