So I went grade-less for a short time during the first three grading periods of the second semester of this past school year, but, unfortunately, during the last half of the final quarter I succumbed to the overwhelming pressure to provide students with a view of what their letter grade would be if they continued on the path they had chosen to follow from that point on.
What I did was as follows: in the online grade book we use, there is a capacity for the teacher to set up a personalized marking scale with numerical values attached to the marks. What this resulted in on the student end was a mark showing up in the grade book and then a percentage being calculated in the background by the system’s algorithm so that a letter grade would show up when the students logged in to the student side of it.
I marked their work with the same marks along with feedback for the expected improvements I wanted to see if they desired to move to the next higher mark. Despite the fact that I published my marking system clearly to parents via my mass communication system with email and Remind texts, there were still questions about what a mark meant and there was no way that the system, in the comments of the assignment could include an explanation individually for each students’ results.
All in all, I feel that this exploration over the last semester of what can happen in the classroom of a teacher who forgoes assigning letter grades, was an excellent learning experience for me. I was made so much more aware of the dependency of the students on knowing exactly where they stand. It made me work to incorporate more expedient and clear feedback. The students seemed to appreciate more the need to show me their learning and strive to improve their work as advised. Through the mini-conferences in which they were asked to provide evidence of why they should get a specific letter grade, I think that they came to appreciate more the process of what it takes for a teacher to decide on a grade for the final report.
Whether I chose to continue to be a grade-less teacher really depends on whether I am willing to continue the strenuous effort it takes to go against the tide with all of the stress and push back it entails, or, taking into account all of the other stresses on my life as a wife, mother, daughter, friend and teacher, I decide to turn my grading boat around and go with the flow. Of course my boat now has new paint and more elaborate sails that will definitely take it in a better direction even if I do choose to go back to the status quo of allowing a letter grade to show up in the grade book.
So here is the text of the email I just composed and hit send to my principal:
Since this summer I have been learning about how to do assessment differently. I have read the book: by Starr Sackstein and have subscribed to the author’s Youtube channel (Watch her TEDxYouth talk here: https://youtu.be/_61kL5jeKqM ) with her video reflections about implementing a classroom without traditional points or letter grades for her assignments.
Obviously, she had to enter letter grades at the grading periods but she was given permission by her principal to use a coding system in a standards based grade book (Like JUMPROPE) for the assignments rather than points and percentages and she conferenced constantly with students with helpful feedback like the SE2R explained here: http://www.brilliant-insane.com/2014/04/se2r-feedback-forever-changes-how-teachers-students-evaluate-learning.html
She used projects with clear guidelines aligned with the standards they had to focus on and she interspersed mini lessons and discussions for concepts that needed to get demonstrated in the project. She conferenced on a weekly schedule about the learning, and sent them back to re-do and improve until the grading period came. By the end of the year she had students talking about their learning and not the points they had earned.
There is research to support the idea that when students receive a grade, they tend to shelve the learning and stop wanting to improve anything on that one thing https://medium.com/@hhschiaravalli/how-one-weird-finding-changed-my-perspective-on-grades-914f0ea480a9).
At the grading period she would give the students a reflection assignment in which they had to provide evidence of their learning according to the standards they had been working on and together they decided on the grade that they should have recorded in the grade book. All of this is also supported by the characteristics of growth mindset as well.
Here is a podcast with Mark Barnes speaking on his book Assessment 3.0 (which I have yet to get and read myself). He is speaking with the hosts of the podcast, a superintendent and his assistant from Pennsylvania.
And this is a TEDtalk by Mark Barnes explaining more about giving feedback instead of grades: https://youtu.be/JShsO5PvYG4
I would very much like to embark on this journey of downplaying grades and up-playing enjoyment of and awareness of learning to reduce the number of D’s and F’s in my DL classes. If you give me the go-ahead, I will be making a series of YouTube videos myself to document what I am doing, keeping data, and teaching students about how to take and give feedback. I will make my experience public to share with the parents and kids.
Let me know what you think and if you are ok with this, I will make a more deliberate, detailed plan of what I will do.
South Meadows Middle School
Dual Language Science teacher
503-844-1220 ext. 5878