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.