At what stage of the abolish grading game are you?
I am at the beginning stages of abolishing grading. As a Vice-Principal in an inner-city elementary school Surrey, British Columbia, I spend 70% of my admin assignment teaching. 30% of this teaching assignment includes being an Intermediate Prep teacher. Each class comes to me for 100 minutes each week. During this time, their classroom teacher is given “prep” time to prepare lessons, mark, etc… I teach French to 2 Grade 5 classes and Health and Career Education to a Grade 5/6 class and a Grade 6 class. I have not given any grades this term, but I have given students ongoing feedback on the work they have been completing.
Why do you want to or why did you abolish grading?
I care too much about my students not to abolish grades! Being a primary teacher for much of my career I haven’t had to give letter grades a lot. However, whenever I have taught intermediate grades, giving letter grades has always been a real issue for me. I feel that grades put undo stress on students and do nothing to help their learning. In fact, it has been my experience that grades actually impede learning (and attitude toward learning). There has been too much focus placed on these letter grades and not enough placed on the process of actually learning, retaining and really understanding what is being learned, instead of memorizing and forgetting. This has been what Alfie Kohn has found as well. Recently, I read an important article of Kohn’s, The Case Against Grades. This article substantiates all that I have thought about grading and giving letter grades.
Working in an inner city school, the students in the classes I teach have had many negative experiences with school. A number of my students are low-incidence students who have Chronic Health designations, many have diagnosed Learning Disabilities, and even more have not been designated with any label, but many of their previous teachers wonder if they may also have undiagnosed learning disabilities. A small number of my students are “typical” students. ALL of my students are passionate, fun, love learning, and have great senses of humour. Knowing the history of many of my students, their past and present struggles with the education system and self-esteem, I knew that I could not give them grades. I didn’t want grades to squash them and to ruin any relationship I have worked so hard to develop this year.
What do you do in replace of grading?
Instead of grading, I have given a lot of feedback to my students. We talk a lot. I have written them detailed, specific feedback on their work. The students have also completed some peer and self-evaluations as well.
How do you establish a grade if you have no grades?
Well, since I am in the beginning of my process of abolishing letter grades, this is still a work in progress. With report cards going home in less than a month, this is something that I am thinking a great deal about right now. First of all, to establish a letter grade, we are very clear on the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s) which we have been studying this term. We are going to be looking at the Ministry Definition of letter grades next week and discussing what each letter grade means. I am then going to give the students the opportunity to tell me what letter grade they would give themselves. They will write down their letter grade and reasons why they chose that grade. We will then have individual conferences where the students and I will sit together 1-1 and discuss their letter grade for the term. While I would rather not even give any letter grade at all, we are mandated to do so, at this time. I am hopeful this will change in the future though.
What fears did you have about abolishing grading?
I have many fears. Are parents going to understand? Will my students all give themselves A’s? Will it really matter if they do? What will the other teachers think? What impact will it have on student-learning? Will this backfire on me?
What challenges do/did you encounter with abolishing grading?
My challenges are ongoing and just beginning. I’m sure I will be able to write about more of my challenges as I continue with the process of abolishing grading.
Are you willing to provide contact information (e-mail, Twitter, blog, Skype, etc) for others who are interested in abolishing grading?
If you would like to join the Grading Moratorium, you can find information here.
If you would like to read more Grading Moratorium stories, you can find them here.