The 5 Styles of Grading and How They Might Change Your Teaching Forever

One of - if not the BIGGEST - hurdles teachers face is grading. It's time-consuming, exhausting, and is oh-so-subjective depending on the content and expectations. In my first few years of teaching, I nearly killed myself trying to grade each piece of work my students did word by word. I brought stacks home every night, wasted away weekends to grade papers, and lost valuable classroom time trying not to drown in homework. It was pure hell. 

Now that I have several years under my belt, I go by a set of grading styles to make my life so much easier. Since I wouldn't wish tedious grading on my worst enemy, I'm here to show you just how I've segmented and organized my classwork to make mine and my students' lives so much easier.

The point of these grading levels is to help you assess how you want to grade work long before you give it to students. If you take a step back from planning your weeks', months', or semesters' lessons, you'll see that these strategies can help disperse your grading load while still evaluating students in an efficient and quantifiable way. 

When I start diving into these, you may roll your eyes. All these types of grading have been around for years. You aren't new to any of them. But this way of thinking took me years to really put into guidelines and practice, so I hope you see the value in this ranking system of grading styles. 

Grading Styles

I've created a system of five levels of grading types to help you prioritize your grading. These levels go from least- to most-in-depth. This list includes:

  1. Completion
  2. Participation
  3. Light Grading
  4. Rubric
  5. Full Grading

Keep in mind: I teach English, journalism, and theatre arts. These have served me well for almost 30 years, but they might not be the best for math or science courses. Either way, take these for a spin. 


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1. Completion

This is number one on the list for a reason. It's the absolute simplest way of evaluating what a student has learned from a lesson. Some might call this a "lazy" approach to grading. But by finishing a worksheet, watching a video on a lesson, or finalizing a project tactic, students' best form of evaluation is completion.

How It Helps You

This type of grading uses up the least amount of time on the teacher's end. Did the student complete the assignment? Yes or no. You mark the grade as a 100 for yes and 0 for no. It's that simple. Now you can put more time into more in-depth lessons and ideas. 

Here are a few examples of where completion grades are best used:

  • Watching a movie
  • Finishing a supplementary worksheet - i.e. crossword puzzles, word search, etc. 
  • Finishing a creative project - I use completion grades on this because I feel it's a bit unfair to grade kids solely on creative merit. So these grades become completion. 

2. Participation

This might seem similar to the style above and it is. But the distinct difference here is if the student was actively engaged in the lesson. These are typically lessons that are interactive and require the student to be vocal and alert for the day.

How It Helps You

This is another one-and-done grading style. Did this student engage in the class discussion and contribute to the class's overall learning that day? Yes or no? Done.

Here's another hint with this style: Use these grades as consistent evaluation of students' attitude and readiness to learn. Many times, a student will be failing or nearly failing and a parent will come to me questioning my abilities as a teacher. I can then turn to my weekly participation grades, show parents that their student doesn't try to engage in things as simple as discussions or group work, and have a strong case in my favor. It's a great tool to ease your grading while also documenting students' work ethic. 

Here's a few examples of participation grade opportunities:

  • Watching a film and discussing plot points
  • Asking students to organize, do menial tasks, set the stage, etc.
  • Class discussions
  • Listening and engaging while other students present 
  • Being present and alert while I give lectures

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3. Light Grading

This style is about zeroing in on one aspect of a student's work. You could be grading a full 5-paragraph paper, but only grading for punctuation. Maybe grammar. Or perhaps, just their voice or organization. This is a great way to get full work from your students while zeroing in on specific tactics of your current lesson plans. 

How It Helps You

This style of grading cuts your grading down to a percentage of an original time frame. It also can help you maintain control and quality over student work. 

Let's say you assign a writing task to your students. You say you'll be grading on one of the following: tone, grammar, punctuation, organization, themes, symbolism, characters or story arcs. You'll decide which factor you'll grade on when you get all the papers back. This will keep students on their toes to do their best in all areas, while also cutting your possible grading time down. That's a win to me!

Here's some examples of light grading opportunities

  • Papers
  • Worksheets
  • Presentations


4. Rubric

Out of the entire list, this is probably my favorite style of grading. Rubrics are set guidelines for projects. For big projects, I like to give students a copy of my rubric to help them along. For medium to smaller projects, I keep rubrics to myself to simplify the process. Typically, the smaller projects have much more general rubrics and I don't feel students need them for more general expectations. 

How It Helps You

Taking advantage of a rubric will give you clear guidelines to grade by. You'll no longer debate if this slight grammar mistake warrants an A or B. It will be clearly defined in your rubric and allow you to move swiftly through your students' work. This has helped me countless times when I'm on the fence about the validity of student's work. I simply turn to my rubric and get the quickest route to an appropriate grade. 

Here are some examples of rubric grading opportunities: 

  • Projects
  • Essays
  • Group work
  • Presentations


5. Full Grading

This is the big kahuna of grading. The type that can (and will) take over your life if you let it. I try to save this type of grading to the end of lesson plan periods or semesters in order to asses a variety of skills. It's the culmination of many skills and assessments, and unfortunately, it's necessary in order to fully evaluate a student's learning. The best example of this is full term papers and end-of-the-year projects.

How It Helps You

While it doesn't exactly make your life easier, it can give you the most extensive view of your students' skills. This style can create a strong scope of what they've learned, where they might be coming short, and what lessons should be next. Take advantage of this type of grading SPARINGLY to evaluate the end of lesson periods or schools years. 


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