Note: This is the sixth post in a series based on the book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson.

"If we just grade assignments and never use that information to help inform our instruction, we have wasted our students' time and we have reinforced to students the false notion that they only reason they are learning the material is to take the test." (p. 127)
Yet another quote from the book that resonated with me was...
"It is one thing to collect feedback about students' progress, but if you simply collect this feedback and never use it to adjust your instruction, then you are collecting it in vain." (p. 132)
Of all the principles listed in Jackson's book, this one of my absolute favorite. I have a passion for assessment, there's no question about it. The quotes above are alluding to the age-old practice of simply "grading" everything and not doing much with those letters, numbers and percentages. In this chapter, the author discusses more than just "feedback." It's actually a nice summary of what many other authors are calling, "assessment for learning." For example, Jackson says...
"The purpose of assessment is to provide you and your students with feedback on how well students are mastering the objectives of your course." (p. 137)
(For a more in-depth discussion of formative assessment and assessment for learning, check out this Ed. Leadership article or a few of my previous posts.) Notice how Jackson's statement is centered on the student and how s/he is learning. The purpose of feedback/assessment is to guide the student towards mastery. I have long been guilty of assuming that numbers and letters were great ways of providing feedback to my students. Here's a challenge: the next time you grade a student's paper and give him/her a "B" or "85%", follow it up by asking what that grade or percentage means. What type of effort, mastery, and/or feedback does your "classroom grading scale" give to your students? From my experiences, it is typically a reference point for honor rolls, pleasing parents, allowance bonuses, staying eligible for sports or some combination of the previously mentioned reasons. Rarely have these measures been enough to spur students on to improve their own work in a specific and meaningful way.

Rick DuFour, probably most well-known for his work on professional learning communities, recently blogged about grades, homework and feedback.
In most schools, what a grade represents remains in the eye of the beholder of the individual teacher. Some teachers grade homework; some do not. Some allow students to retake a test; some do not. Some provide students with additional time and support; some do not. Some provide extra credit for tasks unrelated to the curriculum; some do not. Some consider behavior, participation, and promptness in determining a grade; some do not. It is time for educators to grapple with the question, “What does a grade represent in our school?” in a more meaningful way.
Grappling with the "What does a grade represent?" question is an excellent conversation starter, but Jackson's principle takes it one step farther. From my personal experience, I used to think that the hardest questions to answer from the mouths of students were along the lines of... "Will this be graded?" or "How much will this affect my grade?" With a more laser-like focus on learning targets and a change in the culture of my classroom, I am now hoping to eliminate these types of questions. But until I got past the "everything must be graded and recorded" mentality, it was impossible for me to see the value of effective feedback. My feedback (grades, numbers, etc.) was focused on "now" rather than the future. Jackson goes on...
"Evaluative feedback keeps students focused on the now. Coaching feedback focuses students on the next time." (p. 142)
This principle teaches us that much of our "grading" should actually be "coaching" instead. A few pages later, the author nails this idea.
"The best thing we can do for our students who fail is to provide them with an honest assessment of why they failed and show them how to do better the next time." (p. 144)
Letter grades, percentages and points just don't provide this type of feedback to our students. My grading to coaching ratio is really out of whack. In summary, I've learned that I need to do less "grading now" and more "coaching for the future."

What about you? What is your grading to coaching ratio? How much effective feedback are you giving your students?

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