a different way of grading math

Today’s episode of the CBC Radio show The 180 featured a math teacher who gives written feedback instead of percentage grades on students’ math tests throughout the semester. You can listen to the audio here.

Dave Martin says just because math is based in numbers, doesn’t mean it should be assessed using numbers. The high school math teacher says he has a better idea: give written feedback. 

Why? 

He says when they’re not getting percentage grades, his students focus on his comments and learn better. Since the point of the course is for students to learn a set of skills by the end of a term, Martin says it doesn’t make sense to punish those who learn more slowly by starting to assign marks right out of the gate. 

How does it work? 

Martin says his assignments are generally comprised of multiple step questions. If a student makes a simple mistake, like an addition error, he points it out and asks them to correct it. He may also ask them to explain the implication of the misstep. If it’s a bigger problem, he will write a comment explaining the issue, or will sit down and reteach the student.

This resonates with me. I try to do this with my students’ writing assignments, too. As much as I can, I give feedback and ask them to resubmit, and I don’t give a grade until they’ve had a chance to apply the feedback. Since I started doing this, I think my students have learned more and have gotten better final course grades on their writing and research papers. Of course, there is no way I could do this if I had large class sizes or if the total number of students I had was very big. This is obviously one of the advantages for students attending an institution with small student/teacher ratios.

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