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Can anyone explain grading to me? I feel like this is a silly question but I’m a little confused by it. I haven’t really graded any of my DC’s work up til this point. Being homeschooled myself, my mom just had us do the work til she was happy with it and then we moved on. I don’t even have high school transcripts. I’ll definitely be keeping transcripts for my kids but I don’t know how to figure out grades. Do you give a grade to everything? Do some things “count” more than others? How do you give a grade to writing? It’s so subjective. I’m wishing I had used 8th grade as a trial run to figure this out but here we are...

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It is perfectly fine to let the student work to mastery and then assign a grade of A once the student has achieved the goal you set. You can still issue a transcript. I have done this for much of our homeschool; I see no benefit in progressing to the next math concept if the previous one has not been mastered, or let a sloppy essay pass with a low grade.

I have only graded major work: one comprehensive semester final in math, a monthly science test, long writing assignments. Since you work with your students daily, you know how well they do.

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Well, I will disagree with the "work to mastery then give an A" approach - it doesn't really prepare a student for outside classes/college, where there are deadlines and grades are assigned on a timeline. I agree that mastery is important, and you can develop and modify your schedule to promote it, but at some point students must be accountable for learning material and demonstrating their knowledge within a set time period. the key is good planning so that the amount of material that is expected to be mastered within the time period is reasonable. 

An instructor ( whether it is you or an outside online, college, etc) will typically first identify the scope that must be covered during the year then divide it into manageable sections to be covered, with some sort of assessment per section. At the high school level, there might be daily homework graded either by accuracy or by merely completing it, and that might be counted for some small percent of the overall grade (for example, 10%). Frequent quizzes might count for another fraction of the grade (maybe 30%), and major tests would contribute the most to the grade (say 60%).

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Writing as an art form is quite subjective but academic writing has a specific form that must be followed regardless of content.

A character analysis, for example, must pull evidence from the novel or story that supports the points the essay writer makes about the character. Writing about theme or symbolism or irony must include support from the novel. Comparing and contrasting two works must support your thesis, include support from both works and not wander. Bibliographies must be formatted properly and citings within the paper also follow a particular format. All these things are not subjective at all. Either they are done properly or they are not. Style, while more subjective, can be graded as well. If a student's writing is dry and lacks panache, there are tons of guides out there for improving your writing style and they can be graded on their inclusion (or overuse) of style elements in their papers. Of course, by high school, I expect proper grammar and mechanics to be a given so points will be docked for not checking your grammar and mechanics before turning in your finished paper for a grade.

You might try looking at high school or low level college English syllabi. Many are available freely online. See what they lay out as writing objectives for their students and decide where your students fit in and what they need to work on and form your own syllabus. It will be much easier to see what you need to grade for when you have goals and objectives to meet in mind.

Every teacher and professor grades differently when it comes to what grade goes on a transcript. Again looking at syllabi will give you an idea of the different ways that it can be done and then you can decide what works best for you. 

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30 minutes ago, linders said:

Well, I will disagree with the "work to mastery then give an A" approach - it doesn't really prepare a student for outside classes/college, where there are deadlines and grades are assigned on a timeline. 

That is not necessarily correct. None of my kids had trouble transitioning to college classes with deadlines and assignments, without having strict schedules in our homeschool.

Also, working to mastery does not mean slacking and dawdling. It means sending a student back for more practice when he has not mastered a math concept instead of giving him a low grade and moving on to the next thing (which is inevitable in public school, but completely useless).  It means sending an essay back for another round of editing when it is not yet acceptable, instead of giving a low grade and letting sloppy work stand.

the key is good planning so that the amount of material that is expected to be mastered within the time period is reasonable. 

What is "reasonable"? As a professional instructor, I know that it is extremely difficult to  plan how much time a given student will need to master a certain material. It takes years of experience to even make predictions about the average student.  The big advantage of home education is that we can tailor the curriculum to our students' individual needs and take their abilities into account. The time for mastery will vary greatly even between siblings, so much that different siblings may even require different curricula.

 

 

 

 

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48 minutes ago, linders said:

Well, I will disagree with the "work to mastery then give an A" approach - it doesn't really prepare a student for outside classes/college, where there are deadlines and grades are assigned on a timeline. I agree that mastery is important, and you can develop and modify your schedule to promote it, but at some point students must be accountable for learning material and demonstrating their knowledge within a set time period. the key is good planning so that the amount of material that is expected to be mastered within the time period is reasonable. 

