What are your legal obligations?
My state- South Carolina- doesn't require traditional grading but does require a "record of progress." If your state or local area requires grades...you'll probably have to give traditional grades.
What are the ages of your children?
Does the curricula you use have traditional tests and quizzes?If you're using a traditional textbook-based curriculum, there will probably be tests included. If you're using the complete curriculum, including the tests, this will make it easy to give grades.
If you choose to use a different style of curriculum, one that doesn't included graded tests or projects, it isn't really necessary to make up grades to go along with it.
What does that number or letter grade that you give really mean?This is a really important question.
When I taught in traditional school, I gave tests at the end of each chapter/unit/lesson. These tests showed me what the kids had retained or not from what we had been learning. Unfortunately, in a class full of kids, if one child had a low test score, all I could really do was record the score and move on. I could try to take some time to go back over that information with that child, but I couldn't take much time because I had twenty other students waiting to move on to the next chapter. Knowing that that child didn't know the material didn't really do any good. It resulted in a bad grade in the grade book. But that was all.
When we finish a unit/section/lesson in our homeschool, I can find out if the kids are retaining the information in other ways- not just by using a test, but if the curriculum calls for it, they can take a test. In our homeschool, if the kids haven't grasped a concept, I don't record a bad grade in the grade book and move on. I go back over what they're not understanding. I reteach the math lesson. I reread the history chapter.
The grade, in an of itself, doesn't mean anything. Whether I record the bad grade or go over it with the kids and retest and give a different grade, what matters is that I make sure that the kids grasp the concept before we move on. What good does it do to record a grade and move on if the child doesn't understand the material? The grade is only useful if it serves as a measure of whether or not the child has mastered the topic and if I'm going to use that grade to guide what I do next. Do I move on or do I cover the material again?
How can you measure progress if you don't give traditional grades?So how do you measure progress if you don't want to give traditional grades? Here are a few ways.
- Projects- Have the child complete a project that demonstrates their knowledge of the material covered. After one history lesson, my oldest daughter created a puppet show that reenacted what we'd been learning about. She wrote a script and acted it out with puppets. It was obvious that she understood the material because she could reenact it.
- Lapbooks- Lapbooks are a hands-on way that kids can demonstrate mastery of a subject. I could write a whole post describing lapbooking (If you want to know more about it, this video is a great explanation.), but the short and sweet description of a lapbook is that it is an educational scrapbook. As you're learning about the subject, kids are writing information in mini books that they arrange creatively into a file folder display. Lapbooks can demonstrate mastery of a subject as kids have to recall information to put in the mini books.
- Discussions- Some kids don't test well with a pen and paper, short answer, multiple choice, true/false, or essay style test in front of them. They freeze up, and even though they understand the material, they can't recall or record it. But these same kids can explain the material to you thoroughly. Having good discussions about the topics you've just covered is an excellent way that you can have kids demonstrate mastery. Don't just ask yes or no questions about the material. Ask some deep questions that require kids to recall what you've been learning and to explain it in their own words.
- Observation- As a classroom teacher with twenty or so kids in my class, there was no way that I could personally observe every student working on a regular basis. I just couldn't do it. With my kids at home, I can do it. I can watch them work math problems. If they're working a whole section of math problems correctly, I know they've grasped the concept and can move on. I don't really need a test to tell me that. If we're reading a literature book and they've been able to narrate passages and answer questions and give me a summary of what's been happening, I know that they've been listening and understanding. I don't need a comprehension test to tell me that. I can observe them and see for myself.