What does a check plus mean to you? How about a 6 out of 10? What is a B? For many of us, we have concepts of what these representations of grades may mean. We convert the points into a meaningful percentage. We know where a B lies on a hundred point grading scale. We can assume a check plus is pretty good.
Now, imagine you are seven years old. You likely have heard of getting an A as a good thing and an F being failing. You understand red x’s on a test but not fractions. Maybe you discuss your grades and work with a family at home and maybe you do not. In general, grades are a very abstract concept with little concrete meaning. And without having a meaningful measure of your progress, it is very difficult to be fully invested in your progress and improving these abstract grades.
This was a struggle that I had for the first half of the school year. It became even more difficult when students were doing two hours of centers a day, essentially unmonitored. I would be meeting with reading and math small groups, so while I could generally monitor students, I was not there to hover over students being sure they got what they needed to onto their papers.
To overcome this challenge, I started doing grades in a way that the students could physically see and understand. For daily assignments and center, students could get a check plus, check, check minus, or minus.
CHECK PLUS – Excellent work!
CHECK – Good work.
CHECK MINUS – Needs improvement.
MINUS – Unsatisfactory.
And believe it or not, something pretty incredible happened. Students started getting mad when they saw a check minus on their paper. They were upset and wanted to know why they got a check minus. THIS IS POWERFUL. When students see their grades and can understand them, they want to do better. Our kids want to be successful: for their teacher, for their peers, for their families, and, most importantly, FOR THEMSELVES. What is more powerful than helping them do so?
On larger assignments, I list grades as a total number of points earned out of the total points, always marking correct answers, rather than checking incorrect. This yet again becomes a bit abstract. Don’t get me wrong, we are starting fractions this week, but we won’t get anywhere close to 35/40. To make this meaningful I use stickers. We consider an 80% to be mastery. Therefore, any time students master a topic they get a sticker on their paper.
STICKER – Mastery! You really get it!
NO STICKER – We will continue to practice working on this skill.
OUR CHILDREN CARE…not about a number but about doing their best and being successful. We just need to give them the opportunity to understand and show it.