Sunday, June 12, 2011

3P Grading: Student Responses and Making it Work for Parents, Colleagues and Administrators

This is Part 2 of a two part post. Part 1 can be found here

When I began contemplating using the 3P Grading Method, I worried about students gaming the system, getting others in my building on board with the plan, and making the computerized grade book work with it. 

Student Responses

Students overwhelmingly loved the 3P Grading method, although many expressed having initial doubts in their reflections:
"The grading method was really good I liked it. At first I wasn't pretty sure about it, but it ended up being good." Lupita
"The 3P grading system is a great idea in letting us have a part in deciding our grade." Abbi 
"I really like the 3P grading method, because it allows students to be honest with themselves and give the grade they think they deserve...." Tanner
On his website, Steve Peha tells teachers to have students write a reflection about their grade at the end of the course. I set this up as an essay, instructing students to address participation, progress, and performance, the 3P's. Since I used the method in my speech classes and have students in all four grades (9-12), I reviewed some basic essay expectations. 

Students impressed me with the honesty in their reflections as well as the awareness of their own learning. Since coming to class prepared and having work done on time fall into the participation category, which counts as 50% of a student's grade, many wrote about that aspect of their performance candidly. 

  • Participation
    • I think I deserve a B, because I didn't turn in my speeches on time and I didn't perform in front of the class a few times." Artemesa
    • "I often volunteered to help pass out folders and keep time for speeches, along with helping the teacher in other wasy. I enthusiastically participated in group discussions and class time projects. Also, my assignments showed hard work and lots of time put into them. For example, i had detailed notes and speeches that were well prepared." Courtney
    • "I think I earned about a B in participation...I think my grade could have been a bit higher if I hadn't missed as many days." Saria
  • Progress
    • "I would say that my progress developed very nicely. I had more respect for my teacher and my peers...I learned now that I can talk on the same one subject for at least 7 minutes. And not only me, but also my teacher has noticed progress in my attitude and skills." Makayla
    • "At the beginning of the year I was very scared to get up and talk in front of my classmates, and I could not meet the time limit. Now I can get up with no trouble at all and I have no problem meeting the time limit." Ben T.
    • "I always like to be the best at everything I do, so progress is natural for me...From my paper bag speech, which I barely made the time limit, to my persuasive speech...I have felt like I have made leaps and bounds in my skill level of speaking." Mitch
  • Performance
    • "My performance was a little messy sometimes, but I worked very hard to do well with getting up in front of the class.." Abbi
    • "I have been hindered in my ability to speak well and have performed in articulation and volume poorly...I have learned that being better prepared is helpful in increasing my performance." Jeshua
    • "However, in Performance I think I definitely deserve an F. Every speech I have gotten up to give has always been awkward and boring. ..[M]ost of my speeches have been just plain bad." Trystan
Public speaking is the greatest fear most students will face. The 3P grading method decreases the fear level by emphasizing participation, including preparation. Students experience freedom that gives them tools for overcoming their fear of speaking.

Participation also offers informal ways for students to mingle with their peers. During the trimester, I noticed that the most shy students often offered to pass out folders and do other little chores. These tasks got them out of their seats and talking to their peers, and as they did these tasks, their comfort level increased and level of fear decreased, empowering them to present their speeches.

Gaming the System

Generally, when I had students complete a grade check, I also had them set goals for each of the 3Ps and put them in writing. This let them know that I was paying attention to the criteria and their interpretation of each component. 

Students often graded themselves more harshly than I graded them. However, a few students did have difficulty understanding some of the participation components, especially attendance. One student went on vacation to Hawaii and had access to the assignments. Yet he returned to class unprepared. He had, to my way of thinking, an inflated perspective of his overall grade, but the 3P Method resulted in his earning a grade for the class that I considered fair and accurate. That's because both student and teacher have equal say in the grade and because we don't give plus or minus grades in my district. Without the 3P Method, the student's final grade might have resulted in a conference with the student's parents. 

Another student who didn't write the final reflection ended up with a low grade, and I had several lengthy conversations with the student's mom. When I agreed to let the student write the reflection, she did not address her grade or the 3Ps but vented and rationalized her choices. Thus, she abdicated her opportunity to have a voice in her outcome in the class. This her mom understood, saying that the student needed to learn something from the experience. I'll need to make this final reflection very clear next year.

Even if some students are a bit disingenuous in their reflections, I can live with this because on balance students see the system as forcing them to be honest with themselves. They have to face their own realities. Giving students a voice empowers them, and, paradoxically, giving them some power really increased my authority. 

Getting Administrators & Colleagues in Step w/ 3P 

This was easy. I simply emailed my administrators the document I prepared for students, a link to Steve Peha's website, and followed up with a visit. My administration knows I work to keep classroom issues out of the office. My district has been pushing for a "No Zero" grading policy. 

The A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades book advocates a no zero policy. For more information, check out this Pearson Ppt. The 3P Method almost guarantees students won't have zeros in the grade book. I participated in a book study on the 15 Fixes book this spring and prefer the 3P Method without hesitation. 

