Whether to grade papers or not for your kids can be quite easy to decide. If it causes unnecessary stress or increased motivation for your kids, you know. However, how to grade hands-on homeschool activities and projects fits into another category.
If you use unit studies which is mastery-based learning, do unschooling, or relaxed learning which all fit this same slant of mastery-based learning, you know it can be a conundrum on how to grade projects.
Looking back and analyzing what I did for each of my kids, I was able to come up with some guidelines I’ve used.
Hands-on Activities: Mundane or Monumental
Before I share these guidelines which will be of great help to you, let me remind you of two significant things of the superiority of hands-on projects over paperwork.
Don’t pass up valuable hands-on activities because you may not have a starting point for grades.
Grades really do matter when you live in a state that requires them or when you need to put something on a high school transcript like I’ve had to do three times.
It’s not as important to grade projects when kids are younger unless they need the motivation. However, to add them to a high school transcript becomes important so that you’re highlighting your child’s strengths and uniqueness.
Hands-on ideas and projects can be a superior way to grading because standards are self-imposed. This is opposite of how paperwork is graded.
Projects are not based on comparison to others like the present paperwork grading system. When a grade is given on paperwork it is in comparison to others the same age or the same grade.
We fight our whole homeschool journey avoiding comparison traps; implementing projects is an excellent way to challenge your kids and make them self-aware.
Basing grading on self-imposed standards creates critical thinkers who are testing and improving self and not in comparison to others.
Grading Hands-on Activities or Projects: The 6 Cs
I remind myself that with hands-on projects kids can progress at their own pace meaning they are more engaged and challenged or they can slow down and relax when a subject is tough.
Next, I set up standards for grading because we did not give up hands-on projects in the middle or high school years. A grade is needed for a transcript.
When I grade hands-on activities for my older kids, they all seem to fall under these six concepts which I use as standards.
Content is probably one of the areas I spend the longest time grading. I look specifically for topics that I laid out for my sons to cover.
Although hands-on projects are about free exploration, it’s not always if you have specific objectives that need to be met.
For example, when we did our Amazon Rain Forest unit study, my then high school teen had to focus on not only the science of the rain forest, but the devastating effects of stripping the earth of the trees. Deforestation and the rippling effects globally was something I wanted highlighted.
Looking over his completed project of lapbook, writing assignment, and hands-on activities I checked for my objectives too.From there, I moved to what other concepts he included in his content. How unique was it? How detailed did he get? Did he look at the global picture? Are his thoughts illustrated or written in a way that is appropriate for his level?
Again, I’m looking at ways he challenged himself. Not ways to compare him to others his age.
I use to shriek at the word creativity because I thought it was kin to craft activities. My boys are not the crafty loving kind of kids. Hands-on yes, but coloring and glitter no.
However, like you and I know creativity goes far beyond artistry or crafts.
Creativity is being able to use the imagination to be original. Hey, that is why I’m homeschooling. I’m original, my kids are original although they may not feel like it.
So I look for ways my kids were original in their projects. Did they come up with their ideas and rabbit trails or did they just follow what I asked them to do? When kids are little, this is okay. You’re teaching them to stretch outside of their comfort zone.
However, as kids get older, they need to prove that they are being self-taught, not just taking the guided tour from you. Creativity and initiative go hand and hand for hands-on projects.
Completeness is another area I grade.
This may seem subjective, but again each mastery-based assignment has a purpose for that student. By not comparing him to others I look for ways he put forth effort to make the project a whole learning experience and yet individualistic.
How vast is his knowledge of it depends on how deep or complete he decided to explore.
For example, we did a FBI unit study for my teens. Using a large oatmeal box, my sons under the direction of the Mr. made crystal radios which is a homemade radio for picking up am stations.I thought that was it for the depth of understanding it. However, one of my teens pursued the subject of how sound is made without power and understanding the basics of reading a schematic.
In addition, the use of the radio and other ways of espionage led to an investigation of communism and Russia.
My objective or standard for this unit study was to focus on how the government interacts with other investigative branches. Clearly, my high school teen went beyond the objectives to get a more complete view of how the American government interacts with other agencies.
He was given a grade for his level of completeness based on his abilities.
Collaboration is an essential skill in both a career or college track. Real world learning is at its best with hands-on activities in a group setting.
