Friday, May 27, 2016

Thinking about Going Gradeless

I've taken some pretty big mental strides recently toward the idea of a gradeless classroom - one where everything is assessed (given feedback) but not evaluated (given a mark). It's an idea that appeals to me, for a variety of reasons, but there's still a big part of me that is reluctant to give up my initial hold on grading.

I'm a numbers girl. I take comfort in data (provided it's been collected properly) and am constantly on the lookout for trends that hard data can provide. 


I shared this with my math class last week - I love what the numbers can tell us!


As a teacher, for the longest time I was of the view that if I wanted to know exactly how much of the material my students had mastered, a hard and fast grade would be the way to find out. You got three questions right and two questions wrong. You completed three of the four steps needed to solve this problem. You didn't properly communicate your answer: -2 marks.

This was also something that was easy to show a parent or the student themselves if they wanted to know "why their mark was the way it was." It was (in my mind) reliable, calculatable, and foolproof.



The Shift Begins

The past few years, though, I've moved toward assigning levels rather than grades, as outlined in Growing Success, and was surprised to see that I actually liked it. I liked being able to assign a qualifier ("The student predicts a result with considerable logic") rather than a quantifier (75%).

After a decade of teaching, I found I had more trust in my professional judgement... a trust I didn't have when I was a new teacher. I didn't have to rely on a hard and fast number to report on the success of the student - I became more comfortable using a spectrum to identify strengths and next steps.

With a writing workshop on rich task assessment last year where we broke down the rubric-writing process, I also became much more comfortable creating good rubrics - ones with solid spectra for assessing specific success criteria. 

Now, most of my gradebook is levels, with unit tests being the only numerical evaluation I record. I've seen how feedback can have a greater impact on success than grades. But I'm starting to wonder about taking things one step further...



Going Gradeless?

Last week, I tried something new - I returned a worksheet to my grade 12 math class with no grade, and no level written at the top. There was lots of feedback though - from checkmarks and happy faces to encouragement to try again or ideas of how to rethink their approach to problem solving. I recorded a level for myself, but wrote nothing at the top of the page for the students.

Would the students notice? Many of them are very concerned over their grades... would the students demand a mark? It turns out very few of them did. A couple of them asked "what they got" on the assignment, which then turned into a conversation about how they did based on the feedback embedded in the worksheet. It was actually a nice way to place the emphasis back on the feedback.

I'm feeling good about starting to go gradeless. But can I give up grades & levels completely?

I've been talking with Jonathan So (@MrSoclassroom) on how he ditched grades, meets curriculum expectations with his students, and how his students self-grade. I think it's fascinating how well he works with his students to develop not only success criteria, but also their ability to assess themselves. If his students can do all this in grade 6, surely mine can do the same in grade 9 or grade 12, right?

Along the same lines, at OAME this year, I heard about about one school that gives entire classes "I" ("insufficient") on the midterm report card, so as to not give false hope (some students stopped working figuring they could coast to the end of the year) or to dash hopes (by having students feel that there is no use in continuing to try). They are essentially providing a gradeless report card. Could I do that?

Jonathan suggested that I check out Starr Sackstein's book: Hacking Assessment. She was able to go gradeless with an AP class - I'm looking forward to reading about how she did it, and continuing my own exploration on feedback over grades.

17 comments:

  1. Great post! I have not been writing levels on student work for a while now. Just the feedback. If they correct their test using my feedback, then they can see their level. But only once they've made use of the feedback & demonstrated that they've learned from it.

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    1. Thanks, Laura! I can't believe the idea to not write levels on student work didn't occur to me sooner. I love the idea of extending it to tests, too. Thank you for sharing what you do!

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  2. I knew you could do it. Trust me your kids will be so much more engaged with the assessment component of learning. They actually will see how their mark is associated with the feedback. Also, I think we have to define the difference between a mark and evaluation. Just because I (or you in this case) am not giving marks doesn't mean the students are not evaluated or no where they are or how they are doing. In fact they know more.

    Keep it up.

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    1. Baby steps, right? :) I think you've touched upon a key component of the whole assessment/evaluation process in that you don't have to see a mark/level in order for evaluation to happen. I'm loving this whole discovery process... thanks for helping me get started!

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  3. Woohoo! Love it. Plan to move further into the TTOG movement too :)

    I went to all quizzes only getting feedback (but my grade 9s get learning goal levels circled) so that it would be a lower stress experience for them. The first one they don't believe me that there is no mark, but they grow to LOVE it. So much excitement for what is next!

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    1. That's so awesome! I'm the opposite... I still give numerical marks on quizzes (it's been harder to give up each question having a value!), but I'm getting there! Pretty much everything else has progressed to a level. I struggle with the idea of tracking the learning if I go completely gradeless... I think that will be my next big step. Thank you for sharing what you do!

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    2. That has been part of my battle too. But when you are still doing both it creates more work. I think if we make the switch the whole way it will feel less onerous. But as a place to start thinking of the transition I found reading Myron Dueck's Grading Smarter Not Harder to be very helpful. This is the kind of thing I am working on for changing quizzes/tests. Reorganizing them and ditching categories was a great start for me (inspired by his book).

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    3. oooooooo! Another book to add to the summer reading list :) Thanks!

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  5. Sorry for the double post - wanted to post using a link to my live blog (not the old one).

    I LOVE idea, and recently read Hacking Assessment. Some really good ideas in there, and even how to handle typical comments and criticisms. I can't wait to go this route if/when I get my own classroom.

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    1. I can't wait to read Hacking Assessment - I feel like it's something I'm ready to dive into. It's been a gradual process, though! Are universities adamant that numerical grades be used? Or can you use levels when evaluating student work?

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    2. There is no question in my mind that students will learn deeper when grades are not a whip, but rather feedback if more learning needs to happen in order to integrate an understanding in another way. Looking now for a copy of the book Hacking Assessment. I have never been this excited about an idea going into June :) Thanks to all for the inspiration

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    3. Blogger needs a like button! Raymond are you on Twitter?

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  6. Amazing raw and honest! Love it! Changing pedagogy is cognitively taxing and takes time to figure out/adjust/reflect.... Frost said " Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."
    .... Here's to shifts- can't wait to hear more!

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    1. Thanks, Ruthie! My #oneword goal this year was "reflection," so I've been trying hard to take the time to reflect on my journey. This has definitely been one of my biggest changes in mindset, and I'm loving the learning process!

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    2. Thanks for sharing the good reads. I have been slowly moving away from grades to emphasize to students that their goal is to meet learning goals - all formative assessments are given feedback that addresses whether or not they are meeting them - no grades or levels. I use comments like "got it" or "not quite there yet" to help them gauge where they are at. I still grade summative assessments because our system still requires grades.

      I have seen in my own classroom a change in mindset - students have a better understanding that they need to complete tasks to help them see where they are at in their learning goal, not to accumulate marks. While I still get the occasional crumbled up paper after a task is returned, I also see a lot more students reattempting a question on the spot to come and show me that they get it now. Also, students want to submit work to see how they are doing. It seems to be less intimidating to submit when they are not going to be judged.

      I would like to focus more on self-assessment. One subtle thing I do is have students submit their work in coloured folders - green, yellow, red - based on whether or not they think they got it. This gives me the opportunity to get to those student who place their work in the red "not yet") folder immediately to get them back on track.

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    3. Rina, thanks for sharing. Interesting idea (the folders). :)

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