February 28, 2008

To Grade... or Not to Grade


An interesting question popped up on one of my homeschool groups today and I answered it via email. I felt that it was a question many homeschool mothers struggle with (especially those in the unit study and unschooling arenas). Here below is the question that began this discussion:

I have a 7 yo 2nd grader (5 yo daughter and 3.5 yo son following behind him) - when do you feel it is important to implement homework & grades?

Unit studies are very hands-on for the most part; and hands on activities by their very nature are hard to grade. When it comes to subjects covered by our reading or unit studies it is very difficult for me to grade the children. For the most part, I haven't really done it. I know by their comprehension and memory retention of our studies whether they are learning the material. The fact that it is I who ask my son questions about bugs tells me that he is grasping Science in that area. The fact that he catches me misspelling words tells me that he is literate well beyond his years. Amazingly, we have never used a spelling curriculum (they get plenty of skills from reading and only re-copy spelling words they miss when they write papers or turn in penmanship worksheets). So far, the main subjects we have graded in are the ones that I have given them "seat work" (worksheets) for. Math, penmanship, phonics, geography, and writing are a few. In elementary, minimal if any grading is necessary (at least in Texas). However, to have a great high-school transcript, it might be beneficial to use rubrics to find an acceptable grading scale for even the most difficult-to-grade activities. I have a few rubric links at the bottom of this post if you are interested... they are a scaled grading tool based on a series of objective criteria. They can also help when grading written work (and are used by most college professors - so it would be good to share the requirements in your rubric with your older kids so they can understand the WHAT and HOW of getting good grades in college).

I know the arguments against grading... that we should be worried about mastery and not grades. This is the same argument that I would make against teaching "to the test". However, every household in homeschool is different and I wanted to share the reasons why we grade - to give you another viewpoint. Below was my answer to the above question and I explained the WHY behind our grading methods... and gave a few tips on pitfalls to avoid if you do implement grading for your kids:

We have always used A Beka math and I have always given my children grades. I keep grades and do report cards (but for the last few years I have not been doing the report cards because it seems we move every year and I get behind on grading and have to catch up). Grading and record keeping is a lot of extra work for teacher - be prepared. I would suggest that you keep on top of it or it will drag you down. [Been there, done that.] However, my kids like to have grades and report cards so that they can share them with grandma and grandpa who pay for A's. Also, the grades prepare them for the tests that we take every year online or with the state (for two years we lived in Arkansas where it was mandatory to take a full battery Iowa Skills test).

"No saint, no hero, no discoverer, no prophet, no leader ever did his work cheaply and easily, comfortably and painlessly, and no people was ever great which did not pass through the valley of the shadow of death on its way to greatness."
~ Walter Lippmann (1889-1974)

I have never really done "homework" other than making my kids finish work in the evening that wasn't finished in the morning on a rare occasion. This year, though, I finally got tired of the "math struggle" (my son has a real problem with daydreaming, doodling, and taking too long on math sheets). Instead of making our day WAIT on my son - dragging math out for over an hour and ending up not accomplishing many other things on our list... I decided to set a timer and take a standard amount of time each day for Math. That has been really a great thing - since now, we all remain in a good mood, they have a boundary and know what is expected of them - know that life will move on and we won't be stuck on Math "forever" (which wasn't fair to the other kid), and more school gets done! Why I didn't do this earlier is beyond me. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, I guess. So now, we have "homework" for whatever is not completed in the time given. This is a REAL motivation factor - since homework may not be started until Daddy gets home (we usually do school until 5). When Daddy gets home, the kids want to be off so they can play video games with him. Homework cuts in to their "fun" time and "free" time. It usually VASTLY decreases the amount of time it takes for them to get their work done (what may have taken an hour to do while Mom was waiting - that may only take a mere 10 minutes when Dad is home!). "Homework" has been a 'magic bullet' in helping us become self-motivated to get things done!

Proverbs 6:6 ~ "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!"

My kids are 9 and 11 (recently had birthdays). The homework didn't really start until the last few years (we used this method some while we were living in AR the past 2 years also... But not as much since Daddy was working nights and evenings and odd shifts...). We have always done the grades and now are having success with SET TIMES for seat work. We only use homework as a necessary tool to get work completed when they dawdle. ;) I think the homework teaches diligence, efficiency, and helps the child have more responsibility for their own actions. My reasoning is that Daddy can not walk off the job if his work is not done (he is salary and often has to work unpaid overtime to complete his work). In our case, homework is teaching better character!