How best to teach it? At home with siblings of different ages or at a co-op with others who have different abilities.
For example, I graded my teen on collaboration when he did a unit study on the country of Turkey. He chose the topic for our geography co-op class where a presentation was required by our kids.
My then high school teen was the one in charge of the project, assigning the parts of the unit study to investigate, presentation of the visual poster board, completing it, and guiding his siblings to finishing their parts.
It’s one thing to have an idea and quite another to get a group who do not share your same experience to work together for a harmonious theme.
It was challenging to say the least as he had to answer his siblings’ questions, entertain their different ideas, and agree on another way to work out the assignment.
There is no way such a vital skill can be show on a paper. It has to be experienced. Then, there has to be a way to give that skill a grade.
Another facet I look at when looking over a project or hands-on activity is to see if my kids challenged themselves. You and I know that nobody else knows our kids as well as we do. You know when they’re motivated and when they’re not.
I can use art as an example. How can a student challenge himself?
Depending on his skill level, just deciding that he would take on the project can be challenging for an art phobic student. I have a couple of kids that don’t feel they’re good artists. On the other hand for my son who has more natural ability I would expect him to go above it to challenge himself for a higher grade.
Did either student challenge himself with his presentation or did he stay at a comfortable zone with his skill level? Again, not in comparison to others his age or grade.Is the process sophisticated or complex as a whole? How much time my kids spend on a project can be a good gauge. Was the project a one day project or did it take weeks to complete?
If it took weeks, did he dawdle or was he engrossed in a way to figure out a different way to approach the task? Those are questions I ask myself when I look over their projects.
6. Critical Thinking Skills
Depending on the project, another area I look at is the level of critical thinking skills. Choosing unit studies as our preferred way of teaching was my choice because of how my children learned. They’re ready to pursue each topic in-depth instead of piece meal.
They want unbridled learning and I have fed that through the years. However, a higher level of learning requires that my kids know how to process and sort through information. Otherwise all of that information can be a runny mess.
Things just as poor reasoning, logic, quantified statements, brainstorming, analyzing sources are all part of critical thinking skills.
Depending on your child’s age, you can target the skills your child displays in his hands-on activity.
Hands-on Activity Rubric
Grading hands-on projects doesn’t have to be stressful. Don’t give up hands-on activity because you think they’re too hard to grade.
I’m so excited because today I’ve created a new form which will help you to grade hands-on projects.
As I explained above, I analyzed how I’ve created our numerous hands-on projects we’ve done through the years and I’ve reduced the standards to a printable form.
Not only did I create this newest form, but here I explain how to use it.
The top part of the form gives you place to jot down the activity, date you planned it for, and a box I like to use to match it to a unit study theme.
If you don’t do unit studies, then use the box to jot down your lesson plan number to pair it with the hands-on activity idea.
The bottom part of the form you’ll love because it gives you a place to check subjects which the hands-on project meets.
Yes, hands-on crafts may take more time to do, but you’ll notice how they also span way more subjects.
Then of course, there is a place to mark for the grade. I don’t believe in Fs.
If your child refused to do it, you know that before you start. This form is to help you and your kids both to make hands-on activities more engaging.
I know you’ll love this newest form to add to the growing list of forms for my 7 Step Homeschool Planner.
Exclusive Dynamic Subscriber Freebie!
Download this free printable by following my blog and being a loyal reader. Click here to join. Follow the prompt to CONFIRM your email in your inbox. Then, you’ll receive a link to my dynamic readers subscriber library.
I hold back printables just for my email readers. I would luv for you to follow my blog and get updates by email. Besides receiving seasoned veteran how-tos, unit studies and unit study tips, tips for teaching multiple ages of children. homeschooling your kids from Prek to High School, you’ll also have access to my Dynamic Subscriber Freebies.
Again, wait for the link in your inbox to my private area for subscribers AND then download the form there.
What do you think? Will this make it easier for you to grade hands-on activities or better yet include more of them in your homeschool?
You’ll love these other tips:
- 3 Risks of Not Tracking Your Homeschool Lessons (Even If They’re Laid-Out)
- Wipe Out Self-Doubt: 13 Ways to Show Homeschool Progress (And How I Know My Sons Got It)
- How to Grade a Homeschool Unit Study for an Older Child (& high school assessment)
Hugs and love ya,