Somewhere, in my busy week of Halloween, my daughter’s birthday, teaching and student led conferences, I found time to do some marking.
As I marked, I tweeted a picture of one of my marking sheets, sharing a couple of the reasons that I still use an analog marking model. I don’t do the math in the old gradebook any more, but I still have a stack of sheets that have the grades on them.
Other contributors on the Moving Writers team have shared their thoughts about the grading process, and I echo a lot of what they have to say. The last few years, I’ve moved away from putting the grade physically on their work in favour of comments and feedback. The numbers live in our LMS, and my students themselves decide which of the sources of feedback they want. Many look at the feedback, then the grade, while others only focus on one of those things.
As for my analog sheets, they’re part of my process. I don’t feel comfortable going to a purely digital method of recording grades. Even the best programs are prone to hiccups, and regenerating a whole class of numbers is a task I hope to never take on. I recently had a situation where a student’s program meant that mid-semester, he was put into his own class in the LMS, and in doing so, all the numbers I had entered for his assignments vanished. A few minutes with my sheets, and we were right back where we had been.
My sci-fi fueled distrust of machines isn’t the only reason I value my analog marking sheets though. They’re valuable for so many more reasons. For some tasks, such as an essay, I create a sheet that only features that task. In doing so, I can break the task down so that I can see how each outcome is measured individually. This proves invaluable, as I can see, very quickly, how my whole class is doing with a given outcome. This fuels the feedback I give them as a group, allowing me to highlight our collective wins, and see where we may need some direct instruction to address some challenges.
Though it’s rare that questions come up once the assignment is done and the grade has been shared, there have been a few instances where having this breakdown of marks available has come in handy. In a busy semester, I can be teaching upwards of 100 students. I don’t have to try to remember what it was about their piece that made the math work out to be 23 out of 25. I don’t necessarily have to re-read the piece in question to see where those two points went. Instead, I can focus on an outcome, and our conversation can be about growth and strategies related to that outcome.
I also make marking sheets for some our regular tasks, such as regular responses to things like our PIPS. (Poetry & Image Pairings) Often, these regular tasks are quickly assessed, and don’t have as many outcomes being assessed each time. Taking a quick look at these sheets allows me to very quickly see many pieces of data, from missed assessments to trends in the results. I’ve got a data set that I can look at to see the impact of instruction, or perhaps inform me that some instruction is needed.
In the margins of these sheets, I have space to take notes. As I mark, I note things that I feel need to be addressed in our work. Perhaps it’s a note that a minilesson is needed for a conventions issue that is prevalent, or it’s an element of a student’s piece that I feel the class should note to perhaps implement in their own work. Currently, my Grade 12 students are halfway through a series of writing tasks to explore the role of purpose in their writing. They have a final assessment coming up that will ask them to write a piece under time constraints, and talk about their writing variables. At the halfway point, my notes in the margin have led to some conversations that have seen students improving in a number of areas. They are writing better, and will be prepared for that final when it comes.
Though there are many things that I’ve changed in my classroom, I don’t see me getting rid of these pieces of paper. Each class I teach has a clipboard holding the sheets for that course. It travels with me as I move around the room, papers come with me as I go down the hallway, and they get dropped into the tubs of notebooks that come home with me. They never suffer dead batteries or spotty wi-fi. They’re present as I write report card comments, reminding me of outcomes we’ve covered, and giving me data to access easily as I consider my students’ strengths, challenges and next steps. In a world where edtech is prevalent, there’s no app to replace my marking sheets.
How do you keep track of grades? What is your system for tracking the anecdotal material that you get from the grading process? In our increasingly digital world, what are some analog practices that remain a part of your teaching?
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