What Does An “A” Mean – Thoughts From My Students

We have been deep in grade discussion today as throughout the day I have asked students to define the letter grades that I have to give this semester.  I wasn’t surprised at the in-depth discussions this prompted, but more at the harshness with which the students defined certain grades.  Each class got a letter to define and then the other classes added their input.  Tomorrow, students will select their grade and then provide reasoning on a sheet for why they belong in that category.  I will then meet with each student to debate the grade with them and we will set goals for the future.

So how did the students define their letter grades?  Behavior seemed to play a large role which lead to many interesting conversations, since we grade behavior separate from part of understanding. These are their thoughts….

To get an “A” in English, a student is:

  • Participating on topic (large group, small group) even if not called upon
  • An active listener (engaged, awake, doing what they are supposed to be doing)
  • Consistently trying to go above and beyond and shows interest in topics
  • Getting consistent 3’s or 4’s (even with re-takes)
  • Turning work in on time and completed (95%)
  • Consistently puts in effort
  • (Works well with others/respects others/teacher/classroom/materials – nice attitude)
  • Reads at least 6 out of 7 days 20 minutes or more outside of English
  • Furthers the understanding in the classroom through written or spoken work
  • Showing a deep level of understanding of content covered

To get a “B” in English, a student is:

  • Getting scores that are consistently 3’s with a few 2.5’s mixed in
  • Reading 5 out of the 7 nights outside of English class
  • Interested most days, as well as engaged in class
  • Putting in best effort
  • Doing required work but not always going for 4
  • Most of the time working well with others/showing respect and helping the class move forward in learning
  • Participating
  • Completing almost all work, as well as handing it in on time
  • Showing a thorough understanding of content covered

To get a “C” in English, a student is:

  • Getting mostly 2’s or 2.5’s
  • Reading 3-4 days a week outside of English class
  • Mostly turning in work on time and work is mostly completed
  • Mostly engaged but only some participation (large/small group)
  • Homework is almost always complete and mostly turned in on time (2 or more lates)
  • Group effort may depend on students in group
  • Effort depends on topic/subject
  • Mostly prepared for class but does forget items at times (book, pencil, notebook etc) leading to inability to complete tasks
  • Not always spending time in a in productive manner

To get a “D” in English, a student is:

  • Getting mostly 2’s
  • Reading 2-3 times a week outside of English class
  • Not always on topic and often distracts others
  • Not always prepared for class
  • Shows little engagement/time not spent productively
  • Has little participation even in small group
  • More than 3 missing assignments
  • Students shows little effort
  • Does few re-takes
  • Shows little understanding and does little to improve it
  • Choices made can harm the learning environment of others

To get a “F” in English, a student is:

  • Missing more than 5 assignments (summative and formative)
  • Getting 1.5’s or IE’s
  • Only reading one night or none outside of English class
  • Putting in little to no effort in class
  • Distracting students and teacher resulting in wasted learning time for self and others
  • Often not on topic
  • Has little to no participation
  • Does not do any re-takes
  • Is never prepared
  • Has selective listening that results in many misunderstandings

Have you asked your students to define their grades before they are given?  If yes, how did it go?  If no, why not?

13 thoughts on “What Does An “A” Mean – Thoughts From My Students

  1. I think your process is great but the criteria for grades include far too many behaviours. Don’t get me wrong those behaviours are very important but grades should be about achievement not behaviours so the behaviours should be reported separately. I don’t want to fly with a pilot who showed up every day, participated well and tried hard but wasn’t very good at flying the plane!!!

    • This was a point I brought up with the students as well, and their reasoning was that all content mastery is showed under standard scores, since we are Standards Based Grading, which are the scores they are referring to. We also actually grade behavior separately which was another point of discussion but they were adamant that some of the things they listed here had to do with how invested a child was in class and how much they understood. I have loved the deep conversations that this has prompted within the room. Thank you for your comment.

      • What you describe is exactly why it is the teacher’s professional responsibility to determine grades and the student role is to provide input. Given that you report behaviour separately and that the purpose of grades is to communicate achievement your students are simply wrong to suggest the inclusion of those behaviors in grades. I suggest you discuss the pilot example or others like it with them to help them see why it is inappropriate to include behaviors in grades.

    • As I have been working through the process (which I have used the past few years) I think it is important to note the conversation that happens between a student and myself as we determine the grade. Yes, a student may base their grade on behavior but in our conversation we discuss content mastery as well as what they are doing within the classroom and outside of it as far as practice and mastery. My main point here is to give students a voice in what grades mean to them, because we often assume that students know what grades mean and how they are attained. As I work within a mastery based environment, it is important that students develop skills that go beyond just knowing facts and instead develop habits that allow them to work with the information and use it in meaningful way. Starting with a definition in their own words, allows me a common language to discuss those skills.

  2. I disagree, through their participation they are showing whether they understand the concepts and content. That is directly linked to effort and achievement, as is doing re-takes, active listening, pushing their thinking and being able to show understanding. I think my students have a better notion of how much you need to do to show mastery of content, that it is not just spitting out information.

  3. I spoke to my students about this and this is what they said, “I think that your attitude affects how you work, and how you work affects your grade. The work that you do in class is just as important as how you do it. Even if you know all of the content, you also have to show it and you do that through your behavior.”

    • Thinking in terms of life lessons, working within an office team, research group, or many other work situations involve both individual mastery of the content, as well as being able to collaborate and coordinate. We have many people who are perfectly competent, but can’t work with others, and end up being less effective than if they were collaborating and coordinating with others. On the other hand, I suspect that a number of parents would be concerned about the behavior piece because it does advantage certain kids (who are better at working with others). So, I can see both sides to this discussion.

    • None of that makes sense to me. You show you know it through your ‘performance’ on the assessments that have been attempted/completed, i.e., through writing, doing and saying on quality summative assessments.

  4. My reply was about Pernile’s description of what her students said but in terms of what Paraj said collaboration is legitimately part of grades if it is a public, published learning goal for the course but not if it is just a ‘god idea,’ which it is! On this issue I suggest you read Kagan’s article “Group Grades Miss the Mark.”

  5. Questions I have: How does one measure things like effort, engagement, active listening, going above and beyond…these seem subjective..whose definition is the measuring stick? What if going above and beyond, or effort, is vastly different for one student compared to another? For some, speaking up once in a discussion is indeed a great effort for them. And has little to do with their level of content mastery.

    • I agree Traci but it is interesting to see where Pernile said the discussions went. Given that I hope she and they would be open to revising their criteria/definitions.

  6. It was interesting walking through this process with my students because when they then decided their grades, almost all focused entirely on content mastery and how they were pushing their thinking in class. So in the end, students and I had a conversation that sprung from their definitions but then evolved into a discussion of habits, goals, and mastery, which is what I had hoped for all along.

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