So it has almost been a whole year since I decided to go gradeless and I couldn’t be happier. I have just (well almost) finished up my exit interviews with my students and they have made so many great gains. I am shocked at how articulate and reflective my students have become in a whole year. Not one student has been wrong in their assessment and all of them can use the curriculum to prove the marks they want to receive. All of them can identify a weakness and strength in their learning and how or what they need to work on in order to get better. In fact, their words were exactly what I wrote in my version of the reports. So how did this happen?
First of all, it hasn’t been easy. When I first decided to go gradeless it wasn’t easy and I thought I made a mistake. The first project reflection that the students did I was like, “oh boy, what have I done?” Their reflections were 1 sentence long and so off the mark that I cringed every time I talked to them. Even my top kids didn’t really understand what they were doing. But this was a great learning experience in reflecting and learning to reflect. I realized that my students didn’t know how to reflect or what to look for. Sure we had success criteria and rubrics to look at but did they understand how to connect it to their work? No! So we took a step back and reflected on our reflection. It was at that moment that I realized my students needed to look at the actual curriculum and learn how to summarize it.
This was the second step. Before each unit/ project the class sits down and we create a list of standards that we need to learn in order to pass the project. We think about what the curriculum says and wants us to do and turn them into learning goals. This gave us a way to critical look at what needed to be achieved. We then used these standards to create success criteria and understand the differences between various levels.
The final piece to the puzzle has been time and understanding that even though I am not giving a grade I am still evaluating their work. If you think that students will naturally be able to learn how to be reflective and decide their grades then I think you need a reality check. Every time we reflected and then conferenced the students got better and better. They and I also realized the difference between a grade and an evaluation. My students and to be honest me figured out that it wasn’t the grade that we looked forward to but the evaluation process. How did I do and how can I improve, became more about the comments than the actual letter; which to be honest told us nothing. In fact, through this process, I had more data about my students than I ever have had. At the end of the month my students wrote report cards home to their parents and I would add some work as well to help with the communication and reflections.
So what have I learned?
- I don’t need grades to tell me how well my students are doing
To be honest I have been thinking about this for a while and was on my way to thinking this but doing this for the year has really taught me that I don’t need my grades. There is so much power in observations, products and comparing work to standards. My monthly comments are way more powerful than any grade book that I have ever had. Also, combine this with learning trajectories and developmental pathways you have more ammunition to help students than ever before.
2. Kids know how well they are doing, if they are trained and taught how to be reflective
Often the rebuttal is that kids cannot be subjective about their marks but that is just not true. Yes, if they are not taught and if you ask them, they will say I get an A but deep down they know what they should have got. Kids and adults are very reflective about their work. People know if they are doing well and if they are not. True you may need someone to help you along the way but you know when your work is crap and when it’s not. If I could share my students’ reflections with you, you would see them using the actual curriculum to say what they have met and what they haven’t. Even my lowest student knew what they had to work on and why they deserved to pass but not at the standard. They understood that they needed help to achieve the learning but with that help, they got the big ideas.
3. Grades tell you nothing and honestly are looked for because that is the way we have always done it.
This has been my biggest pet peeve. The comments I get back are grades are needed. I have always loved seeing that “A” and though this may be true, it wasn’t the “A” but the fact you knew you did the best. So I ask you, how did that letter grade tell you how to get an “A” or why you got a “B” or “C” or how is “C” different than a “B”? What do letters really tell you? In my reflections on this year, they tell you nothing. My comments tell you more, the students reflections tell you more and how they relate it to the curriculum says it all.
4. There are a lot of Myths:
- Myth: Grades are needed because parents want them
- Myth: Grades are needed for University or other places
- Myth: Grades are the only true standard to assess students
Throughout this year, each of these myths have been debunked. Not one of my parents have complained that marks haven’t been sent home (at least I haven’t heard it). My students have used new standards that mean more to them and actually tell them what they learning and how they are learning. Finally, they are in grade 6 and I think Universities need to change their ways. When my students finally get to University they will know so much more about how they learn and what they want to learn, they may not want to pay $20, 000 to have someone tell them this. Learning is changing and we need to change with it.
5. It has taken out competition and help build connections in my classroom
This is my final thought. My students have stopped caring about what their friends got and started to help them achieve their goals. My students are using growth mindset vocabulary and realizing that learning takes time. It has been so powerful for our community to see them grown and learn together.
I still have a lot to learn but throwing out grades has been the best thing that I have done this year. I highly encourage you to try it. If you have questions feel free to ask, there is also a lot of people on Twitter who can help and you can follow the hashtag #TTOG for more help.