Ideally, I would like to start this blog post by having you listen to the theme song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the background as I tell you about grading. The task of assigning grades to your children’s work does fall into all three categories (good, bad, and ugly). Taking the position of “wisdom is someone else’s experience” and interpreting that phrase as “don’t make the mistakes I have made”, then you will indeed hear lots of “wisdom” from what I say today.
I often hear something like this from parents at conventions: “My son understands what he is doing in math, but he doesn’t like to write, so he doesn’t want to show his work,” or “My daughter rushes through her problems and makes careless mistakes”. I know the frustration a parent has when these kinds of situations occur because I have BEEN that parent at one time or another.
In my experience, assigning grades and using those grades to encourage good study habits benefits both of you. I don’t want to go into a discourse about protecting their self-esteem by not grading them. I would prefer to look at this as preparing them for the real world – the adult world. As adults, we are “graded” frequently, in the form of job compensation, promotion, and even recognition. How do we teach our children that learning to perform at their best (note, I did not say at an A level) is character-building and a necessary skill to cultivate as they move into adulthood?
I always required my children to show their work. Why? Because I want them to have every advantage of showing me they understand what they are doing. If they arrive at a wrong answer and there is no work associated with that answer to show me why, then it is a much longer process for us to know if they understand what they are doing. Without that work, I cannot sort carelessness from misunderstanding.
I will reward a child for showing their work, and I have used everything from tokens to stickers to screen time to money. I know that some parents argue that they don’t want to incentivize their students for doing what they should do anyway, but, to me, if I am rewarded as an adult for good performance, why would I not encourage that behavior in my children?
What happens when you have someone who refuses to cooperate with your request that they show their work? If you have determined that there is no underlying issue – vision problems, muscle-coordination, et cetera, it’s time to get creative. I am not going to punish myself by making my homeschool day longer. I have said to a child that they will have to do an assignment over on their own time because they did not honor my request to show me what they are doing. And in our world, everything fun happens after you complete your schoolwork. That includes extracurricular activities, like team sports, and fun. Yes, my children have missed fun events – movies, trips, social activities. Missing a team event is the worst because I have also insisted that my children be truthful as to why they were absent. They were NOT happy with me at the time. However, if my intention is to spare them pain now, I am actually creating pain for them in the future. Our goal has always been to raise our children to be functional adults, and all six of my children now function well in the adult world.
What kind of “grades” do you want to assign to your child’s math work? There are a million ways to do this. My personal preference is to show the number of correct problems over the number of problems completed. This also allows us to see if they are being careless. Ideally, I should see that ratio remaining high. If not, then we need to figure out why. If they are making the same errors consistently, then it will be up to you to do some detective work to figure out why.
I still have one student in the crucible of experimentation here at home, and he understands that showing me what he is doing as he works out a problem helps us “diagnose” his understanding. It ALSO means that ultimately there is LESS work involved because he can clearly show me the reasoning that underlies his understanding.
I did not say anywhere that this would be an easy task. Keep in mind the long-term goal of raising a competent, functional adult, and that will give you a better understanding of how to make this methodology work in the day-to-day experience. You may not be popular in the moment, but you WILL be the hero in the long run because the transition to college and adult life will be much less painful.