achievement, alfie kohn, assessment, being a teacher, No grades

Not Grading is Awful

I am just going to admit it; not grading sucks!  Not grading means I cannot assign an average, translate it into a grade and be done.  Not grading means I have to have anecdotal evidence to back up my final grade on the report card, anecdotal evidence I have to collect throughout the year and then actually keep in one place.  Not grading also means that my students have not been given percentages at any time throughout the year, which means that when I have to give them a letter grade (as mandated by my district) it is my job to make sure that they have an idea of why they are getting what they get.  Not grading means I cannot just zip through a pile of papers, correct them according to my answer key, and whip out my calculator.  Not grading means that a product can take weeks to truly be complete because that student has to rework it or revisit it in some way.  Not grading means I have to find the time in our super packed schedule to have discussions with kids about their progress.  And it sucks, honestly, because it is so much work.  I am not going to lie.  It is a lot of work not to grade in the traditional sense.

And yet, despite all of this, not grading in the traditional sense of percentages and letter grades makes so much sense to me.  Giving feedback rather than a letter leaves room to start a conversation.  It leaves room for the student’s voice to be part of the deliberation.  It leads to more learning situations as I cater my curriculum to fit the needs of that particular student.  It leads to much more time spent with the student rather than at home going through their piles.

For one, sitting down with my students to discuss why they have assigned themselves whatever grade is eye-opening.  To hear 5th graders take control of their learning, to own up to where they should have worked harder, to set up the future path for learning they need to travel, wow!  I even used my Livescribe pen for some of these conversations just to record what the students had to say, even though no one but me would listen to it.

Second, I am amazed at how often my students and I land on the same grade.  These kids really know where they are in their learning journey and they know why they are there.  It is rare that I have to steer them toward a different grade and even then it is something we discuss.

Finally, having these reflective discussions is a great way for me to culminate the year.  The students give me feedback on what worked for them, they give me ideas on how to improve and we discuss where they are headed.  All of them set learning goals for the summer, not through assigned homework, threats or promises from me but because they want to read or want to remember their math concepts.

And yet, I still struggle with taking that conversation and distilling it to a letter grade.  That letter seems so shallow compared to the rich discussion we have had.  That letter doesn’t seem to reflect all of the growth they have done.  That letter doesn’t seem to describe their journey at all but instead boils them back down to a percentage, to a number and a grade that says nothing.  So I return to my constant state of reflection on grading; what am I trying to accomplish with it?  What is the true purpose?  What am I trying to classify and portray?  How can I ever hope to capture the essence of a child’s growth in a mere letter?  And the time?  Where will I continue to find the time as our school gets more focused on tests and data?  I am not sure I have all of the answers but in my heart and mind I know what I am doing makes sense for me.  Even if it is one of the most time consuming changes I have ever integrated into my room.

6 thoughts on “Not Grading is Awful”

  1. No, this was most definitely not a whole school thing but my principal did back me up on it as long as I then focused on providing feedback etc and still did my trimester report cards. Parents were fine with it as long as they got reports in other ways, in fact, I think many of them felt more informed about what their child needed to work on rather than just a random grade.

  2. My school as a whole believes that everyone should be doing the same thing so that parents know what to expect. It is quite a stifling environment as a teacher. (We recently relocated so I have only been at this school for 1 year.) I'm jealous of your freedom….and am envious of the freedom I have had in the past.

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