I sensed the anticipation as soon as I entered the classroom. Groups of students were huddled together flipping through notes and documentation. A few were going back and forth about what they were going to say. As I headed to the whiteboard a hush fell over the room and one student asked, “do we get the whole class period Mr. J?”
It was the first marking period Appeals Day in my ninth grade English class.
And it was the first time my students had ever been told they were allowed to argue for their grades.
The bell rang and I answered, “Yes, you get the whole class period. Remember how this is structured and how you should act. The first ten minutes are for you to organize your appeals.” Students gathered together to make sure they were ready, as I waited for the arguments to begin.
My View on Grades Changed
As a new teacher, I was told time and time again not to give in to students who argued about grades. I was told they were complainers and would never be happy. Yet after almost every assessment, I had questions from students about their grades. At first, I took this personally, acting as if a student asking about a test question was an attack on my professional abilities. I look back embarrassed on how I handled these situations.
The reality is that I treated tests and assessments as sacred documents that should never be questioned. My mindset changed during a grad school class in which our professor conferenced with each student about our grades. He told us to come prepared to defend how we were assessed. I was confused…but also happy to have a discussion about what I understood and where I could have done better throughout the class.
In that class we talked about treating assessments and grades in two different ways (and there are probably many other better ways, but using this analogy for the moment):
- Grades are payment for work performed, much like a salary.
- Grades are a reflection of how well a student demonstrates their ability/understanding, much like playing time on an athletic team.
If you treat grades like a salary, shouldn’t students be able to argue and fight for a better salary if they can prove they deserve it?
If you treat grades like playing time, shouldn’t students have a chance to show their ability beyond one practice/game?
My solution for our class was an end of the marking period, “Appeals Day“, where students could craft a defense of their grades and propose changes based on real evidence (not just their opinion).
Grades, in most of our schools, are still required and necessary for certain local, state, and national (college) requirements. I know there is a lively debate on giving homework and grades. This post is not about arguing whether or not we should give grades.
This is one solution for those of us who still work in a system that has grades in place. Let’s take a look.
Here’s the handout I gave them at the beginning of the Marking Period, about Appeals Day:
First and foremost, “Appeals Day” is a privilege. Remember this as you can lose a privilege at any time. During “Appeals Day” you have the ability to give reasons or cite evidence in support of an answer with the aim of persuading me to change your grade. There are no guarantees, regardless of how impressive your argument may be. That being said, Appeals Day does present a real opportunity to improve your grade, if you follow the rules and expectations.
– We will be respectful (arguing can get ugly if we don’t have respect).
– We will be prepared (this helps everyone).
– We will be patient (the appeal process can take some time).
1. The first 10 minutes of class will be a time for you and your classmates to organize your appeals (you can also do this beforehand outside of class).
2. The rest of the class I will hear your appeals.
3. The largest appeals (amount of people appealing) will begin first and work down till there are only individual appeals remaining.
4. When appealing you must present the following information: the assignment/paper/assessment, the question/area of concern, your given grade, what the problem is with your given grade, supporting evidence for your claim, what you believe your grade should be changed to.
5. After you present your appeal, I will provide a ruling. You will have one more chance to retort before the final verdict is made. Once the final verdict is made you must note the decision and make room for the next appeal.
I hope you all enjoy appeals day as much as I do, and we can continue this end-of-the-marking period tradition throughout the school year.
The End Result
Appeals Day became an end of the marking period staple in my classes, and students loved the ability to argue with evidence for their grades. Many students received points back, and many didn’t get anything except a “good try” from me and their classmates. But the points weren’t the point.
Appeals Day was a success because it shifted how my students viewed grades. Instead of them seeing grades as a fixed, one-time assessment of their learning. It gave students ownership over their grades, and how they accepted assessments on their abilities.
Although many of my fellow teachers thought I was crazy about running Appeals Day each marking period, it also cut down on much of the complaining that used to happen before about assessments and grades. Parents called in less about their students’ grades, and it was an open and transparent process.
The biggest benefit was how hard my students collaborated and worked to prepare for Appeals Day. They enjoyed it. And I never once said they had to collaborate…they did it out of purpose and necessity.
If you try Appeals Day in your class or do something similar, please let us know!
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