Points-Based Grading: Student Gradebook Declarations

I gave an overview of my grading system in yesterday’s post: Points-Based Grading: Cumulative, Not Punitive]. Today I want to explain the specific way that I take myself out of the grading loop: Gradebook Declarations. These are “quizzes” that consist of a single true-false question where students declare their completed work. They declare all their work for the class this way; I do no grading of any kind.

How Declarations work. The Declarations vary from assignment to assignment, and they usually contain some kind of checklist, short or long depending on how elaborate the assignment is. Here’s a typical Declaration (text):

This is the “question” (the only question) that appears in the quiz, and when students answer “true” (which is the “correct” answer to the question), the points for the assignment then appear in the Gradebook. It’s between the students and Canvas; it’s not about me, except insofar as I design the classes to begin with (for more about the classes, visit: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics, which are my open Canvas classes).

I set up all the assignments in my classes with Declarations, although of course it would also be possible to use this approach for just some assignments in a class, but not all of them. My guess is that at least a few assignments in every class could use a system like this, which is why I am always eager to tell people about it. See what you think after you read through the details below:

Some history. I’ve used a points-based grading system since I first started teaching online (back in 2002), I would record the points for the students in the LMS Gradebook, but this was not a good approach. The students didn’t like having to wait, I found the process incredibly tedious, and it was not a good use of my time; instead of recording points, what I really wanted and needed to do was to give students useful, substantial feedback on their work that they could use to improve future performance. Plus, my email inbox was a nightmare, filled with notes from the students about the work they had completed. After about a year, it hit me: I could let the students record their own work. That made the students happy, and it made me happy too!

Advantages. Here are just some of the advantages of the Declaration system:

Students get their points immediately. Students don’t have to wait, and they can see their points accumulating assignment by assignment. For some students, this is highly motivating. I provide a Grading Chart for students who want to make sure they are on track for the grade they want to receive in the class.

Students can see exactly what is required. I am guilty of writing lengthy instructions for assignments (for example, here are the instructions for the reading assignment cited above). The Declarations, however, are very concise. For students who might have missed something important in the assignment, reading the Declaration gives them a final chance to check their work for completeness.

Students take responsibility for their work. It is not up to me to check that each assignment is complete; that is 100% up to the students. Being able to take responsibility for your own work is a crucial life skill, something every student will need to be able to do in their future professional lives.

The Declaration checklists are objective. The items in each Declaration checklist are easy for students to evaluate; there is nothing subjective about them. I far prefer these objective checklists to subjective rubrics (with rating scales like “effective-reasonable-adequate-limited-inadequate,” etc.). This Declaration system could be adapted for rubrics where students would rate their work and receive partial credit, but I prefer simple, objective checklists with full credit for completed assignments.

The Declaration system establishes trust. I believe that mutual trust is essential for teaching and learning. This system shows the students that I trust them to keep track of their own work. In addition, I hope that students will develop greater trust in themselves by taking on this responsibility. As one student said in a course evaluation: “The self-grading was definitely a nice feature. This class afforded me freedoms that I was not granted in any other class. I felt like I was being treated like an adult for once.” You can see more student comments on the grading system here: What Students Say.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share a Canvas hack that I use which allows me to have the same Declaration text repeat from week to week for recurring assignments!

And for now, here’s a growth mindset cat on the subject of trust. This holds true for both students and instructors: we all need to be able to trust themselves! 🙂


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.