An instructor ( whether it is you or an outside online, college, etc) will typically first identify the scope that must be covered during the year then divide it into manageable sections to be covered, with some sort of assessment per section. At the high school level, there might be daily homework graded either by accuracy or by merely completing it, and that might be counted for some small percent of the overall grade (for example, 10%). Frequent quizzes might count for another fraction of the grade (maybe 30%), and major tests would contribute the most to the grade (say 60%).

I fully agree with Regentrude and disagree with this assessment.  I take the teach to mastery approach. 5 of my kids have gone to on to college and not one has even slightly struggled academically. The college graduates have all graduated with honors (3.7 or higher GPAs.) My rising college sophomore has a 4.0 (and did almost all of her homeschool courses at home with me with only a couple outsourced.)

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So, if you work for mastery, do you still give them a deadline to finish an assignment and achieve mastery? I’m picturing DD waiting to the last minute to do an assignment and then turning in something messy, half done, or in some other way not up to par simply because she didn’t put in the effort to do it well. Because that’s what she does. We’re working on the character side of that. I like the idea of sticking with something til it’s mastered but I feel like she’d take advantage of that and drag things out forever. 

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45 minutes ago, 2ndGenHomeschooler said:

So, if you work for mastery, do you still give them a deadline to finish an assignment and achieve mastery? I’m picturing DD waiting to the last minute to do an assignment and then turning in something messy, half done, or in some other way not up to par simply because she didn’t put in the effort to do it well. 

If she knows how to do the assignment, then you give her a deadline for the rough draft. If she turns in something that doesn't meet the expectations, you work with her (discuss, mark up), then set a new deadline to turn in the redo. Wash. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The better the first draft, the less redos she'll have to do. It helps if you have a rubric (link is a generic one, here is a short article about rubrics - this can help you come up with a final "grade" so your kid doesn't think you are just slapping an A on the paper) that she can compare her work to so she knows what you will be looking for. (It isn't really comparing her work to it, but checking to see if her work meets those requirements - has those things in it, etc.) The important thing is that you both know what the work needs to include (content, style) & look like (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, paragraph flow). 

If she doesn't know how to do the assignment, you'll want to walk her through each step, then send her off for a bit to finish it. The next day, you'll look over that step, talk about it (maybe sending her back to redo it), and work on the next step together. Until you get through the whole thing. The next time, you have her work on each step by herself, but she has to bring it to you to check at the of each step. Eventually, she gets to the place where she can just bring you the rough draft.

On the concept of grading as a whole, I usually figure out at the beginning of the year how much quizzes, tests, and papers count (%-wise) if I made up my own assignments for something. I try to make it as simple as I can because I have plenty of kids & don't want to spend all my time on grades - I want to spend my time helping the kids learn.

ETA:  I suspect that 8's kids know what she is looking for in each assignment because she's worked with them on learning how to write since they were little (2nd-5th grade depending on the kid, I'd assume). I spelled out the above just in case your kids don't know what you will expect as far as a final project. I believe The Power In Your Hands is one high school writing program that has rubrics for several different types of assignments if you want some hand-holding as a teacher. I like 8's Treasured Conversations for helping the younger kids understand how to write a good sentence, paragraph, etc. at the younger ages.

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I generally only take grades on tests.  Mathusee has 5 worksheets, then a test.  Her grade on the test goes in my gradebook.  Vocabulary/Spelling -- I use Abeka which has tests.  Anything which has tests gets grades.  I build study days into our daily lesson plans.  I tend to give two days as study days.  In a subject with a tough test, I will also make a study sheet.  Like for English, where I do a homegrown sort of thing, I decide what stuff I want memorized (like the first couple stanza's of Poe's The Raven or certain books and authors or what have you) and make a study sheet and allow a certain number of days, then I give a test.  Which I take a grade on.  If dd does poorly on the test, I get mad and give a stern talking-to, and then dd will be tested again in a couple of days, and I will take that grade, too, and gosh darn it, it better be good.

 

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54 minutes ago, 2ndGenHomeschooler said:

So, if you work for mastery, do you still give them a deadline to finish an assignment and achieve mastery? I’m picturing DD waiting to the last minute to do an assignment and then turning in something messy, half done, or in some other way not up to par simply because she didn’t put in the effort to do it well. Because that’s what she does. We’re working on the character side of that. I like the idea of sticking with something til it’s mastered but I feel like she’d take advantage of that and drag things out forever. 

I require time on task. My kids were free to choose how to spend their school time, as long as they were actively working, using the materials I had selected. I see no benefit in imposing an artificial schedule and telling them they must stop doing math or literature now because this is the time slot for biology. The only exception was daily math for DS (DD worked math in binges, but DS couldn't concentrate for longer than 45 minutes). I loosely required essays and larger projects to be done by a certain date, but if they needed more time, I would give them that, as long as I could see they were working towards the goal. If a project took too long, I put my foot down and gave a deadline. Normally, that was not necessary; both had high standards and spent the time working to improve their project, not dawdle. 

