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A Simple Way To Minimize Grading and Increase Engagement

If I had to make a list of the top ten things I dislike about teaching, “grading” would be numbers one through five.

Why?

Well, for starters, grading is tedious. It takes time away from things I feel have more impact like planning content or developing new teaching materials. Plus, it seems like it’s one of those things that needs to be done because it’s expected, not because it’s valuable to students.

If I had my way, I would get rid of grading altogether.

Of course, eliminating grading isn’t really an option for many of us, myself included. So, I decided to do the next best thing–minimize it.

If you’re looking to minimize grading in your room, here’s one idea to explore.

student work

Like many art teachers, I have my students do a mixture of short activities and assignments and longer, in-depth projects. However, instead of grading all of these individually, I give out only three types of grades.

  1. A weekly grade for what happens during class.
  2. An overall unit grade for each unit.
  3. A single summative grade for the final project, which consists of a portfolio of work.

This means I do much less grading than I would if I tried to give a grade for everything I assigned. Most weeks, I give each student just one grade – the weekly grade.

Here’s how I determine a student’s weekly grade.

Each week, my students are graded on how they are using the Artistic Thinking Process, or ATP.

The Artistic Thinking Process is at the core of all my instruction. In short, I teach my students how to move through the process of finding inspiration, developing their skills, creating their work, and reflecting on the process. You can read a more in-depth explanation right here.

As I teach students about this process, they become more independent. Soon, they are using it to develop original ideas and artwork with minimal help from me.

To determine the weekly grade, I observe students as they work to see how they are using the ATP. Below are the categories and definitions I use. Students a certain number of points depending on which category they fall into.

The Artistic Thinking Process Grading Scale

Here are some questions I ask myself as I observe:

  • Are they working through each stage of the process and re-visiting stages as needed?
  • Are they using multiple Development strategies to develop ideas and make artistic decisions?
  • Are they reflecting and analyzing during the Creation stage, or just producing work?
  • Are they able to use the ATP independently?

While students are working, I make sure to check in with them and offer feedback. When students are struggling or asking questions like “What would work better here, watercolor or acrylic?” or “Which theme would be better?” I find it’s most helpful to give them the tools to figure things out themselves.

Therefore, I might simply turn the question back on them and ask them how they can decide. Or, I might offer suggestions that involve some sort of experimentation to guide them to their own solutions.

When I notice students struggling with the Artistic Thinking Process, I have a short one-on-one conference with them. We go over expectations, and I help them get back on track.

Grading this way has had a positive impact on my classroom in a number of ways.

student working

For students, it’s taken the focus off jumping through the individual hoops each task represents and placed it on the intrinsic value of thoroughly planning out concepts. This has helped them take ownership of the quality and content of their work.

As for me, I do the majority of my grading during class by observing work and giving meaningful feedback to students. I simply take note of kids who are struggling to use the ATP independently so I can give additional assistance. This has freed up my time to plan new content and maintain materials. It also has allowed me to leave work at the end of the day without needing to stay after school for hours.

While I love the benefits this process has brought me, the best part is getting to work with classes full of students who are focused on their artistic journey instead of what they need to turn in to bring up their grade.

How do you feel about grading? What types of grades do you give your students? 

If you had no obligation to, would you give grades at all? Why or why not?

Melissa Purtee

Subscriber

Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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