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.