Learning is personal. Education is personal and so is grading. The origin of grading stems back to ancient Greeks who introduced it as a formative evaluation tool.

Formative evaluation helps identify strengths, weaknesses, and improvement areas that the learner needs to focus on. Formative assessment drives the focus back on the individual learner and is the most effective way of measuring progress to improve and grow. 

Over the years, grading took on a different role – to assess learners and compare their progress with peers without a feedback loop focused on improvement and continuous learning.

This is where the grading system failed the individual learner. The movement that began from formative evaluation took strides toward standardized grading that measured all learners on the same benchmark

This image is the perfect depiction of the evolution of grading. While standardization was designed to create objective benchmarks, it diverted attention from the purpose of learning to scoring the effectiveness of the institution. 

In this blog, we will dive deeper into the value of grading for an individual learner and how to personalize grading for our learning goals. 

Why is grading important?

1. Grading builds accountability

 Learning is as effective as its measurement. For example, you are learning calligraphy and your instructor is introducing strokes in the first session. You have two options:

  • Receive feedback on DAY 1 to understand how you are holding your brush and the pressure you need to apply for different strokes. 
  • Receive feedback on DAY 15 for overall progress. 

Which one would you pick? DAY 1! If grading is directed towards mastery, it will help you make daily changes to your practice. Daily changes increase your confidence and drive to fail forward and keep going. 

2. Grading is a reflective tool

Individual and consistent feedback helps a learner take a few steps back and realign effort. For example, on DAY 1, your instructor guides you to practice holding the brush at a different angle and you notice the real-time difference in your strokes. This ‘aha’ moment leads to a conscious effort on DAY 2 and helps you catch and correct your errors intrinsically. 

How do we personalize grading?

As Albert Einstein said, we can’t grade all human beings based on unfair standards. This leads to inequity and an unhealthy association with learning. Let’s take a look at three practices that help personalize grading:

a. Create a grading system with feelings

The overarching ethos of grading is to help the learner know where they are today, where they want to reach and how to get there. A grading system with feelings looks like this:

  • Learning goal – I want to ______
  • Milestone – I can _____ 
  • Not there yet, but achievable – I don’t know_____yet, but I will do_____ to get there. 

A grading system with feelings aims to increase confidence, autonomy, and an appealing path to achieve the goal. 

b. Create a grading system with traffic lights

Standardized testing deflects the joy of learning. A traffic light system helps learners build momentum with reflection. A grading system with traffic lights looks like this:

  • Green – This learning goal is of interest to me today, I will continue.
  • Yellow – This learning goal is not appealing today, I will pause and return to it. 
  • Red – I need help with this learning goal, I will come back to this later or ask for help.

Reflection is critical in learning. It helps build a positive relationship toward learning goals. 

c. Teach to learn

Learning with a peer helps create a quick feedback system. It takes the pressure away from your process and gives opportunities for guided discussions.

 A teach-to-learn grading looks like this:

  • You to your peer: I will explain/show________. At the end of this discussion, you should be able to understand/demonstrate_______. 

Grading should look like a mirror helping you improve every day. It is not meant for you to compete with your peers’ mirrors. 

Unlearning Thought

Which is better? ‘Will this count for my grade?’ OR ‘Will I learn to improve?’