Why grade when they can reflect?

The instructional video project was so fun! I’m very proud of how my video looks. I love how the voice over that I did didn’t have any sounds that I didn’t want. (the room was VERY LOUD). I had to record over and over to get it the way I wanted. I also love the way the music went so it didn’t stand out. I just wanted it to be background music.

If I could change anything from my video, I would change the lighting. In some parts, it’s too bright and it looks orange, and in the other parts, it’s too dark. I would also change the clip where I finished my bracelet because it wasn’t clear and it was hard to understand what I was doing. Maybe next time I’ll add my face. I was just kind of shy but noticed how cool it was to see people’s faces in it.

We’ve just come to towards the end of an inquiry project in which my students created instructional videos for the internet using the painfully simple to some, but beautifully limiting in my view (a subject for another blogpost in the near future), iMovie on our iPad devices. Above you see one of the awesome student videos (I wish I could give you access to our full walled-garden to see the videos, but this was one of the very few who did not show their faces in their video, thus making it much easier to receive permission to share publicly) and an accompanying reflection (what we called The Director’s Commentary).  It was one of the most rewarding learning experiences I’ve ever been involved in as a teacher. When you see a collection of seventy-five students take creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and reflection to this level, it reminds me of how our schools can do great, magical things.

But, I’ve run into a problem that recurs for me like hives.

Have you ever tried doing movie projects with students and found it to be immensely unsatisfying? Have you noticed how common it is for students to lose their initial excitement when they realize how arduous and minutiae-filled the process of movie making is? Have you experienced that anti-climax at ‘the end’ when few movies turn out as initially envisioned, due in large part to all the technical aspects of filmmaking? Ya, I’ve experienced that too.

But that’s not my problem.

My dilemma is that I don’t know how I should grade/evaluate them? Actually, no, that’s not the issue. The real problem I’m having is that I just don’t know why I should.

You see, my students have been keeping project journals on their blogs, writing reflections before, during, and after the process. I had them do this to put the emphasis on the process, rather than the final result. This is one of the ways you can get around the lack of resiliency you often see in our schools, such as the problem with movie-making I described above. When everything’s about the result, then you’re basically setting yourself up for doom. When process is king, then there’s only rich learning, regardless of the perceived value of the ‘product’.

The blog reflections have been wonderful. Moreover, the fact that they are open for one another to read and provide feedback on has taken the reflection into an epic, collaborative sphere. Sometimes I feel like a metaphorical flash mob is breaking out in my learning environment.

Here are just a few more snippets from their reflections:

As you all know, within the past few weeks, I have been working on my instructional video project. After 4 or so weeks, it is finally finished! Although I think I did well, and am proud of myself, there are still SO MANY things I can do to improve my project for next time! First of all, the editing. I do like how it turned out, but I could have done better. The music I put in was too loud. I rushed the credits and titles, so they’re a bit boring. I love what Flower did in her video with the coloured credits. The acting I did could have been so much better. I didn’t know it would be so weird to be in front of the camera. I wouldn’t be as nervous next time. Well,I don’t know if I can make myself NOT nervous, but I can hide it better next time. I spoke like I was shy, so that is also something i should improve for next time. Then again, there’s a lot of stuff I did well! I did like how well organized and prepared I was. I like the way my video actually accomplishes the goal of instructing someone on the basics of guitar. I also did a great job of working with my partner and sometimes I’m not so good at that. It was the best project ever.

This week while filming I learned a lot. When watching other people filming, I would actually be quite jealous of some of them, how they handled themselves and the charisma they seemed to have around the camera. But while filming, I felt proud of myself as I tried to copy the things I’d seen. The experience was a first for me and it was amazingly fun but hard too. I didn’t expect to have so many retakes, mistakes, and slips of the tongue. Mixing up our lines was very common. I also didn’t expect it to take as long as it did. I really wish I could do over some of the “one chance” shots that we just had to settle for, but they were good never the less. Me and my partner ran into a couple of problems, and one was the lighting. We were filming in a space with windows everywhere, and our first few shots were taken after 5 PM so we had to use the lights, but the next day we had to cooperate with the natural light that gave us way more light than the first shots. All in all I love filming, editing with iMovie is an absolutely wonderful experience, and I hope I will get the chance to do this again.

What I learned from watching and participating in the filming
* To always listen to your partners ideas (make compromises)
* You have to divide the script so both partners have a chance to speak
What I didn’t expect
* How many times we had to re-do some of the shots
* How difficult it was to be relaxed, and natural in front of the camera
What I wish I could do over?
* To make numerous scenes that were good so out of all of them, We could choose which one was the best  (More choices than one)

What was great
* getting to hear your partners ideas which made the video overall amazing!
* editing, and seeing the final product of the video (seeing what an amazing job we did)
What was difficult
* all the weird unpredictable stuff that happens, like the popcorn falling on the floorThings I would improve for my next video:
-I’ll make the lighting better
-I’ll film in landscape not portrait!!!
-I’ll choose better colors so that you can tell what pieces goes where more clearly
-Say the instructions at the right time so that I’m saying the part that I’m doing, so it all matches up
-Get rid of background noises
-Not let my hair get in the video
-Not let my hand block the ball
Thing I did well:
-I talked loud and the background music wasn’t covering up my voice
-I showed the instructions well
-I did it slowly

-I overcame my fear of doing a movie

After watching people film their instructional videos, I learned that we all have similarities yet differences too. We each have a different way of making our videos special. For example some of us use humour others just be themselves but in some way we stand out from each other. We also all saw how everyone had different skills and strengths. I didn’t know all that stuff about the kids in grade 7. Some kids are shy but they still made great videos. Although we all make mistakes. I really enjoyed watching others film their videos, and filming my own because it is something I’ve never experienced before and I can not wait to begin something new again.

