Friday, May 1, 2015

Grading? Correcting? Marking?

It's the end of the semester. Papers, projects, tests...they're all rolling in.

My colleagues and I were having an impromptu meeting in the hall the other day (we do that) and after some shared laughs, I reluctantly said, "Well, I better get back to marking..."

And one of my colleagues said something like, "Dave's always 'marking.' You sound so Canadian." [I am not Canadian, by the way...but I had a Canadian roommate once...]

"What do you call it?" I asked.

"I say 'correcting,'" my colleague responded.

And another colleague said, "I say 'grading.' I have grading to do..."

And we laughed again.

But now I'm thinking about this. I know I used to call it "grading" too. And I think--back at the beginning of my teaching career, when I taught math and had a lot of papers coming across my desk every day--I used to call it "correcting" too.

Does the name we use for assessing and evaluating students' work matter?

Image by psychobabble [CC BY-ND 2.0]

I think "correcting" emphasizes the fact that students make mistakes, and these are in need of straightening out. And certainly this kind of feedback is necessary!

I think "grading" emphasizes the evaluative nature of the work. Here again, part of assessing well is clearly communicating with students about their achievement.

I think of "marking" as "making marks on their papers." I used to do this with a purple pen--underlining, making + signs and smiley faces next to points I though were right on, and jotting comments in the margins. I literally marked their papers. Now that I generally provide this feedback digitally, it might look different. Probably lots more comments, and less smiley faces. ;-)

In the end, this might just be a matter of semantics, of word choice. But I think that our word choice matters!

I like "marking," and I'm realizing that I haven't come to it by accident.

I used to call it "correcting" because that's what I did: I was correcting students' mistakes on their pre-algebra papers. Later I shifted to "grading" because that's what I was emphasizing when I became primarily a science teacher: generating a grade that tried to synthesize their learning into one symbol. When I was working on my Masters degree, I started exploring alternative assessment methods and began minimizing the importance of letter grades in my middle school science classes in favor of writing lots more feedback. (I gave fewer assignments, but I like to think I gave better feedback on those fewer assignments that was really focused on what students were doing well, and what they were not doing so well, and suggestions for improvement.) Is providing this kind of feedback the same thing as correcting math papers, or grading lab reports?

Fellow educators, what do you call your approach to providing feedback to students on their work? Is it grading? Correcting? Marking? Do you have different term entirely?

Is this a personal preference? Or is there something going on here about a philosophy of education? Is this a school culture issue?

And...does it matter what we call it?


  1. I used to get hung up on what exact grade number to give. What's the difference between a 93 and a 95? Then rubrics became the go-to tool, and it became easier to be objective. Now I use a scale (based on Marzano's learning scales) and the only choices are 1,2,3, or 4. It gives the students a better sense of how well they are reaching the goals of the assignments and gives me greater freedom to focus on feedback. I wish "feedbacking" was a word, because I would call it that rather than grading.

    Great blog! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Beth!

      I was a lone-ranger standards-based assessor in my last K-12 school position, which earned me some real friction with colleagues who didn't understand what I was trying to do. I really like the 1, 2, 3, 4 approach too. I *totally* resonate with your question about percentages. So a student has an 89% and the cut-off for an "A" is 90%. How sure are we (REALLY!) that they have the B and not the A? Ugh.

      Also, I love the idea of "feedbacking." I might try using that one myself. :-)

  2. Dave,
    I was happy to see your blog as the featured #edblogaday blog. We used to be neighbors (me in O.C.), and now I've moved so far away from Dordt! I hope all is going well with you and yours.

    I actually really dislike grading, which is what I tend to call it. I didn't like it with junior high, college, and now I like it even less when I have to do it for kindergarten!

    I am in agreement with Beth, we should give feedback. For that reason, I suppose we could say when working on it, "feedbacking." "I need to get back to my office for more feedbacking."

    I'm also very happy to report that right now we are in the process of developing standards-based narrative feedback reports for next year in kindergarten! I know it will be better for all of us. I believe it will make me a more careful and thinking teacher, as well.

    Do you think there is a difference in the meaning of the terms grading, marking, or correcting?

    Warm regards,

    1. Great to hear from you, Denise! I'm with you; I think I'd rather not give grades at all. (Search this blog for "grading" or "assessment" and you'll find other pieces I've written ranting about this...) :-)

      I do think there is a difference between grading, marking, and correcting, but each teacher might have different definitions for these terms in mind. I actually had a follow-up conversation with a couple colleagues after pushing "publish" on this post. In the end, I think we are all using our term of choice to get at the same idea--similar to Beth's suggestion of "feedbacking" above.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. I agree with you on the difference between grading, marking, and correcting. I think the correction needs to come from the student. If we keep on correcting their wrong, no matter how much feedback you give they will not learn. It also teaches them how to be humble. Example if you are wrong in a given situation there is nothing wrong with you self-assessing the situation and correcting what you did wrong. The simple things in life can teach them character development.

    Thanks for the blog. I homeschool and was not sure which term to use because they are used interchangeably. Now I know how to communicate with them.