Marking is intense because it is both physically and intellectually demanding. It is also a core part of our role as teachers, and thus unavoidable. I’m a high school English teacher, so I feel lik…
When I talk to other faculty (and students) about grades, I start with a simple set of questions. These kinds of dialogues influence all the work I do:
- Why do we grade? How does it feel to be graded? What do we want grading to do (or not do) in our classes (whether as students or teachers)?
- What do letter grades mean? Do they have any intrinsic meaning, or is the value purely extrinsic? Does assessment mean differently when it is formative rather than summative?
- How do written comments function as (or in relation to) grades? To what extent should teachers be readers of student work (as opposed to evaluators)?
- What is the role of self-assessment and peer-assessment?
- What would happen if we didn’t grade? What would be the benefits? What issues would this raise for students and/or teachers? Would we be forced to rethink our systems for evaluation?
Jesse Stommel collates a number of resources as a starting point for a discussion about ungrading. This is less a guide, but rather more of a provocation to reflect on why we do what we do. This builds on a recent FAQ piece associated with ungrading.
I don’t grade student work, and I haven’t for 20 years. This practice continues to feel like an act of personal, professional, and political resistance.
Jesse Stommel addresses many of the frequently asked questions when it comes to ungrading. Three points that stood out were that ungrading is authentic, grading is often at odds with institutional mission statements, and focusing on metacognition and self-reflection helps students manage their own learning.
So what are you going to do about it? Lock the child up in a box? Or in other words, regularly test them to the point they begin to hate and fear school because of all the stress it causes them? Testing is a bit like uprooting a plant every other week to check on how much it has grown. The quantum indeterminacy of education is that you can either regularly test children, or you can stand back and let them grow. We need to think outside the box. Assessment can be done without stress, because there are many alternatives to testing – and there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Bill, your discussion of the classroom is a great way of encapsulating . It has me wondering about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and where that all fits within the discussion.
Grading is good at ‘encouraging people’ to do complicated tasks that are often represented by memorization, obedience and linear thinking. If those are our actual goals. If our goals are complex and include things like creativity… we’re looking to support intrinsic motivation. Grades don’t support intrinsic motivation.
I have always loved your use of ‘Medals and Missions‘ to support students in becoming more self-determined learners. It also reminds me of a post from Bernard Bull arguing that letter grades are the enemy of authentic and humane learning.
So what do we do about this? For me, the course of action is clear: We need to walk away from traditional grading — in which I include not only multi-interval letter grades but also grades based on statistical point accumulation. We’ve seen enough. Grades are harmful to students’ well-being; they do not provide accurate information for employers, academic programs, or even students themselves; and they steer student motivations precisely where we in higher education do not want those motivations to go. There is no coherent argument you can make any more that traditional grading is the best approach, in terms of what’s best for students, to evaluating student work. If we value our students, we’ll start being creative and courageous in replacing traditional grading with something better.
Robert Talbert, Ph.D. discusseswithin university.
The grade game is a big thing. Throughout the year every teacher and student will play it. This year we changed the game, and we changed our classroom. I was able to get feedback all the time. I was able to use technology. I learned to self-assess. I had time to revise and check my work which made my writing better. Because I showed evidence of growth and learning, I became a B student.
Year 6 student, Lynton, reflects on the problems with report cards and the power of technology to transform learning. This is interesting reading, especially in light of the work being done by ACER around growth and the new Gonski review, which is pushing for a focus on growth.