assessment, being a teacher, discussion, No grades

Throwing Out Grades Doesn’t Mean Throwing Out Expectations

I used to be the queen of the “F.”  If a student wasn’t handing in their homework, I whipped out the calculator and quickly showed them what would happen to their percentage if they kept getting zeroes.  If a student wasn’t paying attention, I would show them how they would probably not do well on the test and boy that would lead to an F as well.  And what if they didn’t behave, well somehow, the threat of an F could be used even then because I couldn’t have a child who was being disrespectful get a good grade.  They simply didn’t deserve the good grades if they couldn’t sit down, listen and be good students.  So that 60% nipped them in their heels, waiting to swallow them up if they ever slowed down in our academic race.  We had things to do, papers to complete, and projects to hand in.  Get on it or that F is coming for you.

Now I don’t worry about the F because in my 5th grade room a child cannot get it as a grade.  And before you throw me in the fires of being an unrealistic teacher who isn’t teaching their students what the “real” world is like, let me explain.  The students I get to teach are all learning.  Some faster than others, some more deeply than others, but even a child that hands in a mediocre project at best has learned something.  They have garnered some sort of knowledge and that to me means they have not failed.  That F is removed from the equation because it ends up being meaningless when grades are not used throughout the year.  It loses its strength, its threat, and frankly I don’t miss it.

Instead we discuss strengths and goals.  We conference on where the child wants to go with their learning and then hatch up a plan.  I don’t talk about their weaknesses but rather what they still need to focus on, where they need to go, and then the students set their goals.  I don’t.  Because it is not my goal to own.  I am there to participate in the conversation, to hopefully ask the right questions, but I am not there to make the final decision of which path they need to travel.  I am not there to talk as much as I am there to listen.  

So as I get ready to write the year end report card that I have to write, I am also getting ready to have the conversations with my kids.  I am ready to ask them if 5th grade was what they hoped it would be, if they feel they have learned as much as they wanted to, if they feel ready for the next year.  I even ask them if they are smart.  Why?  Because their answers reveal more about their coming learning journey than a grade ever could.  Because to a kid being “smart” is something an adult tells you whether you are or not, and that ties directly to self-confidence and how they will tackle challenges.  And when the last kid leaves on the last day of school I take all of their answers with me, wanting to become a better teacher for the next group.  Wanting to serve the next set of kids even more, help them take control of their learning as much as a 5th grader can, help them set goals and then attain them.  I want them to come in as learners and stay that way.  Not because I threatened them into it, but because they took ownership.  No F’s in this room, there simply isn’t the need for them

2 thoughts on “Throwing Out Grades Doesn’t Mean Throwing Out Expectations”

  1. I like the idea and I think it's key for breaking the mentality that so many of the students that I teach in high school seem to have, which is that grades are the reason you do things in school. I don't put a lot of grades in my gradebook, especially for small assignments like a journal entry or some small writing exercise. Yet, that becomes the source of agitation. Students ask, "Is this for a grade?" and then just sit back and do nothing when it isn't; when I don't have 50 grades in the gradebook, I have parents asking why there isn't much graded work.Somewhere along the line, they had a teacher or set of teachers who put a number on every. single. thing. they. did. And now I have the job of undoing it. It's a battle worth fighting, though (even if it sounds like I'm being lazy and don't want to grade 100+ papers every single day).

  2. My first couple years, I was all about the gradebook and I swear it took years off my life. I think I used it because it was what I knew from being a student and also because I was expected to give letter grades on report cards.What I found it good or bad grades didn't motivate my students. They hadn't motivated me either. Bad ones definitely made me feel worse than I already did, but good ones didn't motivate me to do better. Conferencing with students with strengths and places to improve helped us all. Man, it is time consuming, but so is grading. I'd rather put my time toward something that gets more done.One place I still "grade" are all fact math tests. We do them daily and students (almost all) seem to thrive on the feedback and seeing themselves improve.There really aren't any easy or straight forward answers in this profession or life.

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