They’re On To Me

Jessica, last week, working through a classwork assignment:

Mr. Meyer, where does this go in PowerSchool? Because I check and my grade doesn’t change.

Christy, next to her, jumping in:

It doesn’t. I checked. But I’m sure he’d take away points if we didn’t do it.

Which, um, isn’t exactly true.

Perhaps I’ll mention some day before the end of the year that none of the classwork they’ve done all year long has had any direct positive or negative effect on their grade, that the only direct effect of their practice has been on the level of waste material in our recycling bin.

That admission might provoke an interesting conversation about the point of the practice. Or it might provoke riots.

More likely is that I’ll chicken out of that conversation until a student distributes printed copies of this blog post to the entire class. That will be fun.

[BTW: It took five weeks, it turns out, for a student to call me out.]

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. What conversations do you have with students who need to bring up their grade? I keep having students asking for extra credit work. I don’t believe in extra credit (at least not in the do a worksheet description they want). My general reaction is “You can retake tests as many times as you want. That is your extra credit.” I should spend my spring break coming up with a good project for each class though. Something intense enough to justify real credit, not more styrofoam filler.

    (Of course the fear is that I would still grade these based on a rubric and not just completion. Given that the English teachers admit to being easy graders, I wonder what would happen if I included, say, grammar as a percentage of a grade on an essay about your topic.)

  2. I know referring to sports references with regards to education is very cliche, but regardless of what new thing a person tries to learn, if you don’t practice it it doesn’t become permanent. When you play sports, no sports fan or official really cares if you have prepared for the game or not. But statistics show that if you don’t prepare for the game, your chance of “winning” is severely decreased.

    Likewise with learning any academic subject. If you don’t practice doing math, when it comes to the quiz, test, or some other assessment, your chance of “passing” it is severely decreased.

    Often times, if you don’t attend practice all week before the game, coaches tend to bench those athletes. So, if you don’t do your practice before the assessment, you don’t get to take the assessment.

    For this reason, teachers try to encourage students to do the practice. Some strategies have been assigning points to the practice or requiring the practice to be complete before taking the assessment.

    If students have no desire to do well on the assessment, like athletes desire to “win” the game, then why do the practice? I am sure many athletes hate running hills or some very basic skills practice, but they do it because they trust in their coaches that the practice is not a waste of their time – and did I say that the athletes have a desire to win the game?

    Students need to be convinced that every practice they do WILL help them succeed on the assessment. But I have noticed that some students refuse to do even the simple things despite the fact that they know it will help them on the assessment. When you teach a whole community of students who have similar feelings, it seems impossible to teach.

    But, perhaps “traditional” ways of teaching and practicing are just not effective enough. In the Mathematics classroom, perhaps we have become too academic or abstract. I appreciate Dan trying to bring the application back into the practice and assessment of Mathematics learning. This is a big start.

    However, just like not all students play football, basketball, baseball, or some other sport, should all students be learning Algebra or Geometry? Maybe that is the problem. Or maybe our nation and local communities have not done a good enough job advertising the fact that the more math you have, the better you will be at whatever you decide to do in this world, even if you never directly use that math in that thing you do.

    Yet I see more and more students with an iPhone, iPod, or some other heavily marketed product. Maybe this is the problem with education – lack of effective marketing suggesting that their life would be greatly improved if they had an education.

  3. I use grades the same. There are there to show what you learned. Not the process. Confuses students a lot. For those looking for more information, I suggest the book by Jane Pollock “Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time”.

  4. I sometimes offer an extra credit assignment before the quarter is over. I make it available to the whole class to “be fair” so everyone has a chance. Parents expect something along the lines of extra credit once in a while at the middle school level. We’re moving to PowerSchool next year so I think our grades will be uploaded every day instead of once a week.

  5. How many times have we heard students ask, “Is this going to be graded?” [Translation: “Should I care about this?”]

    I don’t grade classwork. I don’t need to. The purpose of my classwork is not mastery of content–it’s for my students to engage meaningfully with mathematics, to explore a particular idea, to struggle, to question, to find patterns, to generalize, etc. Only at the end of the unit do I expect them to have it mastered. So only then do I assess them in a heavy way. Of course I teach IMP (, so it’s easy to avoid the traditional cycle of monkey see, monkey do, teacher grade.

    And I stopped giving extra credit after reading this book ( and realizing that extra credit just distorts grades and doesn’t give an accurate reflection of what students know or don’t know about my subject.

  6. I rarely give extra credit grades unless as a bribe to get kids to do an out of class project that benefits the community.

    As for grading, I have some big categories and the kids know those ahead of time. I love PowerSchool as my kids check it every day, as it sounds like yours do too. They grumble and complain about teachers who do not keep grades updated (I usually update weekly but sometimes, if I grade in class, I put the grade right into PowerSchool) and compare them to me who does a quick turnaround for grading assignments. Kids need automatic feedback. Heck, so do I.

