Helping Students Revise With Ghost Grades

Sometimes our biggest challenges aren’t teaching concepts or content, but teaching kids to rethink what’s common sense to them.


For example: when students hit “submit” and send their written work off into cyberspace to be graded by me, it gets crossed off their things-to-do list.  They stop caring about the assignment, move on to worrying about their weekend plans and sports games, and wait (not-so) patiently for a grade with some feedback on what to do next time.


Lisa and Amy have commented before  on the importance of feedback over grades.  Give the students feedback that they can act upon rather than a grade that’s fixed and gone.  My own struggle here has always been incentivizing students to act upon feedback and remind them that … yes … if you are able to improve your piece, you’ll receive a higher grade.


Enter…. my ghost grade policy.


Once every major writing project, students are able to submit work by an early deadline to receive additional feedback and what I call a “ghost” grade.  A ghost grade is a rough draft grade the way a rough draft of writing is a rough draft of writing.  It’s a guaranteed minimum final grade, and the only direction it can go is up.


My students enjoy seeing their ghost grades for three reasons, and they wrote to me about how much they enjoyed getting ghost grades.  First, it’s validation of the work they have already completed.  Second, it gives them a preview of that anxiety-inducing moment when they see their final grades.  Third, it puts the ball back in their courts.  Want to see a higher final grade?  It’s time to get back to work in writing and revising.


On my end, I struggle with grading and feedback to all students twice on a single project.  If I commit to ghost grades, I am also committing to reading and reviewing work quickly — as in, submit your work by Friday, feedback by Monday.  I have experimented with modifying ghost grades — for example, if you want a ghost grade, you must also come and see me during the extra help schedule block.  


Ghost grades, like student work, are a work in progress and subject to revision.


How do you help students see the value of the revision process?  Do you have suggestions for how I can revise my ghost grades to work well for me and for my students?


Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York and a 2016 recipient of the NCTE Gallo Grant.  Follow her on twitter at @HMX_MsE.


3 thoughts on “Helping Students Revise With Ghost Grades

  1. vendija723 May 16, 2017 at 9:58 pm Reply

    I’ve had some success with having students share their work with me in Google Docs and requiring them to do a round of revision before I’ll grade it. Somehow having an open document with comments makes them feel like they “have a chance to improve their work before submitting it” instead of “I already submitted it, and now you really expect me to go back and do more?!?”


  2. Amy Estersohn May 16, 2017 at 4:20 pm Reply

    I appreciate your thorough comment — in the broadest strokes, I think we are both teaching the habits of mind we want to see in our student-citizens. We want them to know that attending to a task, seeking feedback from others, and self-advocacy are skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.


  3. northlsimpson May 15, 2017 at 1:46 pm Reply

    I use an approach that is somewhat similar. After final grades are posted, I offer a revision opportunity that is very generous (but contingent upon whether a student met the submission requirements of a writing assignment). Here’s language from my grading policy:

    Revision of major writing assignments for an improved grade is always an option IF you’ve met the basic requirements of the assignment.

    The “catch”:
    We must conference before you revise to discuss how to approach your revision.
    After you revise, we must conference a second time, and we will grade your revision together.
    The revision window closes one week before the end of the marking period.

    As long as my district jams my classes to the gills and gives me an insulting amount of prep time, as well as limited resources, I need an approach that enables me to take care of my family and well being. Also, I’ve noticed that students take the words “rough” draft quite literally, so I will give of my time when I know I am reading a student’s best effort. I came to realize that a bunch of handwritten comments (or even Kaizena narratives) just don’t have enough bang for their buck.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, but after 9 years, I’ve learned I have to be realistic. Because I see plenty of growth in my students, I believe my approach is working. And my students appreciate my good faith willingness to keep the door open when it comes to their writing, as well as their grade.

    During the revision conferences, the student and I focus on the areas I marked on the rubric. There is no limit to how much a student can improve his/her grade. I want to encourage revision and give my time to students who value my attention and feedback. Honestly, this gets me off the hook from writing too many comments on the final piece to justify the score (and to be ignored by the students who just focus on the grade). This halves my grading time.

    During the drafting process of major writing projects, I do not always provide individual comments either. I will comment on sections of a piece (thesis statement, paragraph, etc.). I tend to focus on specific skills for each major writing assignment, so when I do comment, it will be directed toward the skills in focus for that assignment. In addition, I give time in class to draft, and I will circulate to give feedback in real time. I encourage them to come for extra help during their free time. We also workshop the work of a student volunteer and then the class reflects on how they will apply the topics we discussed during the workshop to their own work. Finally, we reflect after I return the rubric/grades. I circulate and answer any questions about the piece/grade during that time.

    For a few years, I have been following several discussions about throwing out grades altogether. I haven’t found a totally compelling argument yet. Starr Sackstein admits she’s hooked into her students 24 hours a day (see the Bedley Brothers podcast). I cannot and will not do that. Furthermore, I teach high school, and there’s no chance my high school will be open to no grades. On my own, even though I give grades, I deemphasize grades and emphasize growth. I might even inflate grades. I don’t like to make them a “thing,” but something needs to go into the gradebook, and if a student in my class really wants the A, I give him or her every opportunity to earn it.

    Liked by 1 person

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