I learned that school projects don’t just have to be something we do because a teacher told us to, but because its fun. I also did not expect that I could do everything so fluently and that really helped my self esteem.

I could go on, but do you see my quandary? How can a grade do justice to this learning? Won’t it only do harm?


  1. With regards to the lack of excitement: I have students film and then take a period (usually a month) before they go back and edit. That has made a real difference in the sort-of second-wind that happens.

    I love the idea of reflection and feedback rather than grading, though. I can buy into that in a heartbeat.

    1. In case your students want to hear lessons that I have learned as a filmmaker. 1) No matter what happens, always finish 2) it takes as much effort/time/energy to make a crappy product as it does a good one. So, might as well focus on making a good one.

  2. This really communicates the message that it’s ok to make mistakes and admit that you’ve made mistakes. Very important process for learning. Congratulations on a wonderful process!

  3. There is absolutely no need to grade this project (or any project) unless someone is mandating you to do so. If some outside entity is mandating what you have to grade this, then “bring the kids in on it” as much as you can. Let them establish their own grade and then you facilitate a conversation with them on the “accuracy” of that grade. Work with them rather than just doing it to them.

  4. Young Ben and his two classmates discovered the reality of film work this week, realizing that a HUGE number of stills need to be taken to create the 30 second PSA they are creating in their grade 8 class (all @techieang and I could do was smile, well perhaps there was some smirking and cackling in there as well). But, the kid who ‘hates homework’ spent over an hour working away (with 2 or 3 more hours to come this weekend) and all we could hear was ‘flow’.

    Your post reminded me of the short tribute film to Holocaust survivors that a group of grade 8 students created when I was still in the classroom. After viewing it I told them my tears, and the tears of their classmates were worth more than any mark I could possibly give, they made us notice, they made us care and that is the point of creating something. Whether it is a film, a poster, a piece of writing, all I asked of them was to create to make an impact. These were the ‘success criteria’ that were shared in my classroom (and the ones I now share with the teachers I’m leading).

    I’m more interested in having our students leave a mark than get a mark, and so are they. So, be genuine with them, it was great stuff (and they know it) and don’t cheapen it with a mark, share your descriptive feedback through a genuine response. Let them know that when it comes time to write the report card you’ll turn the great things they have created into a grade and all they have to do is keep creating things~the wonderful thing about people is we actually do great things when we are given the chance, a purpose and an audience (like your blog).

    Peace my young Jedi 🙂

  5. You said it yourself: “Put the emphasis on the process, rather than the final result.” The final product – the video – can never reflect all that a student learns throughout and after a rich and multifaceted project. You mention key skills that the students developed and refined through the process: “creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and reflection [metacognition].” How amazing. Self assessment and reflection and teacher feedback are more powerful and meaningful than any letter or numerical value placed on personal projects such as these.

    Going back to grading… I suppose you can try to distinguish the components you “need” to grade numerically. For instance, instructional videos can be graded on clarity, brevity, engagement, etc. Clear criteria from the get-go allows students to ensure the product shows the “bare minimum” of what you need to assess. The stuff you can’t really grade – the learning processes and skill development, collaboration, and so on – is what you’re really promoting and encouraging.

    You can record formal marks for the curricular expectations you covered … but what you can share with students are detailed comments and feedback on the process & product (emphasis on the former).

    I am amazed at how you’ve been able to emphasize the process of learning. Their reflections have left me speechless.

  6. I LOVE your passion and committment to learning! I am overjoyed that you embrace the process of learning and make self-reflection a key component in instruction. Kudos for incorporating before, during and after reflection activities to yield student self-reflection.

  7. I too break out in hives when it comes to having to reduce a human experience to a number of some kind. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you know.
    This is such a timely post for my practice- I’m about to embark on a video project of my own with a group of students and I’m already bracing for the ‘how are we going to be graded on this’ question. I think I’m starting to see a shift in the conversation from ‘product’ to ‘process’, but it’s slow! And hard. And makes me wonder, is the grade now the teacher version of ‘product’?
    Anyway, if you can’t think of a reason why you should grade them, especially when their learning is so well documented in their own reflections, then I think you shouldn’t. You taught them, you assessed that they learned. Process complete?

  8. I’m sending the link to this blog post to the staff at my school. We’re constantly talking about formative assessment, and as Chris said too, I think that I would use this experience for that. The learning that they got out of this process is so much more than any grade you could give. Wow … just wow!!


  9. It is amazing, isn’t it? a system that seeks to disrupt the current power dynamic and place the construction of knowledge in the hands of students but then just a quickly swipes that power away and places it back in the hands of the teacher- all knowing- and able to bestowe a single grade to a winding journey of mind, and often, soul. I too am struggling with this, and seeking ways to keep the power in the hands of the learners. It is challenging- as there is the curriculum- flawed as it may be- that we continue to be accountable to, and there is the learning- ethereal and transformative and not captured in a rubric or checklist. is there a way to co-conconstruct assessment? can we as teachers bring something to the table without usurping the power…can students assess their journey, their reflections, their committment and we contribute an assessment of expectation- but then I am left wondering what do I plug into that blasted report card come February?! isn’t time that our assessment practices catch up with the learning…

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