Making the Grade
Updated: Jan 7
One of the most difficult things to master is grading in a Virtual Enterprise classroom. For each of us, grading is personal and many of us we see ourselves as the gatekeeper of the grade book. We all want our grading system to be fair and at the same time hold students accountable for do the required work. Unlike a tradition math or English class were everyone has the same assignment, with the same grading scale, the same rubric and the same expectations, in a VE classroom everybody is doing 20-30 different things all at the same time. So looking at a VE classroom through the lens of a traditional teacher grading philosophy can drive you crazy. In this blog post I will share some of the grading strategies I used throughout my 20 years teaching Virtual Enterprise.
Even the Playing Field
We need to look at the VE environment as a completely different animal from the traditional school environment. The challenge of trying to grade every student while they are doing different tasks is a nightmare. So we need to approach more like an office and not a classroom. The only way you can fairly do this is by leveling the playing field and making accumulation of all tasks worth the same pay (points). Each work period I developed a series of tasks for each department. The number and value of the tasks varied by department, but every department totaled 100pts for the same work period. Sometimes that work period would be a month or two weeks, but I would always balance the department by making all of their tasks combined worth the same 100pts. I would weight more difficult or heavy time commitment tasks by making the worth more of the 100pts, with the smaller, easy or short tasks worth less. At the end of the task period the expectations for all departments were to complete all the work. As a team, everyone in a department would earn the same points for the amount of the completed work by the team. Everyone was held accountable for the teams performance that task period. The department score could be amended by the completion of missing work. So basically the teams gets all the tasks done to an acceptable level, all team members get the full points
Holistic Grading Philosophy
Holistic grading is a method of evaluating a composition based on its overall quality. When we jump into the VE environment, students are completing 30-35 different assignments every couple weeks. As a teacher trying to keep them moving forward and trying to grade all the work with a constructive detail, we can never keep up. In my view the grading in a VE classroom comes down to Acceptable or Unacceptable-Needs Revision. When students do work it needs to be acceptable. If it is deemed acceptable then full credit is awarded. If work is turned in and it is unacceptable then the work needs to be revised until it is acceptable. Every task that students are doing are building the foundation of the business and they need to build that foundation on solid work. When work comes in that is inferior, I would meet with them, talk about whet needs to be revised, have them fix the issues and resubmit it without penalty. The no-late-work policy does not work well in the VE environment, the business world and in my opinion in school. In the real-world work needs to get done so the business can keep moving ahead.
Incorporating Personal Finance.
In many VE classrooms, teachers are stuck viewing the classroom as school and not an office. They become slaves to the grade book and are constantly looking for opportunities for individual assignments to add to the grade book. They add extra assignment out of textbooks, develop extra units outside the office experience and have all the kids do extra work with no real connection to what we want the kids to experience in the amazing work-to-learn model. I always felt VE is unlike any other experience the kids will ever get in school, yet all too often, we try to force the VE experience back into the traditional school model. When looking at the simulation and seeing that the kids get paid, they have bank accounts. Why not weave some financial literacy into the classroom, so they can learn how to function in the world before it becomes real. Give them experience on how to mange their money, how to budget, explore what it cost to buy a car, how difficult is it to live on my own, how do I pay bills. We can answer the questions; what do I do with my extra VE money, what about investment, setting up an IRA's, how do submit my income tax and how do credit cards and credit ratings work. The kids come in our classroom and we are simulating them working in an office so why not simulate what they all would be doing when they leave work everyday. Personal finance is a great way to partner with the work experience they get in the classroom and provides so many opportunities to give students engaging assignment that will prepare them for life in the real world. Most importantly, each provides an opportunity to give students an individual grade. If you are interested in the taking steps to add aspects of personal finance in your VE classroom check out my blog post Making Finances Personal and if you are looking for free resources then I recommend checking out Next Generation Personal Finance (NGPF) where I served as a fellow for several years promoting personal finance and financial literacy in education.
Each year at the beginning of the interview process as kids are deciding what position they will be applying for, I throw out the following promise. " Anyone who serves as a leader of a department will earn a 10% grade bump at the semester final grading period" You can see this clearly in the photo of our job opportunities. The reason I started doing this was that I would have some of my most talented students not apply for leadership positions, consequently, they would be hired in a department where they are smarter and more qualified to lead than the leader of the department that they now work. This is a bad situation. To resolve this from happening I primed the leader positions with a little extra juice and that made all the difference. The competition for leadership positions increased and from that point on I had very few situation where the support staff was stronger than the leader. This also is an insurance policy for leaders who are concerned with their grades. If they were saddled with a poor performing team, or had their strongest team member move away or leave the class for schedule conflicts they had some insurance that they could still keep the level of grade they needed. Lastly, Leaders have so much more responsibility than the support staff. They need to direct, delegate, monitor, criticize, score (see below) and supervise their peers. This is big task and sometimes a tough ask for high school kids where fitting in socially is so important, so I want to award that extra effort that leaders need to put in.
Peer Grading and Weekly Performance Reviews
As a very busy VE teacher, it was always a challenge to keep ahead of the kids and providing work for them so my large classes were always busy. Grading the students based on how they were working was something that I always wanted to do. I tried self evaluations, work logs and such, but they just seemed like extra stuff to pad my grade book and kids were not always honest about self evaluations. Then I was approached one year by one of my leaders for the sales department who was saddled with two lazy workers and he felt he had no way to hold them accountable for do nothing every week. He asked me to speak with them and hold them accountable for their poor effort. This got me to thinking about a way in which I could give my managers/supervisors some leverage with the peers that worked for them. So I develop a weekly work evaluation system where the supervisors could award their employees for putting effort on the tasks they were assigned. The system was set up so that each week the leader of the department would evaluate their support team on how well they worked for that week. In my system they could earn 10pts per week and 40pts per month award by their peer supervisor. If the leader failed to post the weekly scores they would lose the ability to earn any points for that week and their team would be awarded full points. I started the work point system usually around November and keep it going through spring and the end of the simulation. In December after the first month, the HR department took over the process and scored the points earned by each employee and sent work point report to me at the end of each month. I simply record the points in the grade book for an individuals work point assignment each month. This is an example of the Google form I used for the first month for two of my companies. The following the first month the HR department of each company were tasked to develop the Google form for their company, send it our of all leaders weekly and calculate the work points earned for all employee at the end of the month. Grading using "kid power" to make my job easier, and at the same time giving them some leverage with their peers. Brilliant!
Motivation through Performance
Kids love to compete in the competitions throughout the year. They love to see how they stack up against others their age and relish the opportunity to win an award for; their efforts, their team, their company and their school. Competition is a great motivator for many kids and in my VE classroom and they had bonuses tied to placing in competitive events. Throughout the year there are national, regional and local competition for all of the departments to compete in. Any time a department placed in an organized competition, everyone in the team earned bonus points toward their grade. They were not a lot of points but help students make up holes in their grades for missing a required assignment here and there. When we had team competitions, like the salesmanship competition at a trade show, if the company won an award everyone in the company got the bonus.
I hope this shed some light on grading strategies you can use in your VE classroom and if you have some other ideas that have worked for you please feel free to drop them in the comments.