Clear expectations

In my last post, I wrote about the power of self-assessment, in which a student uses a grading scheme to award him or herself a grade rather than simply receiving a grade from an outside authority. The logical follow-up is the topic of setting clear expectations for what type of work will earn a good grade. Here’s a good example that I saw enacted at a teaching conference.

Three volunteers are called; two are asked to leave the room. The first volunteer is told his assignment is to clap. That’s it as far as instructions go. Just clap. So what does volunteer number one do? He claps a few times, looks a little confused, and sits down.

Volunteer number two is called in and told her assignment is to clap in different ways for at least ten seconds. She thinks a minute and puts together a little clapping routine that sounds something like the drum beat of a song: a little variation, a little emphasis at the end. Done. Very nice. Volunteer number one looks a little cheated.

Volunteer number three comes in and is told to clap in different ways for at least ten seconds and that she will be graded on the basis of variation in rhythm and sound, plus creative use of different clapping surfaces. Given a moment to prepare, she is able to produce a virtuoso clapping routine that rises and falls, uses her legs and the table for different sounds, etc etc. Wow. A perfect ten.

If we were to go back and grade the first two volunteers on their performances, they’d fail. Not exactly fair, is it? That’s the moral of the story. A student can’t be expected to produce a quality piece of work without knowing how they will be assessed. Grading criteria should never be a mystery that’s withheld; it should be presented front and center before any significant assignment, and as detailed as possible.

Something to keep in mind whether you’re aiming at informal extracurricular work or you’re fully committed to home schooling!

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