Next, I presented the 3P Method to my colleagues in the English department. Some expressed doubts but were eager for me to try the system and report back on the results. I know of one colleague who plans to use 3P next year, and I'll expand it into my English classes.

Computerized Grading & the 3P Method

This is where I found the biggest challenge. I decided to record 3P Grade Checks and named each one that and included the unit. For example: 3P Grade Check Expository Speaking. 

Next, I had to convert the 3P Method to numerical grades. I made each grade check worth 50 points. This made converting letter grades to numerical ones easy. 

Whenever a student missed a grade check, I left a blank in the grade book and recorded the next grade check in the new and old slot. I did this because the 3P Method is cumulative and my goal was to make the final points in the computer correspond to the 3P final grade. 

We are required to give a final at the end of the course. I recorded this as a numerical grade. I also did the same with the final reflection. Since I recorded a final grade check and these other components at the end of the trimester, it was pretty easy to tweak things a bit to reflect the final student grade agreed upon by myself and the student during our final conference. 

A few students did not write a reflection, and I recorded this omission accordingly. 

Overcoming Fears

Trying a new grading method requires a huge leap of faith. Yet the evidence suggesting that the status quo doesn't serve either students or teachers very well is overwhelming.

Mark Twain once said, "Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned." Maybe it's time to unlearn what we have learned too well about grading and make our classrooms even more about learning.  Using the 3P Method this last trimester made pretty much everything in my speech classes work better. It's a win-win scenario. 


  1. Another great post!

    As you know, I am a huge proponent of the 3P system. I also read "15 Fixes..." this spring. One of his first points is that grades should not be based on behavior, which the 3P system is almost all comprised of. What was your take on that after reading the book and implementing 3P?

  2. When we ask students to do an assignment, that's a behavior. It's semantics. There's research that shows we grade well-behaved students w/ more leniency than those who challenge us and that we grade girls, who tend to be more accommodating to teachers' wishes, more easily than we grade boys. So I'd say we're already grading based on behavior.

    Behaviors can't be divorced from learning. We use to give citizenship grades, which I see 3P restoring. Many teachers give extra credit for tasks based on behaviors.

    I'd also argue that most of the participation criteria in 3P simply enable learning and progress. Having said all that, I do see the participation P being an issue for some.

  3. Glenda,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! You have answered some of my questions/doubts/fears regarding the 3P system!

    I also appreciate you addressing "Gaming the System" and "computer grading"!

    @Court Allam -

    What is "15 Fixes..."?

  4. "15 Fixes" is in reference to the book "A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades." There's a link (full title) in the post above. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Thank you for the reflection. I am considering using the 3p system in my English class this year but had two questions:
    1) do students collect their best work or representative work? It seems that if they use only their best work then I have a very distorted view of the percentage o assignments completed.
    2) How do you deal with holding students accountable during a unit where it is important for everyone to be on the same page and do the prep work sincerely in order for the conversation to stay at a high level?
    Thank you for any insights that you can give!

    Adam Bearson

    1. Adam,
      I have students collect ALL their work in the folder. I keep a running document listing the work that goes in the folder w/ most recent first. I do periodic folder checks. I track participation (#2). For example, I get out a check sheet and walk around the room looking at student work and progress. They see me noting this. When kids have to keep track of their work, they begin to see the gaps. You could also have students complete periodic reflections. For example,I have students write short reflections for their speeches and research project and set goals in writing for future speeches and papers. I think reflection is key to academic growth. Hope this helps address your questions. Feel free to contact me again if I can help in any way.

  6. Have you experienced hyper-involved parents while using this system? It seems that getting an A in your class becomes more difficult. Some of the parents with whom I will be dealing are not ok with their son or daughter getting a B. I understand that according to the system the parents have a say if necessary, however, in some cases this my not placate the ones who are quite particular about gpa

    1. Actually, I've only had one parent concern in several years of using 3P; the parent just didn't understand the system. I have actually had more students earning A's w/ 3P than on a traditional system. The 3P method gets kids to focus on what they have done and must do in a class. It makes them more reflective learners. Students tend to be very honest about their grades, often giving themselves a lower grade than I would give them. Also, doing periodic grade checks and having students write goals they'll work on makes them focus their learning. Hope this information helps you make a decision about whether or not to use 3P grading.

    2. Hello,

      I was wondering if you could explain more about what "grade checks" and student reflections entail. I am looking to use 3P grading in my classroom this fall, but I would like some additional practical advice.

      Thank you,

    3. Stacie,
      The 3P method is actually from the website. I modify it to check grades periodically to meet my grade book requirements. I give students a list of tasks that they need to include in their work collection. The students then self-assess, and I meet w/ them to asses their work. I have students set a goal for the next grade check and compose a reflection at the end of the course or grading period; in the reflection the students must indicate the grade they "earned" and cite evidence justifying their grades. By the end of the course, most students assess themselves at about the level I assess them, with few exceptions.

      I do grade major writing assignments separately. Hope this helps. Do check out the Teaching That Makes Sense website , too.