Friday, October 26, 2012

I'm a Believer: #75FACTS Comments-Only Marking

I've been doing comments-only grading since the beginning of this school year and it has completely changed my students' attitudes.

When I first heard about comments only grading I was in a Standards-Based-Assessment Conference/Workshop and we were learning about traffic light grading as well.  This year I had an epiphany and realized that grading was grading no matter how you tried to sugar-coat it.  Numbers, letters, colors, they're all the same.  A grade is a grade is a grade.  No more.  I only grade tests.

Standards for Mathematics Practices:

I feel this FACT is closely ties to 1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.  I've seen this in action.  Students are willing to try problems more than once, knowing that they are not being judged on their work.  I've written about this earlier.  You can see that post here.

Planning to Use and Implement FACTS:

One thing that I keep in mind when creating assignments is how I'm going to give the comments with my limited time.  If the assignment is something that would be difficult to comment on, I would only assign a few problems because I would have to do the commenting by myself.  However, if the students could comment on each other's work, then I could assign a few more problems.  
In the post that is linked above, I allow space for students to make corrections and time to make those corrections.

Small Steps:

Were your students engaged?  Yes, I found that the students are more cooperative this year with the comments only grading.  Students want to know "why" so they are ready for the test, rather than copying assignments to just complete them.  
Note - I don't penalize students for not completing an assignment, their penalty is less knowledge.

Were you confident and excited about using the FACT?  When I first decided to do this I was scared that students would rebel, I have an entire post about that as well.  In general, the students like not having the comments.  They tell me the class is more relaxed and less stressful than the classes that grade every single paper.

How did use of the FACT affect the student-to-student or student-teacher dynamic?  I believe that the students are less competitive with each other because there is no grade to compare.  They are more willing to help each other and ask for help.  

Was the information gained from the FACT useful to you?  Yes, looking at students' work with commenting on my mind is so much more useful that having grading on my mind.  I know how to better serve my students.  

Would you have gotten the same information without using the FACT?  No, when everything is graded, some students shut down.  Once they've lost their confidence, you've lost them.  With comments only grading, I continuously get information from students because they are not afraid to give it.

What added value did the FACT bring to teaching and learning?  I believe my students are more focused on what they know rather than how much they do.  They are more concerned with knowledge and what have more value than that in a classroom?

Did using the FACT cause you to do something differently or think differently about teaching and learning?  Yes!  I use to think that grades were the great motivator, but they're not.  Students don't like to feel stupid.  You want to motivate your students, find a way to show them how smart they are.

Would you use this FACT again?  Everyday!

Are there modifications you could make to this FACT to improve its usefulness?  I like the book's modifications for codes.  I think I may incorporate that.

Using Data from the FACTS:

When I create problems for commenting, I try to make ones that will tell me if the students learned the major points of the lesson.  In most cases that is only 2 - 3 problems.  I leave time in my lesson plans for the students to make corrections based on my comments.  The students who know what they are doing are asked to help struggling students.  If I find that I was making a certain comment often, I would address the entire class and reteach that part of the lesson.


  1. Love your blog! I feel like I am grading nazi that sees no real results. I grade EVERYTHING they do and the only advantage to this is when I have a parent conference. Also it may give them a little help to bring up low grades because there are so many. Having said all of that, I do see the anxiety and discouragement on some of the students' faces because of that. How do you report "progress" to parents? My principal requires us to post at least 2 grades a week to the online gradebook that parents see. Thank you so much for posting your experiences!

    1. In response about Parent-Teacher Conferences. I find it more useful to have assignments with comments on them rather than grades. Would you rather say, "Your child failed this assignment because he got half of the problems wrong." or, "Your child is struggling with solving equations because he is weak with integer operations, and this what he can do to fix it." I found that parents like to leave PT Conferences with a plan rather than just a report.
      You don't have to grade every assignment. I like to use this format:
      You can still follow your principal's guideline of 2 grades a week, but here's my suggestion: On Monday give them an assignment that will be comment only (tell them this, it will ease their stress). Tuesday give the assignment back with comments and allow them to make corrections and resubmit. You can grade it at this point if you like. Repeat the process for Wednesday and Thursday and there you have your two grades.
      If you want to go all out, like I do, talk to your principal. Maybe he/she would be willing to be more flexible about the 2 grades requirement if he saw the added success of your students.
      Keep us posted....


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