Monday, May 7, 2012

The Irresponsibility of Grading Responsibility

When I first started blogging I promised myself that I would never post anything that would jeopardize my job.  So I'm not.  We won't talk about the specifics of what has me fired up today.

I will say this, though.  Including homework completion or being prepared for class when factoring grades is bad for students.  It's irresponsible.  It's not good educational practice.  When a student shows up for class without a pencil, give them a pencil, not a zero.

I can hear some teachers out there now.  They're saying, "But, kids need to be responsible to be successful."

And they're right.  But I've never heard of a student who was having trouble completing their homework or being prepared for class that learned responsibility because they got a bunch of zeros in a gradebook.  And I've never read any research that states it works, either.

If you want to teach responsibility, then teach responsibility.  Explicitly.  Teach lessons.  Create a course.  Make it a priority.

If grading is about sharing what students know, then these things have no place in a gradebook.  If grading is about showing the potential our students have for future success, then we should all have a column in our gradebooks for empathy, passion, innovation, and "questions authority".


  1. as well as "extra credit" does not tissues, no cleaning desks for points, or showing up on Senior skip day earns you 100 extra credit points.....

  2. Love this! How long are we going to keep playing the grade game? I don't think I've ever had a student talk to me about what they are learning, only what they can do to improve their grade. THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN!

  3. you know, in theory I agree. But we learn in two ways - avoidance of pain and expectation of pleasure. If an individual shows up without the tools for a job, they get fired. A carpenter that is expected to have hammer, screw driver, etc, and comes to work without those tools cannot do his job. I teach ELA - paper and pencil are required for the job. If I am chronically supply such tools, am I not telling the student that he/she can shirk that responsibility? And where is my budget for such things (times 98 students)? I understand the zero under "no tools for the job", but I agree, this should not count for a lot of points.. I do however believe that a student should somehow "pay" for the tools he/she is expected to bring to the job.

    1. Yes, but a child's brain is still in development and cannot be compared with that of an adult. Sometimes executive functioning skills aren't fully developed. In my province we are expected to use the most consistent demonstration of learning to determine a mark.
      Learning skills are on a separate part of the report card and take into account things such as organization. Here's a sample.

  4. I agree. I wrote up this post about how to teach responsibility: - I think you're absolutely right that we can teach it explicitly. Teaching it through grades is a dodge, and bad for students!

  5. I think you've really hit the nail on the head. We do not really learn by avoiding pain, and seeking pleasure. We learn by finding things that are meaningful to us. For a small portion of us, that is the mark. But really, the only reason the mark is important is because we place so much value on it, not on what is really important, the demonstration of learning.

    If the student can demonstrate that they have learnt something, then they are doing something worthwhile. I don't really care what the mark is. Well that's a lie. I do care what the mark is. But the problem is, that mark doesn't really reflect the learning, try not giving the students marks, but just put them in your grade book. They can ask to see them. Does that effect how students learn? I bet it would.

  6. Forwarding this to some colleagues in the middle school and to my e.s. principal. The m.s. teachers post their grading profiles...15-20% of each quarterly grade for HMWK and class prep. (Though, tbh, that "prep" grade also has to do with being prepared to discuss concepts. It's not purely a *supply* issue.)

  7. Hi Michael,

    I came across your blog via MeTA musings by Matt Townsley.

    Back in 2007 I also wrote a post on "responsibility." You might enjoy it since we seem to think alike.