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.