By Maria Spelleri, Manatee Community College, USA
Every semester I mess around with my scoring systems, trying to find "something better." I'm not happy patrolling for homework, nor do I like points for attendance because I find myself making all kinds of exceptions for people. I teach in a community college, so, I cannot just assume behavior and habits conducive to college learning; therefore, it seems that part of my grading needs to be for rewarding the development of successful student behavior like completing homework and showing up to class. Yet, I loathe the time-swallowing nickel and dime approach to grading: daily collection of points spread out over many different categories so that no one category seems more important than another, or perhaps in our students' eyes, all categories seem equally unimportant.
Just as an observation as I mulled my own grading problems, I realized that we give points/ grades for behaviors we want to encourage (attendance, homework, completing a paper according to format), points for amount of effort put into something (bigger tasks get more points, we may reward a quantity of something or a completion of something, quality of research, or we take off points for late submissions), and points for demonstrating achievement (tests, quizzes, essays, presentations). I believe that if students develop certain behaviors and if a certain effort is expended, then the last point, a demonstration of achievement, will almost always occur.
To get away from 2-4 mini-categories of grading (attendance 10%, HW 15%, etc.), I am trying a catch-all category for a larger percentage of the grade called "Specified in-class and out-of class assignments and activities." My idea is that this category encourages the behavior I want and the amount of effort going into studies, which will then lead to success in the class. This category does not include tests or major class projects like major essays in a writing class or major presentations in a speech class.
As I see fit, I will pre-announce that a specific homework assignment will be for points, that a particular class discussion will receive points for quality of participation, a pair activity writing an introduction will be given points, or a quiz will be for points. Not only do I get a larger, and I believe, more meaningful percentage value, but I also don't have the daily grind of remembering who participated and to what extent, nor do I have to go around with a grade book like a third grade teacher checking for homework. (Well, I do that, but maybe only once every 4 classes!) My quiz category is enveloped into this mega-category as well. (I don't care about quiz grades as a measure of evaluation -- I leave that for the tests. I give quizzes to keep students on their toes studying and to find areas of weakness.)
I'm almost half way through the semester using this method in 5 courses. I certainly have been less frustrated than when I have to be overly strict, tediously marking every lousy point, or when I am too lax and students walk all over me. We'll see how it goes. Some class examples: in my high intermediate grammar class, the scoring for the class is Tests- 60% and "specified in-class and out of class assignments and activities"- 40%. My high intermediate writing class does six major papers for 70% of grade, and "specified in-class.." for 30%.