So, I Quit Grading: Part III, A Conclusion

Before reading this post, you might want to catch up with my grand grading experiment this year in my first post and second post in this series!

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The Trinity Episcopal School Class of 2016

I cried at graduation this year. No, that’s not right. I sobbed at graduation this year. Something that has never happened to me in the previous 10 graduations I have attended as a teacher. A crazy, unexpected tidal wave of emotion slammed into me as I thought, “I’ll never be their teacher again.”

Now, I am not given to  big (embarrassing) public displays of emotion. I was caught off-guard, unable to account for my reaction. What has happened? I wondered, choking back tear-filled gasps, trying to pull myself together, hiding puffy eyes behind my sunglasses.

I think I’ve figured it out.

I expected that the way I thought about grading would shift this year in my grand experiment with my seniors. I expected that students would work harder under this new system of accountability. I expected they would own their work, and, as a consequence, own their grades. I expected there would likely be misunderstandings along the way. I expected change. But here’s what I didn’t expect:

Changing the way I graded changed everything in my classroom.

Many of my hopes for this project were realized — as I gave up bits of my control, students found their voice in the classroom and in their writing. Students became risk-takers in all the best ways. They accounted for their mess-ups and  for their enormous victories. They learned to tell me what they needed.

But something even more significant happened.  Somehow, as a result of removing grades on individual assignments, I developed the deepest relationships I have ever had with students. Changing the grades didn’t just change the classroom atmosphere or the students’ work ethic or my paper load. Somehow, changing the grades changed our hearts— theirs and mine. More than ever before, I knew them and they truly knew me.

In a career of experimentation, this particular change — this heart change — has been the most profound.

The ResultsChanging the way I graded

So, at the end of the year, how did it all shake out? Will I do it again? What will I change? Continue reading

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So, I Quit Grading — Part II Update

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 11.01.21 PMThis year, I quit grading almost entirely. While I still give quarterly grades (because my students have to have them!), I do not grade individual assignments. I’ve given up traditional grading for many reasons that I explain in my first post on this topic, but the biggest of the reasons is this: I don’t think traditional grading is in the best interest of my students. 

I promised you that I would keep you updated, so, now that I have lived in this experiment for a whole semester, I will share with you what I am finding out. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

More honest feedback for all

Because I am not spending so much time perseverating over numbers on a rubric, and because I know that I can’t fall back on grades to “communicate” progress, each of my students is receiving far more feedback — not just on how they are currently performing, but also ideas for how to grow, what to do next, and techniques to try next time.

Even better than a greater volume of feedback, though, I find myself free to give more honest feedback. Sometimes, it’s downright blunt. But because my students are convinced that I am on their side, I find I can tell them the truth.

For example, here is some quarterly grade feedback I recently left for two students, one who is working very hard and growing by leaps and bound, and another who tends to eek by doing the bare minimum: Continue reading

So, I quit grading …

Grades — good or bad — tend to make us do unproductive things.

Each September, when I assess my students’ first piece of writing, processed and polished, leave feedback, and return it to them, one of two things happens: students who did well give a great sigh of relief and check English class off of their Things to Worry About List; the students who did not do well become utterly defeated right from the get-go.

And neither of these mindsets is valuable to our students’ growth and learning.

The students who feel secure in their performance continue to perform, filling in the formula they have so often practiced to get the only things they care about — the grade. They already know it all — their thinking and creativity is stunted, they take no risks, as they repeat the steps that they know work.

The students who feel defeated throw in the towel — after all, even when they improve, even when they learn the skills they needed to learn, that low score will forever be in the gradebook, weighing their grade down. They are stressed — their thinking and creativity is stunted, they take no risks, as they try to figure out how to keep their head above water.

I teach both unleveled 9th grade Reading Writing Workshops and 12th grade IB English. My seniors are high achievers, and to them grades matter more than anything. And those grades tend to lure them into unproductive habits of practice and habits of mind.

As I was planning for our course this summer, I kept returning to one big goal — to make LEARNING the self-directed focus of the course rather than jumping through hoops to earn grades and get scores. How to do that? Get rid of the grades.

Now, my students do require quarterly grades — these grades need to factor into their semester grades and final grades. They need an English grade for their transcripts which will be sent to colleges.

Knowing that, at the very least, we need to arrive at a final grade for each quarter, here is what I have done:

Continue reading