Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Purposeful Grading Using the 3P Method: Participation, Progress, and Performance

Part 1 of 2:

Steve Peha's 3P Grading Method, from the Teaching That Makes Sense website,  transformed how I grade students and how they perceive their grades in my speech classes this past year.

Among the many tasks I perform as an English and speech teacher, grading is my least favorite. Whether I'm tackling a pile of essays, exit tickets, or a daily assignment, I often find myself looking for ways to grade tomorrow what I should grade today.

Even worse, teachers often find themselves on the defensive as students, parents, and administrators confront them about the grades recorded in the grade book.

How many of us have found ourselves in similar situations in which we're asked to base a grade on things other than the academic standards and curriculum for our subject?

The 3P Grading Method literally took the grading monkey off my back and transferred much of the responsibility for assessing students to the students themselves in terms of their participation, progress, and performance.

Rather than the onus for grading falling solely on the teacher's shoulders, the 3P method requires students to share equally the responsibility for grading based on three criteria: participation, progress, and performance.

  • Participation = 50% of the student's grade.
  • Progress = 30% of the student's grade.
  • Performance = 20% of the student's grade.
Of course, when I first saw this division, I was a bit skeptical. For English teachers, the final draft of the essay matters most. Similarly, as a speech teacher, I consider the final performance of major speaking assignments most crucial to student outcomes in my speech classes.

The 3P Grading method, however, operates on the simple premise that students who come to class prepared to participate will progress (read: learn more) in their performances, whether reading, writing, or speaking.

This theory works well in speech since I want students to get better as the course progresses. Although I haven't use it in English yet, I expect it to function well there, too, given the recursive nature of the writing process. The 3P Grading Method is somewhat intolerant of regression.

What does participation mean? 
For 3P to work, students and the teacher must define terms and form a consensus about the criteria for evaluating the first P: participation. Steve Peha suggests some (p. 9, 29+): 

  •   Follow directions the first time they are given.
  • Come to class every day; don't be late!
  • Share regularly. Give good feedback. Ask good questions.
  • Take ownership of your results; be accountable; don’t blame.
  • Ask for help when you need it; use the advice I give you.

Teachers can build on these suggestions and discuss them with the class in an ongoing conversation. In my classes, I asked students to identify goals for participation that would help me and them assess their progress during the course. This made them much more cognizant of their own behaviors, attendance, etc. 

Although Steve Peha offers ways of tracking participation, I encouraged students to track much of their participation by listing each day's tasks, what the student contributed to the discussion, how the student assisted the smooth functioning of the class, etc. For example, students participate by keeping time during speeches, by volunteering to present a speech first, by leading a group discussion, etc. 

What does progress mean? 
Students make progress and learn in several ways (39):
  • Improving participation (edited at 6:16 p.m. June 7, 2011) 
  • Improving performance.
  • Setting and meeting goals. 
To evaluate progress, Peha suggests teachers ask themselves some questions: What has the student learned? What can I expect students like mine to learn in the time from alloted for a given task? In what ways am I pleased or unsatisfied with a given student's progress? 

Subjectivity does play a role in evaluating progress, as Peha notes. Teachers uncomfortable with this "P" can omit it and adjust the weight of participation and performance accordingly. 

I found progress a fairly simple thing to gauge in my speech classes since several of the speeches have similar organizational patterns. For example, the expository, persuasive, and impromptu speeches all require a preview step. Students often omit this step early in the course, so including it in subsequent speeches provides a good indicator of progress. 

What does performance mean? 
Quality of work drives performance. For students to achieve quality in their work, they need models, which in speech means high quality speeches they can watch and emulate. In English mentor texts often serve as models. I show students sample speeches from YouTube; they watch speeches from the National Forensic League national tournament, and I often perform speeches for them. Together we deconstruct what makes the speeches effective so that they can transfer these techniques to their own speeches. 

Secondly, students need criteria by which they and the teacher measure their work. In speech, I give students planning forms and speech evaluation forms. I can easily look at the planning form as I complete the speech evaluation as one way of assessing performance. 

What do grades mean? 
Over 10% of the seniors who graduated from my school this year received the "highest honors" distinction. That grade inflation lives a vibrant life comes as no news flash to teachers. Steve Peha addresses the loss of meaning in grading and offers a different way for teachers and students to consider what grades mean (55):
  • A = above and beyond
  • B = basically fine
  • C = could've done better
  • D = didn't try
  • E = excuses, excuses
  • F = forget about it
I didn't use "E" this year but will next year. I often found myself asking students, "What does "A" mean? I attempted to train students to use these definitions as they assessed themselves and to set goals for improvement based on them. 

Coming up in Part 2: Gaming the system; students respond to the 3P method; getting administrators, colleagues, and parents on board; making the system work in the computerized grade book. 


  1. Love the animation :) uncannily true to life. I am going to put together possible ways to use this with yearbook & journalism - will likely want your feedback when I get to that point.

  2. Glenda -- Our school is currently examining a major overhaul in our grading policy. The focus is on two issues: zeros and effort grades. What you say here, as well as in part 2, covers both of those.

    The Repair Kit book is on my summer reading list.

    As an English teacher, I'm 100% fine with a grade that focuses more on process than product, but in our situation, we need a grading system that fits every class--math, science, automotives, swimming, cooking, history, English, etc. Any thoughts on how 3P plays in other disciplines?