As for the subject where mastery is most important, math: you cannot rush math! It takes whatever time it takes to solve the problems and master the concept. There is absolutely nothing gained by having arbitrary deadlines in math, because you cannot hurry understanding. You can put in time on task and work continuously. If one single geometry proof takes two hours, it takes two hours and no deadline is going to make it go faster.

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Similar to RootAnn's description. I write daily lessons for assignments. I tend to sit with my kids and grade as they work or shortly after they finish an assignment. We review concepts and they rework problems. Writing assignments are redone until I accept what is written. Fwiw, my kids find having to rewrite assignments far more painful than putting their best effort in the first time. ? 

Just bc I teach to mastery does not mean they get to slack off or pace slackens.  If it is a character issue vs a comprehension issue, it would simply result in their having a much bigger workload.  For example, my 16 yr old was an incredibly lazy worker when she was little. She would complain about doing Horizons math all the time. I warned her if she didn't stop complaining that I was going to double her workload. She didn't stop, so she ultimately ended up having to do Horizons and MiF. 

Teaching to mastery does not mean accepting substandard work. It means ensuring that skills are mastered prior to progressing to new concepts.

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2 minutes ago, 8FillTheHeart said:

Teaching to mastery does not mean accepting substandard work. It means ensuring that skills are mastered prior to progressing to new concepts.

This.

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Adding to clarify:

For writing, teaching to mastery did not mean expecting an essay that was perfect in all aspects! I  found it much more useful to focus on specific aspects for a writing assignment, work on those things during the editing process, and save other aspects for the next assignment. There is always room for improvement in any piece of writing, and it is not a sensible educational goal to have the student write the perfect essay. IMO, it is important to know when to let go and move on.

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OP, if your dd has the ability, but doesn't put in the effort needed to complete her work reasonably well, you might consider holding her extracurricular activity hostage.  It's amazing how quickly it can turn things around when they realize they can't participate until they have put a reasonable amount of effort into their schoolwork. 

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2 hours ago, linders said:

Well, I will disagree with the "work to mastery then give an A" approach - it doesn't really prepare a student for outside classes/college, where there are deadlines and grades are assigned on a timeline.

I'll add that I taught college English classes for almost 10 years (everything from freshman composition to graduate level literature courses) and while there were deadlines and grades, I (and almost all of my colleagues in the humanities who were engaged, interested teachers) taught writing as a process and tried very hard to help students work to mastery on each assignment. For big assignments, most of us had deadlines for each phase (idea, outline, draft, etc.). I had frequent office hours (and would schedule more as needed), was willing to read as many drafts as students brought me, was more than happy to help with organization/research/writing issues, etc. in individual conferences.  When it came to grading, I definitely considered effort, improvement, process, etc. Yes, a strong final paper was important, but anyone who was willing to put in the work inevitably ended up with one. If I had one complaint about students, it was that very few ever took advantage of the opportunities that were offered and then complained when they received poor grades. They were willing to put in the time AFTER the grades were given, but not before. By then, it was too late.

As far as assigning grades, I always used a rubric, even in upper level classes. Few of my colleagues did, but I liked the fact that it gave me a structure for assigning points and it allowed the students to see how various aspects were weighted (this was in addition to often extensive comments). Sometimes I made rubrics for individual assignments, but usually used something fairly general (i.e. areas with FOCUS (25pts), DEVELOPMENT (25 pts), RESPONDS TO ASSIGNMENT (20 pts), STYLE (15 pts), and CONVENTIONS(15 pts)). It was also useful if a student disputed a grade because we could zero in on the area of disagreement and discuss any points of misunderstanding.

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Definitely agree with both posts in regards to writing. My kids and I work together at stages. They show me their sources. Then I review their thesis and outlines. Then we review their rough drafts. Then we go over their final paper.  At every stage, we discuss what they need to rework or change, etc.

FWIW, what I have accepted as a final copy is not the same for all of my kids. My current college student was writing essays in 6th grade. My current 7th grader is in no way ready to write essays bc she is still mastering basic writing skills.

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2 hours ago, klmama said:

OP, if your dd has the ability, but doesn't put in the effort needed to complete her work reasonably well, you might consider holding her extracurricular activity hostage.  It's amazing how quickly it can turn things around when they realize they can't participate until they have put a reasonable amount of effort into their schoolwork. 

