Thoughts on Using Grades to Keep Kids Motivated at the End of the Year

This week, I’ve been thinking back to previous years when a teacher from a nearby district would complain about how early their grades had to be in at the end of the year. Final grades were due before the year was over, and kids new this. I used to think this would be bad too. I thought I needed to keep grading right up to the end of the year to motivate students. Otherwise, what would make them stay focused and keep trying? I’ve changed my mind about this, though. Now, this is just another problem, one of many, with grades being our main source of motivation for students.

This year, as I’ve written about quite often, I’m no longer grading individual assignments. Students’ quarter grades, which are solely based on their progress towards their reading and writing goals, are decided during a conference between the student and me. As I thought about the end of the year, I didn’t want to end the year talking to students about grades. As a result, we’re having these conferences at the start of next week, meaning there will be over a week left after students’ final grades have been determined. Am I worried that the week will become chaotic because grades are decided? Not a bit.

This past week, we had our final roundtable discussion, with students discussing the things that make books memorable and talking about the books they had read this year that would stay with them the most. At the end of the discussions, I asked students to reflect on the differences they saw between our most recent discussions and the ones we had at the start of the year. A couple of them shared in each class. My favorite response came from a boy in my last block. He said that at the beginning of the year, they mostly talked because they were supposed to and wanted to get credit for contributing. Now, they talked because they wanted to and had ideas to share. They weren’t worrying about grades anymore.

My only regret about our assessment conferences is that we didn’t have them sooner, which would have given us more than a week free of grades. The only reason we’re choosing a grade is that we have to put one on the report card. However, there’s no rule about when grades can be finalized. Next year, I want to have our final assessment conferences earlier to give students a couple weeks to come to class, to read, write, and talk while being truly free of grades. I wish that this year we would have decided on grades already and then had this final roundtable discussion afterwards.

While the assessment conferences have been a major upgrade from how grades used to be determined in my class, I’m looking forward to finishing them and being able to enjoy being with my students for the last week or so that we’ll have left once these conferences are finished. And next year, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with a couple weeks completely free of grades. I think it’ll make for a great end to the year.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Using Grades to Keep Kids Motivated at the End of the Year

  1. Eric, I love this post – it reflects how I feel! We start conferring to decide a final grade this Thursday, and we’ll end next Thursday – still with a full week to go! I’m excited to get them completed, as well. Students will be in the midst of reading THE OUTSIDERS (at their own pace) when we finish grade conferences. Yippee! Here’s to a great end of your year!


  2. Yes, I hope you have a great end to the year too. I finished mine on Wednesday, other than a few students who were absent at some point.


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