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Differentiation in Grading

Every year we have a "county wide institute day", where teachers get to go and learn about something (of their choosing, usually) at various places in the district. This year, I decided to go see Rick Wormeli, and not just go to the one that was 1/4 mile from my house, and I'm so glad I did!

I decided to go because my best friend was also going, and we wanted an excuse to spend the day together :) In seven years we have never gone to the same institute day together, and I don't know why, it was so much fun!!

On to the presentation. If you haven't seen Rick Wormeli I highly recommend you go and see him if you get the chance! I had heard about differentiated grading practices at a few conferences in the past, specifically the PLC conference, Effective Grading Conference, and the Gifted Education Conference, but he explained it differently and very well. Bonus, he is incredibly funny and entertaining!

I did not bring my laptop today, so I had my colored pens and my teacher planner, and I finally made use of my notes section! I'm sure the two guys behind me thought I was a total dork, but I don't care! Thank goodness I know Jess wouldn't judge me for my ridiculous obsession with color coding things :)

Nothing can replace actually going and listening to him, but I figured I'd cover some of the key points from today for you:

  1. Basically, grades should not be like a financial transaction i.e. You give me this, and I give you this. 
  2. Grading should show what the students know and I firmly believe this! 
  3. Their grade should not reflect their ability to turn things in on time, keep things neat, etc...
  4. It takes 2-3 years to effectively unwrap standards. 
    • *This was an eye opener, as we were asked to determine which standards are "priority" for our next inservice. This made me realize that maybe we need to come up with a formula or plan as to how we will determine what is "priority" CCSS. 
    • If we don't, I worry the meeting could become, "Well, we have always taught X in X grade, so I think X standard is a "priority" in that grade level."
  5. I LOVED the idea that we should determine the following when developing a CFA:
    1. What do we need to see?
    2. How can they demonstrate it?
      1. CFA's do not have to be the same in order to be common.
        1. This was AWESOME! I'm not sure if it's a utopian idea, but I love it :)
  6. We have to not think of tests and assessments as being negative, Rick discussed it as tests being autopsies vs. health reports (Great analogy!)

This was some great information on different types of assessments, and I felt affirmed that we do our grading the same way! I also really enjoyed the idea of using pre-assessments to "prime the brain" and put information in their head. It reminds me of when I learn a new idea or word, and then I feel like I start seeing/hearing it everywhere. In reality, I probably was seeing it the same amount of time, but I wasn't picking up on it because it wasn't "on my radar"!

My favorite idea of the day came from here: The Here's What, So What, Now What for effective feedback, and the Point and Describe method.

*This was also a reminder for me that I can point out and acknowledge what each student says during a class discussion verbally using the point and describe method, and then they are acknowledged and affirmed.

I added in there (in magenta in the middle) that I always feel compelled to have multiple grades in my grade book, but not because I think they are valuable. I worry that parents will wonder, "what are they doing in there?" if there aren't multitudes of grades.

Here are my grade book assignments just for assessments for my 8th grade Language Arts ET class through the quarters so far:

Quarter 1: WWTW, Learning Strategy Assessments, Shared Inquiry

 Quarter 2: Shared Inquiry, CFA's, Narrative Writing Assessment, Close Reading Assessment, Writer's Workshop

Quarter 3: CFA's, Close Reading, WWTW, Shared Inquiry. Notice how I've gotten more and more specific with my descriptions?

I should leave it at this, but because I want a record for my effort grades, I also put in assignments that fall into the zero weight "Notes" category. Here's an example with BOTH from my 7th grade class:

I think I need to stop this, and let my classroom calendar on eChalk speak for itself :)

Here is a pic of the grading handout I give to parents at the beginning of the year:

 The self-assessment was right up my alley, especially since I am gearing up for our second Writer's Workshop *this time with poetry in a few weeks!
I also love his reasoning and rationale for re-do's:
If it's worth assigning, it's worth getting done
If you don't let them do it, you are saying it's not important

He talked about putting a NTY (Not There Yet), which reminded me of my "P" in the gradebook and Resubmit stamp.

I completely agree with him that at first students will complain, but ultimately they will understand that you have their best interests in mind. The first year I learned about "resubmitting" at the effective grading conference, I came back and began immediately with my 8th grade ET students, in 4th quarter. They were SO mad that I was expecting them to do something AGAIN and do it BETTER, they were almost high schoolers, who did I think I was??

I will never forget the day I overheard a kid saying, I can't believe she *BLEEPING* wants me to do this again, what a *BEEP*.

Although at first what he had said really stung, I realized I needed to get over my feelings and talk to him about it. When I took him in the hallway he knew what he had said was inappropriate, and then said, "I know you just want me to do well." I couldn't even be mad at him for swearing, he knew I wasn't doing it to be mean, but he was frustrated, he now had homework when he thought he was just finished. The best part is, I leave it in the grade book as a "P" for pass until they have 100%, so it couldn't just sit there not done. To paraphrase Dr. Tae, failure is not fun, but success is!

This mindset also leads to more self-directed learning, because students take control of their learning, and their growth!

Finally, he has a great list of procedures and policies for students wanting to retake an assessment. I use a "Request to Retest" that a colleague of mine made, and I think I'll make a few tweaks to it to use next year. This ended up being a page with some great "Top 10" lists for Gradebooks and things to avoid. He also discussed how to set up a standard based gradebook, but I'm still processing in my brain with that one :)

My Goal: Take this professional development, reflect on it, and actually IMPLEMENT it into my classroom. 

I hope you enjoyed my recap! I had an excellent day, and I will definitely be using these ideas in the future. Have you gone to a professional development through your district recently and have some ideas to share? Do you want to guest blog on here? Send me a message or an e-mail if you are interested in the contact me button on the sidebar. 

Enjoy the weekend, everyone! We are looking at more snow here unfortunately, but I'm looking forward to the Oscars on Sunday! We plan to watch Gravity tonight, as we've only seen American Hustle (and LOVED it). Who are you rooting for?


  1. Glad you got so much out of your session! Sounds great. I want to push your effort toward the comment you made: *This was also a reminder for me that I can point out and acknowledge what each student says during a class discussion verbally using the point and describe method, and then they are acknowledged and affirmed.... as that addresses many situations in the classroom that has an impact on many accepts of teaching. Also, you have great notes (duh) and a summary of your session. Well done! Thanks for sharing.

  2. HI, I am completely new to teaching middle school language arts. I teach 7th grade. I used and still use the workshop approach, dove Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle, but have you ever posted what has been the most helpful or influential to you in how you manage, maintain, assign, organize, etc. your classes? Do you have a general layout or monthly plan that you follow? I do 8-step process, AR reading, want to start a book club, but what are some of the most important/influential things you do with your kids? Any advice would be much appreciated! I love your blog, please keep posting and giving your wonderful tips and advice.


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