Totally kid-dependent. At some point, for some kids, it becomes a complete downward spiral & leads to sullen kids who aren't willing to do anything at all. Your mileage may vary. You know your kid best.

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4 hours ago, 2ndGenHomeschooler said:

So, if you work for mastery, do you still give them a deadline to finish an assignment and achieve mastery? I’m picturing DD waiting to the last minute to do an assignment and then turning in something messy, half done, or in some other way not up to par simply because she didn’t put in the effort to do it well. Because that’s what she does. We’re working on the character side of that. I like the idea of sticking with something til it’s mastered but I feel like she’d take advantage of that and drag things out forever. 

 

I did a few things to counter-act that possibility:

1, I broke assignments down into doable parts. So, there wasn't "one final deadline" for a paper or project, but many incremental deadlines along the way with regard to research, rough drafts, working on certain aspects, and so on. (The side benefit of this is that you are teaching the student how to take longer assignments and break them down into doable parts so that by the end of high school, they know how to do this on their own or with much less scaffolding than younger students need. I always had that goal in mind as I walked my kids through the process of tackling something more than a daily assignment.)

2, we discussed what was reasonable BEFORE the deadline. "So, do you think it's doable to get the research/rough draft done this week [or in X days or whatever time frame I was expecting would be reasonable]?" And we'd talk it through, whether that was doable or not. Sometimes my kids had well-thought out ideas for why it wouldn't work and I agreed--and other times they thought it was very doable and did it. 

3, if they did turn in something sub-par, I asked them a question. "Do you think this is your best work?" or, "Do you feel that you really put in the time on this, or do you feel you might have skimped a bit?" Something that is gentle and conversational--not to make them feel cornered but to help them assess their own work and be honest about their own effort. I'm a gracious and forgiving mom when it comes to kids owning that they messed up, so we had the basis of trust that made this work. Then, it was their own sense of self-respect added to the respect of our relationship that made them realize mom isn't just being mean when she makes you go back and re-do your work! (which I did.)

With regard to grading papers, I think you have to have a clear expectation ahead of time for what you are looking for and what they need to work on. Like Regentrude and others have said--you can't just expect all perfect papers. It helps to have a focus--to work on a specific aspect and look for the work on that aspect (whether that's a strong hook, a powerful thesis, the overall organization, working on descriptions, working on research and how to support arguments--etc...) It also helps to have a rubric to follow (and some writing programs build one in.) 

In the end, though, there is some subjectiveness to grading papers for any teacher, homeschool, public school, private, etc... I did consider effort and growth over time (my kid's "B" paper might have been a "C" paper for another kid who didn't struggle with writing, for example.)

For some subjects (especially history and lit), I considered discussions for a portion of their grade. If my kids had obviously read the material and actively engaged in discussion with some good, thought-provoking comments, then that was worth an A for that portion of their grade.

I followed a lot of Lee Binz's ideas when it comes to grading--I felt she simplified the process and made it very doable. She has a free webinar that I linked in one of my blog reviews.

I'm not one who always gave A's, even though we worked hard and tried to work to mastery. If you have kids who don't test well, it can be a shock to go to college and not get straight A's. I felt it was more realistic to take into account some of those lower test grades, even though I did make them go back and fix mistakes, answer orally, find the correct answers in the book, or in some way make sure they learned the material. Sometimes I allowed them to earn points back, because I did use the mistakes on tests for scaffolding purposes (to teach them more about what studying for a test looks like--a kid can put in time and think they studied hard without that study being effective, and we worked a lot on study skills--, to teach them how to correctly read test-questions instead of over-thinking or instead of skimming and missing important words, to teach them why it's important to check your work, and so on.) So, they had to correct everything, but that didn't necessarily mean they earned an A. Sometimes a hard-earned B is appropriate. My kids didn't have straight A's in college either, but they did make the honor roll many semesters (and my son has his Associate's magna cum laude--he worked hard!)

I think the most important part of grading is just to have a solid reason for the grade--some assessments whether written, oral, or both, and look for growth. Try to make goals attainable and reachable (or just a bit beyond reach to stretch them a bit, but not completely unattainable or overwhelming). Sometimes it's hard to know what's reasonable to expect when you have a class of one! But I think for the most part, we know our kids and whether they are growing and putting in the effort and putting out good work, or whether they are slacking and trying to skate by. Help them develop that good work ethic and shore that up with solid skills--and that will serve them well.

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1 hour ago, RootAnn said:

Totally kid-dependent. At some point, for some kids, it becomes a complete downward spiral & leads to sullen kids who aren't willing to do anything at all. Your mileage may vary. You know your kid best.

