I Have a Dream: Teaching with No Grades

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Reposted from Ditch That Textbook:

In my dream, my students enter my Spanish class and automatically switch to conversational Spanish when they cross the threshold of the room. We tell stories, discuss topics, write about passions, create digital products in the target language. And nobody receives a grade for their work. They don’t have to. They’ve improved their skills, practiced them and put them into meaningful context. They have learned. That’s what they wanted out of the class. That’s what I wanted. And nobody’s concerned about the grades.

Hadley Ferguson is living a version of my dream. She teaches a seventh-grade history class that doesn’t assign grades – letters, percentages, etc. Ferguson, as she wrote on a post at SmartBlogs.com, gives them written feedback instead. Comments. Strengths. Their next steps for improvement. Most high-performing students still thrived in the gradeless environment. But the pure gold in this concept, in my opinion, is the empowerment of her middle- to lower-performing students. Their work, which may have received a poor grade despite their hardest work, was validated and they began to thrive. It was as if they were “freed from prison” and they were “willing to test their ideas and take risks that they never did before. It wasn’t a competition for the best grade;” Ferguson wrote, “it was a journey of learning that we are on together.”

I have yet to find a grading system that is fully fair:

  • Participation grades don’t reward students for doing their best quality work.
  • Grading on an overall performance rubric for the grading period can be subjective, even if there is evidence to support it.
  • Percentages of correct responses on worksheets, quizzes and tests can be a game of “gotcha” and don’t individualize.

They take away from the real focus of education: learning. We all innately want to learn. Even our most unmotivated students want to learn something, be it a method for beating their favorite video game or how to style their hair like their favorite celebrity. Our education system has excelled at turning learning into drudgery that’s quantified by an irrelevant scoring system.

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2 thoughts on “I Have a Dream: Teaching with No Grades

  1. Theoretically, I like the ideas of teaching without grades. I think. My first thought though is that I do have to have grades currently. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from someone who doesn’t though. My second thought is wondering if the ideal world of no grades also needs much fewer students. Can I get across appropriate feedback to parents and 120 students? Perhaps. Or maybe, as this blog implies, maybe students would be more able to learn from my current comments if there weren’t grades in the way.

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