Why do we grade?

I just read this post called “Why do I grade” by Jesse Stommel. I know of some teachers in my county who don’t grade and I must say it is starting to look more and more appealing to me. Since we are focusing on the importance of formative assessments in my school these days, grading actually makes no sense. Because we all know that the grades are what first catches the students’ attention, and many times that is it. I worry about our teachers spending so much time on assessing and advising, when the students really only pay attention to the actual grade. I really like this plan  Jesse Stommen has made for his courses, and how he introduces it to the students.

This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your progress in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete the assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

I also like the way he lets the students self-assess at the end of the course and how they usually are spot on or sometimes too modest when giving the final grade. I think it is a great learning opportunity, something that would make the students more college/university ready. “Students are more engaged in their learning when they have ownership over it, and they take ownership when they’re given the opportunity to discover the answers themselves.” Edutopia.   It is a way to give students agency and control of their learning and at the same time steering the focus from the grades to the assessments and the discussions on how to improve and how to do better.

 A primary, though often forgotten, purpose of high-quality assessments is to help students learn how to improve their own work and learning strategies. Particularly in this era when “learning to learn” skills are increasingly important, it is critical that assessments help students internalize standards, become increasingly able to reflect on and evaluate their own work, and be motivated and capable of revising and improving it, as well as seeking out additional resources (human and otherwise) to answer emerging questions. Linda Darling-Hammond

I have earlier written about how important it is to trust your students and to work on developing positive student-teacher relations. Fostering a learner-oriented environment. When working with block scheduling we have ample time to get to know each student and to spend time discussing their learning with them. When working on projects, most of my lesson plans are projects,  I like to talk to each student individually helping them with their assignment. I also like the students to be part of the planning process when possible.  What I would like to do to take this a step further is this:

My approach to assessment arises from this. While I’ve experimented with many alternatives to traditional assessment, I have primarily relied on self-assessment. I turn in final grades at the end of the term, but those grades usually match the grades students have given themselves. (I do tell students ‘I reserve the right to change grades,’ but this is rare and I mostly have to raise them, because students are often their own harshest critics.) Jesse Stommel.

Laura Gibbs writes in “(Un)Grading: It Can Be Done in College,” “Because I put myself outside of the grading loop, I can focus all my efforts on feedback and encouragement — on teaching, not grading.” Which leads me to wonder whether “graded participation” is actually an oxymoron. We can’t participate authentically, can’t dialogue, without first disrupting the power dynamics of grading.
Alfie Kohn  writes, “When the how’s of assessment preoccupy us, they tend to chase the why’s back into the shadows.” Grades are not something we should have ever allowed to be naturalized. Assessment should be, by its nature, an open question.
I agree that grades in most cases have the function of competing against fellow students. Who hasn’t experienced the question; what did you get on that test? It is a measurement used to value how much work you have committed to the task. The most laidback student will always argue that they spent little time on preparing for the test. To admit that you spent a lot of time cramming for a test you didn’t do well on is admitting you are a failure. It is focusing on the result rather than the learning process. That student will most likely blame the teacher, the school and give up.
Ungrading, I think, is the solution.

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