One Small Thing: Blind Grading


Last year, a 4th grade teacher dropped an idea that stopped me in my tracks.

He said, "You know, I've found that when I'm looking at and scoring student writing, I'm biased. I want to give them credit for how hard they worked or how far they've come over the year, instead of truly scoring this against the exemplar to see how their work is compared to the standard. So, I've started giving them a Post-It and asking them to cover their names on their work before they turn it in. After I've scored it, then I take the Post-It off and begin to think about next instructional steps."

We call this Blind Grading.

It's nothing new, or bright, or shiny, or particularly innovative. As with many things in ELA, it comes down to a pencil and some paper, a teacher and a student, and a thoughtful adherence to excellence. But my heavens is it powerful.

We owe it to our students to be truly academically honest with them. It's tempting, because we love them so, to want to "soften the blow" of feedback or scores we know will land hard. After all, he did work for a solid 35 minutes on this piece, and she has come from barely writing a sentence to a solid paragraph this year, and we want to honor that. I think we can, but we also must be truthful with them about how their work stacks up against what we know will be demanded of them at the end of the year, at the end of school, and when they go to apply to Harvard. As Dr. Ricky Gibbs says, "Never feel sorry for them. Pity won't change their lives. A great education will." 

And if I'm being really honest with my teacher self, giving positive feedback and scores makes ME feel good, too; I feel like I've succeeded as a teacher when they've succeeded. Then I have to remember that this isn't about me, or my feelings. It's about them and their future, and that's too precious a thing to sacrifice for feelings.

So, try the One Small Thing of Blind Grading. Whether it's the whole class or just a handful, try grading and giving feedback blindly, without student names attached - just their work held up against the exemplar. When we do this, we'll come so much closer to taking just the right next steps in instruction, and they'll come so much closer to doing the rigorous, challenging work that'll change their lives.

Here's to simply teaching well,

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