Exactly. Taking away extracurriculars when a kid isn't doing well with academics can create a situation where a kid is failing on literally every front, which doesn't motivate a lot of people. For a kid who is just a little behind on something and generally motivated, saying, you can't go to dance/sport/art/whatever might work. Or if the reason that work isn't getting done is because there's genuinely too many commitments, forcing a kid to prune might be necessary. But for a lot of kids, I think this is a terrible strategy. Much better to make a plan that will solve the root causes - which are usually not the extracurricular. Work on the academic or organizational skills that are missing. If the issue is motivation, taking things away is really a short term strategy. This is high school - they may need help to find their way to motivation, but in the end, they have to do it. You can't strongarm them through life.

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2 hours ago, Farrar said:

Exactly. Taking away extracurriculars when a kid isn't doing well with academics can create a situation where a kid is failing on literally every front, which doesn't motivate a lot of people. For a kid who is just a little behind on something and generally motivated, saying, you can't go to dance/sport/art/whatever might work. Or if the reason that work isn't getting done is because there's genuinely too many commitments, forcing a kid to prune might be necessary. But for a lot of kids, I think this is a terrible strategy. Much better to make a plan that will solve the root causes - which are usually not the extracurricular. Work on the academic or organizational skills that are missing. If the issue is motivation, taking things away is really a short term strategy. This is high school - they may need help to find their way to motivation, but in the end, they have to do it. You can't strongarm them through life.

I agree!  For some kids it would be a terrible strategy.  That's why I said IF the dd has the ability but is just not trying to get her work done, the OP might consider limiting the extracurriculars.  I'm not advising all people to consider this as an option, just the OP based on how she described her dd.  She said the dd didn't put in the effort, not that she was trying and failing or that she had learning disabilities or organizational problems or that she was overbooked and couldn't get it all done in the time available or even that she suffered from depression.  She called it a character issue, not a learning or emotional or time management issue.  I trust that she knows her own dd best, and I trust her to consider this or not based on what she knows about her dd and the things that motivate her.   

FWIW, the same method was very successful in the middle school I used to teach in; the school policy was that kids had to have all their work turned in to compete on the basketball, volleyball, football, baseball, or track teams that weekend.  They also had to have their work completed to earn a free hour to hang out in the gym together on Friday afternoons.  Those who didn't have all their work done stayed in study hall to finish it.  By Christmas, most of them were in the gym because that was where they wanted to be, and they did what they had to do to get there.  Their friends and their teachers encouraged them to work hard.  By spring, it was rare to have anyone in study hall, because they had developed good habits.  

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This is all very helpful! Thank you! I can’t quote everyone but this was all so helpful to me. I’ll be reading through this again as I nail down my plans. I have lots of ideas now and don’t feel quite so overwhelmed. 

I’m glad to hear that it’s “ok” to stick with our work-to-mastery approach. I’m going to have to stay on top of her a little more than I have been. Hopefully checking in and going over things together more often will help. I’m starting to see glimpses of increased maturity and a higher drive to do her work well. Hopefully that will continue to increase over the next few months. I’d hate to take extra curriculars if work isn’t being done but that actually might work for her. Maybe I’ll just have a discussion with her about what the expectations will be for high school get her ideas of what should be dropped if she’s having a hard time keeping up with school work. We could brainstorm scheduling ideas too and ways she can manage her time.  I’m getting the idea that my oldest will require more of my time this year than my younger ones...

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You have gotten great advice that I agree with, but couldn't have explained as well. I will add that for my 3 that have graduated so far, I had to work with one of them more on what was happening during his time on task. I had to make more specific plans for him. I did (right or wrong I don't know) give him firm times to do each subject because he couldn't concentrate beyond that (or sometimes during!) and continuing was a waste of time. If he and I determined that he did not use his time well, he had "homework" for the evening. 

Actually schedule wise all of my high schoolers have a set schedule that they help to create. They also know they can alter it as needed. Some of them look forward to having that schedule once they get to high school. My younger ones have a rough schedule but they have to be more flexible as sometimes I call them to work with them when I have an opening.

For all of them I only put grades on transcripts. They were not a part of school life.  This possibly contributed to their thought of school as a learning endeavor, and they learned in college how to do what was needed to get the grade. They were a bit disappointed in the lack of focus(in some courses) on learning for the sake of learning and increased focus on what had to be done to get the A. One teacher for an honors course my 3rd son took had a similar attitude and low emphasis on grades and high on learning and it drove most of the kids crazy. They wanted to know exactly what the minimum work was they needed to do to get the A instead of throwing their heart into the assignments and learning. My son and his similarly homeschooled friend loved that course and got their A's with much less stress than the others. 

 

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