Specifications Grading (“Specs” Grading) is a form of contract grading based on the amount of work students choose to complete in a course. Allowing students to make this decision up front can increase motivation and self-direction in a course, and it can also focus and reduce grading for the instructor.
Specs Grading motivates students like a running race in which the runners can choose the distance they want to try for –maybe a full or half marathon, or a 15k or a 5k–and the resulting reward. The teacher creates a “bundle” of assignments for each grade—fewer, more basic assignments make up the “B” bundle, while more challenging additional assignments make up the “A” bundle. Students choose which grade they want to strive for, and therefore, which bundle of assignments they will accomplish at a “complete” level to reach that grade.
When I used Specs Grading in a recent course, the main differences in planning the course were these two things: clumping assignments into bundles and creating a simple, specific rubric for each assignment.
First, I had to clump the assignments into bundles, such as the one below.
C750 Minimum requirements for a B:
- Post answers to weekly questions on the readings in at the Canvas Discussion site; comment weekly on at least one other student’s Discussion post.
- Teach a bottleneck lesson to an actual class including collecting pre- and post-tests.
- Backward design a course.
- May miss up to 2 classes and apply 2 tokens for late/missed work.
- Complete weekly end-of-class CAT.
Second, I needed to create a simple, specific rubric for every assignment to show students what they needed to do to get a “Complete” grade rather than an “Incomplete.” Detailed rubrics can also be supplemented by samples of acceptable work.
To set up a Specs Grading plan and specific rubric for your own course, consider registering for the upcoming Specs Grading Workshop to be held on Wednesday, June 28th from 1:30-3pm. The author of Specs Grading, Linda Nilson, will visit IUB to explain the reasons this is a great grading plan on Friday, September 15, 2017, 10:00 a.m. at SPEA. Please subscribe to the CITL weekly Friends newsletter to be notified when registration for this event opens.
Nilson, L. (2016, January). Yes, Virginia, There’s a Better Way to Grade https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/01/19/new-ways-grade-more-effectively-essay
Nilson, L. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Stylus Publishing, LLC.