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Unlocking Grade Levels

posted: 7.15.14 by Traci Gardner

Since I returned to the classroom last August, I have been searching for assessment strategies that worked for me and for students. I tried Assessing Student Work with Rubrics, but found that they weren’t working for me. I had endless trouble Finding a Tool to Grade Online, and my worries about grade inflation and unhappy students led me to want to Forget about Grades.

As I wrote up the Professional Bio Assignment I am using in my technical writing class this summer, I knew I needed to address the issue of assessment for the work students would do. I have a general grade scale on my syllabus, but I like to include specific grading guidelines with each assignment to ensure that students understand the expectation for the project. I was thinking too about how I could add more options to the assignment and its assessment as I reflected on the success that I had with offering students more Choice in Writing Assignments during the spring semester.

Inspiration comes from unusual places. I spent the month of June following the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter (and I’m incredibly happy about its success by the way). The array of backer levels entertained me with its grand variety of options to meet potential donor’s interests. I was also thinking about gaming and the ways players move through levels, thanks to catching several episodes of the Not Your Mama’s Gamer podcast during June. Finally, a question about the 2015 CCCC had me digging out the details on how the C’s the Day game worked. All these ideas churned around in my head and produced a system of leveled achievements in my assignment.

I set up expectations for work that meets the goals for grades of a C- to an A. Here are some excerpts from the levels:

C project: Write a professional biography statement (no longer than 250 words) that introduces you to a specific audience.

B project: Write two professional biography statements (no longer than 250 words each). One should be in a formal style suitable for academic or corporate purposes, and the other should be in an informal style suitable for a lay audience.

A project: Write two versions of your professional biography including photos and design elements. In addition, create an About.me profile page that includes a 50-100 word biographical statement.

I included more details (including notes on grammar and editing) and outlined all the plus and minus grades for each level as well. You can check out the complete leveled system on the course website.

This system isn’t in any way traditional in the classroom, but it reminds me a lot of the kinds of goal-setting we did in the workplace. As we designed various projects, we frequently sorted features for the websites or software we were working on into categories of must have, would like to have, and add if there’s time. That seems very much like the grading options to me. If a student wants to pass the course, she needs to meet that C-level of achievement. It’s the “must have” to pass this assignment.

I posted the assignment last week, so as I’m writing this post, I haven’t heard any feedback from students. I do know that several of them have already set their goals and are thinking about how to achieve them. I’ll update you when we are further along with the assignment and this system. While I’m waiting on those results, I would love to hear what you think. Will it be a success? Have you tried an unusual grading system? Please me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

[Photo: Unlocked by David, on Flickr]

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