Colossians 3:23 ~ "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men"

A warning about grades: My kids have learned that if they miss a few problems, they can still make a passing grade on their worksheets for math. It took a few years in elementary for this to sink in. They started off upset when they didn't make a 100%, but gradually came to be happy as long as it didn't go below 90%. In the past three years, though - as math continued to get harder, they began to let the grades slip into the 80's and sometimes 70's. They KNEW it was not their best work, but did not want to redo the paper. A Beka uses a lot of review, so this didn't bother me as long as they understood the concept... at least not until they started slipping into the C's. I offered them a chance to redo - but they both are not math lovers. After a while I started seeing this as a character issue - laziness! This past year I made a change: any time I get a worksheet that is below 80% I REQUIRE a redo. This adds to their next day's load of work. Having a rule in place (ie: "YOU WILL REDO MATH PAGES BELOW 80%") takes the blame off of you as the teacher and puts the responsibility squarely on the child to work to their best ability or suffer the consequences. I hand these papers back to my kids with a blank sheet of notebook paper and they turn them in on the next school day. This has improved their grades this year since last year they were allowing their grades to slip (and not because they didn't understand the concept). This problem was MY problem in public school as well - I made average grades because I NEVER turned in my homework and knew how to "cheat" the grading system to do the least amount of work I could get away with. As humans, we are always seeking the "path of least resistance" (we tend to fall into laziness and atrophy if given the chance). Make sure you don't allow grading to be a crutch.

Proverbs 12:24 ~ "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor."

The great thing about homeschooling is that you are THERE with your child. You get to discover their strengths, weaknesses, habits, attention span levels, learning styles, and more. You know what character traits they need to work on. You can zone in on a weakness and work with them to become strong. Being there for the 8 hours they would be in someone else's classroom will provide you with opportunities to get to know your kid better than most parents know their kids. Whether you grade or not, you should reflect on WHY you do what you do... have a reason for it - and stand up for it. Life is more meaningful when we flesh out the reasoning behind it - when we have a purpose. God doesn't want us to drift along with the tides. He wants us to take a firm stand (on the rock) and be ready to give answer for the hope that we have. He also requires that we be ever teachable. So what may work for you today - may NOT work for you tomorrow. Be willing to set your own ideas aside if God calls you down a different path.

[Boy, there's a lesson that I needed myself today!]

Have a super Thursday!

Quick Links:
Discovery Education: Rubrics
More Rubrics and Evaluation Tools
Teach-nology: Even more Rubrics

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Anonymous said...

Great post. Do you take classes to improve your teaching skills?

Sprittibee said...

Actually, I don't take classes (not enough time or money for that)... but I do get together often with other homeschool teachers and we discuss what works for each of us. I also read a lot about teaching methods, learning styles, pitfalls, the way the brain works, etc. Most of the reading I do is related to my "profession" - teaching my kids. ;)

Sprittibee said...

Oh - and I go to homeschool book fairs (conferences) where speakers and veteran homeschoolers give lectures on different topics of interest. So... I guess if you consider that a "class", I do take classes to improve my teaching skills. The homeschool book fair in Arlington Texas has thousands of registered homeschool mothers there annually. It is a 2-day event.

Anonymous said...

great topic. my middle son thrives on grades. i had to turn in a report card for football and felt bad making up grades the first two years. last year, i kept grades. when he saw all his good math grades in my book, he was so proud.
for my oldest son, it was a hard lesson learned when he was failing math and couldn't go to a wrestling tournament, this year.
originally, it grated my nerves so bad. it went against everything i'd read and believed, but they have been a good thing in our home.

truevyne said...

I didn't start grading until my oldest son hit eighth grade this year. I also grade my sixth grade son's math now too.

Pufferfish Mommy said...

Excellent post, Bee.

We are gettng ready for testing coming up April 7th. Blech. Thankfully, this year they are only being tested over math and reading comprehension. That certainly makes it easier to prepare for.


Amico Dio said...

I agree with alot of what you said and I am going to give the math/timer/homework thing try. I have one who would rather chew rocks than to do math.

As far as grading goes, I don't keep a letter grade but I do correct the papers. I have a scale that I go by that if they get more than 1 out of 10 wrong then they have to correct all that were wrong. I don't give them negative marks and I do give them the opportunity to earn positive marks on papers that have too many incorrect.

My kids need the positive reinforcement. They react much better to this method however, I know other kids who don't care one way or the other. So much diversity, huh?


Great article , Sprittibee!

much love!

MommyLydia said...

*wry* I've got a friend who gives report cards to her kids, but she just writes As on every class because "They are doing harder things than they would in public school" I am so glad to see you using rubrics! And to see there is a way to get away from the other problem I see (that has been scaring me) -- not ever finishing their work!

I figure if my kid was taking two years to finish a grade just because he never finished his work, I'd be looking for other educating options and figure homeschooling was not working for us! But I like that there are other options. My little one is only 6 months but I know the time passes quickly!

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

The curriculum I buy has tests, so there are grades. If my children get less than 80% I'll make up another test after studying or sometimes there are alternate tests in the package. They don't want to have to re-study and re-do stuff, so the additional test isn't really a punishment, but an opportunity to make sure the material was learned.



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