  7. In English and French class, I usually get my pupils to select one of their completed homework assignments at the end of the semester for a grade. Pupils who have done lots of homework and put something into it get a real payback.

  8. I hate extra credit, the kids that need it don’t do it and the kids that don’t need it do it. I teach gifted kids and extra credit feeds into perfectionism—when you have 100% you don’t NEED extra.

  9. Extra credit? Never, ever, ever. Credit for work completed? Regularly, though not always. Process grades are assessment, too. But I also try to get rid of all assignments that I don’t grade. If we’re going to do it, I try to find a way to assess it and have it show some level of skill. I keep a stack of work I didn’t grade and do my best to make sure I don’t give those assignments next year.

    If they bring in a draft of an upcoming writing assignment, that’s usually 10 points. For a second draft, I glance to see if changes have been made and throw 20 points down. Process grades. Keep in mind that the final writing assignment is 500 points.

    A few years ago, I didn’t put anything but the final product into the gradebook. My kids were pissed about me and my class once they figured it out (January) and I don’t think it lead to any more authentic grading. I try to enter grades for everything because the big assignments, the ones that I *wish* were the only ones in the gradebook, are worth so much that none of the little stuff really makes a difference. But it matters enough to the students to compel them to complete it. Without that carrot, they don’t and their final product suffers.

    Sounds like you’ve got a different vibe going, Dan. I wish I only had final assessments in my gradebook and try to creep closer to that each year. I just know that when I’ve tried it, I nearly had a revolt and certainly had students taking my class far less seriously. But there is that practice paragraph we wrote in class last week that isn’t going down for a grade. I hope no one mentions it.

  10. Well, I mean, it isn’t like I’m being anything but dishonest with my kids here. Don’t think that at the start of the year I cleared any of this with them, like, “Okay, so I’m going to assign you a few hundred tasks over the school year but I won’t be giving you credit for any of them,” and they all kind of paused for a second, mulled it over, and then nodded their assent.

    I have convictions but no courage in them, in other words.

  11. That’s clear from this blog. No faith in convictions a-tall! AND as dishonest as the day is long.

    These are the decisions that are most interesting, though. And what do we do with the admission that this is common practice? I don’t think you will (or even that you should) mention that those assignments weren’t graded. It’s operating off student ignorance of the system, but it really is for the greater good. Students make bad choices. One of our jobs as teachers is to help them make good ones. This is a way of doing that.

  12. @Sarah – In regards to extra credit, the best rationale I’ve ever heard for NOT offering the type of assignments your students/parents are asking for came from Brad Fulton (a popular presenter at math conferences). Brad offers extra credit ONLY when it’s attached to a completed homework packet. As he explains – not in his exact words, but you’ll get the idea – a spare tire is only a spare if there are already 4 fully functional tires on the car. In the same way, extra credit is only EXTRA if it is submitted in addition to a fully completed assignment. Since I have included this explanation for why I won’t offer “extra credit” for students wishing to raise their grades, I’ve not had a single parent give me a hard time about my policy.

    @Dan – I struggle with this same problem. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the kids you have to get on board…it’s the parents. Many of the students in my classes are completely over-scheduled. They have club sports, music lessons, religious education/church youth group, Chinese school, etc. Their parents have trained them to figure out what affects their grades and what doesn’t (and the parents discuss it amongst themselves when they’re on the soccer fields, in parking lots, …) and then they tell the students not to worry about things that won’t “hurt them.” So I’m stuck. Do I assign credit for “classwork” or not? My current take is to assign daily credit based on effort and participation. If a student takes reasonable notes, completes practice problems, and participates in any group problem-solving acitivities…they receive credit. Students who complete less than 100% of the practice receive less than 100% of the points proportionally. I collect notes/classwork on the day of the test so kids have them to use for studying. I’d love to figure out another way, but everything else I’ve tried ends up with students not caring.

  13. Thanks for posting this.

    Now I know part of how I screwed up the process – I was to damn transparent.

  14. @Everyone – uhh… I know this sounds crazy, but do we really have to grade classwork? I think we teachers grade so much stuff that we are actually conditioning our students to *not* care about something–unless it’s graded!

    I guess we need to examine our assessment policies.

    Q – How do we measure what students know at a micro level?
    A – Formally, quizzes; informally, classwork and homework.

    Q – How do we measure at a macro level?
    A – Tests, portfolios, POWs, projects, etc.

    Do we really need to grade classwork? I say no. I started teaching 9 years ago and I’ve never once graded a classwork and I almost never deal with students not doing classwork. I’m not saying I’m the greatest teacher in the world–I’m continually surprised that they do it, but I think that says something that they feel comfortable experimenting and trying when they know it won’t be graded.