alfie kohn, being a teacher, journey, No grades, students

So What Does a B+ Mean to You – Quitting Grades Does Not Mean You are Lazy

Quitting grades to some means to quit expectations. I used to think that if I didn’t meticulously grade everything, I was inefficient, ineffective, and certainly lazy. And yet I have come to happily realize that quitting grades as much as I am allowed to do has become one of the great liberations of my young teaching experience. By quitting grades, I simply become able to better evaluate work, to in the end better “grade” my students.

When I quit putting letter grades on my papers, I did not lower my expectations for an excellent product, in fact quite the opposite happened. By removing letter grades from the final product it ceased being exactly that; final. When my students hand in an assignment now, they know it is is not done. No longer just an end product, but instead another stepping stone in our learning journey. If a test is mediocre, then they get a chance to fix it. As simple as that seems, I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed a student say “oh” only to then erase the incorrect answer and provide the right one.

So quitting letter grades did not make me weak, simpler or even more “granola.” I didn’t quit letter grades because I wanted to shelter all of my students from the “real” world. I quit letter grades on assignment because they did not work. A letter grade only ever sparked a discussion when it was below what a student or parent thought was deserved. If an A- was given, a student did not take the opportunity to ask what could be better or ask what was great about it in the first place. Instead the grade was received, glanced at and the product filed away, perhaps to be shared with a parent, at some point to be shared with a recycling bin. So I didn’t start to wear patchouli or run chants in my classroom, I didn’t let my students academics slide to fit in with my new philosophy. Instead I challenged myself to provide better feedback, a better pathway for my students to follow to academic success.

Giving letter grades would be less time consuming then the feedback I provide now. Sometimes on busy days I even yearn for those days of easy calculations, slap on of a grade, and done with it all. Now instead I ponder, I chart, I reflect back upon previous work and then I try to write meaningful, relatable feedback that is relevant to that student. No more “Nice try” comments, but instead “You are secure in paragraph setup but still developing in sentence fluency.” And that’s only after all of my students actually know what a paragraph and sentence fluency is. So call me weak, call me a rebel, but don’t call me a softie. Letter grades for my students has meant more work, more thought, and more academic challenge than ever before. And boy do I love my new, hippidippy ways.

7 thoughts on “So What Does a B+ Mean to You – Quitting Grades Does Not Mean You are Lazy”

  1. Thank you!And your students probably don't ask you "Is this for marks?" either.And what is the point of letter grades if there's never any comment that goes along with them to explain how they might have achieved an "A"

  2. How fitting that you tweeted this … I have a post I'm drafting for my blog about assessment and the changes I see in students when they come to me. I find that my focus on our objectives and student self-reflection on those objectives rather than numbers in a grade book creates such self-motivation for students to achieve. It's invigorating to see students interested in learning rather than grades. If we're hippies, then I'd best grab my Birks — I'll take the label! 🙂

  3. When I first stopped leaving letter grades or prevents on my students work, I became known as an "educational terrorist". Parents were up in arms because they figured that their child would not know how they did and as a result would not be able to go to university (this was kindergarten to grade 6 parents). In my new teaching post, I continue to leave grades off of assignments and provide the students with written feedback. I also ask the students to assess themselves and identify their areas if weakness and their areas of strength. Our school division has been on a journey over the last 3 years to remove percentages and letter grades from report cards and begin assessing the "big ideas" or outcomes that teachers have identified as being really important. Continuing my role as the "educational terrorist", I am pushing to stop having report cards three times a year and move tirades giving out a report card at the end of a unit or after a month and then providing students with a final report card in June.

  4. I find this very modern, and a fantastic idea, if it’s done responsibly. I could see where it could go terribly wrong with one lazy teacher, or even a teacher who doesn’t quite grasp the concept of feedback. I love the idea of encouraging progress by continually allowing students to grow through their work.

  5. After thinking this article over for the last few days, I have moved past the information I was first interested in, and become stuck on the creative choices used to express your ideas. It concerns me that a teacher would use a class of people to emphasize the idea of terrible or radical teachers. I feel that as teachers we should be setting examples of embracing who our students view themselves to be whether it be a “Hippie” or some other class. I find your use of these terms discouraging to the people that view themselves as hippies but also as good teachers, and I happen to know a few personally. They are some really great teachers. I as I reflected over this the last few days, I became ashamed with myself for not recognizing it immediately and then for sharing this prejudicial article. I think your wisdom would be better accepted had you used terms like “ineffective teacher” or “radical teacher”, rather than “hippie”.

    1. Thank you for your comment, as the child of a hippie I can assure you that I did not mean to offend. Rather I have been called a hippie as a negative term for quitting grades, thus the reference to it in the title. I am sorry that you are now ashamed at sharing the article.

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