I am frightened by @joebower‘s recent post on the Cooperative Catalyst where he pleads with us to abolish grading in schools. I’m petrified because I feel that he must have used some kind of X-Filian supernatural power to inhabit my mind, and then plagiarize its thoughts. Collective consciousness doesn’t even cover it.
Whether you agree with his stance or not, it is definitely a must-consider topic for any stakeholder involved in the education of our 21st Century students. With the support of our awesome school board’s movement towards contemporary assessment theory and practice, I, like Joe, have been finding as many ways as possible to diminish grading in my classroom. I have certainly encountered the same challenges he speaks of, but many more rewards. This passage particularly resounded with me:
My fears are almost too many to count. I’ve feared being different from my colleagues. I’ve feared being challenged by a parent or administrator. These fears still nag at me despite my confidence and research – I routinely have to tell my amygdala to shut-the-hell-up.
Interestingly enough, my fears have never been about the kids.
I thought one way I could contribute to Joe’s post is by quickly playing the self-interview game myself, focusing particularly on common myths about gradeless or near-gradeless classrooms that need to be debunked.
Aren’t you abandoning/copping-out of one of your main responsibilities as a teacher?
I don’t regard the act of handing a letter grade to a student for non-mandated moments as a fundamental responsibility of the teacher. Saying that grading is an important part of teaching is kind of like saying writing speeding tickets is what makes a good cop.
So you’re afraid of hurting your students’ feelings?
Well, yes and no. I do believe that self-efficacy is at the core of learning, and that constantly making authoritative evaluations of students work and progress is destructive in the development and nurturing of it, but this has nothing to do with hurting anyone’s feelings. Focusing on student self-efficacy is not the same thing as preserving anyone’s feelings. Don’t confuse the two. In fact, I’m more concerned about my students’ feelings being enhanced by the artificial experience of a ‘good’ grade.
I remember a time in my life where I wasn’t very good at a subject, but worked incredibly hard at it and received an amazing grade/award which just legitimized everything. Aren’t you taking away this possibility from your students?
Yes, actually, I am. I don’t like that school game. I played it as a kid too. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. It is somewhat repellant to me. Don’t confuse Hollywood story arcs with real learning.
Academic rigour is important in education. Doesn’t your class lack it?
If you want to see intellectual rigour, try telling a student who is used to being graded on all their work that it ain’t happening no more. Try telling them that we are going to use exemplars of quality work, collaboratively develop success criteria, provide and receive feedback in multiple ways, and reflect on our learning as a process instead of an end product. Then you will see rigour, not transactions.
But aren’t you doing a disservice to kids who will eventually enter the harsh realities of the real world?
This is one of the main questions I hear when the topic of grading comes up. My response is usually to answer it with my own questions: When was the last time you as an adult were graded on something? Maybe once or twice on a performance evaluation or something? And wasn’t that just a pass-or-fail anyway? Isn’t it true that your life is instead packed to the hilt with instances where you either have to seek, provide, or look within yourself for feedback on your project/work/parenting/etc.? Do you have the ever-evolving skills to do this? Do you think it is important that your own child does?
The only ‘harsh reality’ our grade-filled classrooms will prepare our students for is the one that doesn’t require critical thinking, communication skills, creativity, or collaboration.