September 25, 2011

Grading with Stamps

Alternate Title: Gold Star or the Dreaded Clock?

So you may be wondering what on earth either title means, give me a minute to explain.  If you've heard of formative assessment you have probably heard of comment only grading.  And if you heard it from someone convincing, they probably gave the statistic (which I can't find at the moment) that shows if there is a grade on the page, most students don't even bother reading all the comments and corrections you took hours to write.  So you think, "Great!  I won't give grades!"  But then you remember that you still work in a school that runs on grades.  My PD leader suggested that we give grades on resubmitted work, but not on first drafts.  Sounds doable, right?  But I worried about that disorganized kid who loses their work that they actually did pretty well on the first time around.  I want to encourage organization and independence, but I also want to give grades that reflect knowledge, not the state of someone's backpack.  So, I finally decided to record the grades in my gradebook, but not on the students paper.

Three years later and this is still working out well, with a few tweaks.  The general procedure is: Students complete an investigation (mini project), hand it in, get comments (plus a secret grade) and resubmit for more credit (plus a shared grade).  On the day of the first investigation I tell students that this is just like English Class, we do a rough draft, hand it in next class no matter what state it's in, I comment, then they edit and submit a final draft.  The reference to rough draft has been helpful since in the past I had students who were unwilling to hand something in until it was 'done' (while I really wanted to grade them all in one sitting and provide feedback sooner rather than later).

The only issue is the kids on the two ends of the spectrum.  First you have the students who always get good grades; they are super worried about that one tiny thing they did wrong and want you to discuss the entire worksheet with them immediately.  These also tend to be the kids who would correct their papers even if they got a 98% to try for the 100%.  So now, students who earned an A get a gold star stamped onto the page.  Still no grade, so it could be anywhere from a 90-100%.  This rewards the students who worked hard the first time around and calms the worriers.  At the other end you have the child who sees a couple check marks (which mean an answer is correct) and a bunch of comments, but decide that it's good enough.  These students need some extra motivation to make sure that they resubmit their papers.  So, I found a cute little alarm clock stamp saying "Take Your Time" which I stamp on papers earning a D or F.  If I manufactured stamps it would say "Take More Time" but I don't, so I'm happy to have found something cute, action oriented and hopefully motivating.  Hence the alternate title "Gold Star or the Dreaded Clock?"

I just finished grading one class's first resubmitted projects.  Everyone who resubmitted improved to at least a C (2/3 to an A!).  Only 4 didn't resubmit, and this was our very first investigation.  I gave more class time to edit than I will later in the year, but I'm thrilled with the initial results.  Plus, stamps are fun :).


  1. For about $10 you can get a custom stamp made. See, for example,