My friend’s son texted her after he checked his math grades online. The text read, “I have a C in math. I thought I was good in math.” He actually is really good in math. He scored advanced on his latest tests. Why does he have a C? Simple. His teacher grades practice work or formative assessments.
As we transition to a growth mindset in our school, I’ve had to reconsider grades and grading student work as they are practicing newly learned skills. How does grading as they’re learning impact their growth? I know for my friend’s son, it’s shut him down. He began to think he wasn’t good in math when actually he understands it very well. He just makes mistakes as he practices.
Don’t we all? Didn’t you make mistakes when you learned to ride a bike? Drive a car? What if we had to take a driver’s license test at our second time at the wheel? Is that fair?
Based upon the latest research and studies of the growth mindset, formative assessment is the time for grading. In his recent blog post “When Grading Harms Student Learning” at Edutopia, Andrew Miller suggests, “If we assign a grade to failed practice, the overall grade won’t reflect what they learned. It won’t be a reflection of success, and it may even deter students from trying again and learning.”
Teachers still need grades. But we can balance providing grades so students grow with providing grades for final or summative assessments. I’ve found just that balance between teaching a growth mindset and grading. Here are a couple do’s and don’ts for providing grades while nurturing a growth mindset.
1) Do: Provide feedback for practice. You’ll save lots of teacher time by providing feedback while students practice (and grow their brains) instead of painstakingly grading every mistake. Use formative assessments to guide your instruction and re-teach. As students practice new skills, help them grow by correcting their mistakes, not punishing their growth. Teach them “feedback helps me grow” and “mistakes are part of learning”.
You CAN choose to grade practice work, but allow students to make corrections after marking incorrect answers. Don’t make the grade final. After they make the corrections, change their grade to incorporate their corrected answers.
2) Don’t: Treat practice like mastery. Grades and assessments are meant to score mastery of practiced skill. Punishing a student by grading something as they are learning inhibits growth and a growth mindset. If at one time you are saying mistakes help me grow but fail them when they make mistakes, you’re teaching them mistakes are bad. You’ll save time by grading only summative assessments and providing feedback for practice work during the school day.
I’m not sure what will happen to my friend’s son. I know my friend has reminded him that mistakes are part of learning. I also know that my students realize that too. I use formative assessment to provide feedback and grade their final work. They own their mistakes, treating the learning pit as a badge of honor.
The true gauge of a growth mindset is how your students feel about mistakes. Ask them, then you’ll know if you’re just talking about a growth mindset, or truly teaching it.