Monday, September 15, 2014

Grading without Fear

I've updated all my (un)grading materials here in much more detail: (Un)Grading - An Omnibus. That's the post you want to read. :-)

I've been thinking about the wonderful post by Mark Barnes, My Throw Out Grades Challenge Video, along with all the great posts at Joe Bower's blog about abolishing grading. I would also recommend this post by John Spencer: What happens to student engagement when you take away grades? While I cannot abolish grades in my classes, I have managed to reduce my role in grading to zero, and it's something I consider crucial for the success of my classes.
A sad update: Requiescat in pace Joe Bower.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION. My school uses an A-B-C-D-F grading system, no pluses and minuses (thank goodness). Within that institutional constraint, I have created a points-based grading scheme, and the students record their own points in the Gradebook using Declarations: they complete checklists in the form of a true-false quiz for each assignment, and those points are automatically recorded. The students thus keep track of their own work, and the result is the grade they have earned based on their total points at the end of the semester. I do set the grading scale and, yes, it is arbitrary, like all grading scales are. Aside from that, though, I do no actual grading for the course. All my time is spent giving feedback (not grades) on their projects every week.

DETAILS. The best way to see how this works in detail is just to read what I explain to the students. I love being able to tell the students right from the start: the grade has nothing to do with me — but we have other important work to do together: Choosing Your Schedule and Your Grade. I also provide an explanation of my philosophy of grading for students who want to know why I take this approach.

HISTORY. I always used this points-based grading system, but I did not invent the Declarations until a momentous day in 2004. That was a game-changer for me. Before that, I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time recording the points in the Gradebook, and the students were sometimes frustrated that there would be a delay (sometimes even several days) between doing the work and seeing the points in the Gradebook. But then I realized I could hack a true-false quiz in order to let the students do that for themselves so they could see the points immediately, while also giving them much more responsibility for checking their own work. Better for them AND better for me! I'm pleased to say that there are other faculty at my school who have adopted this same "Declaration" system, and I am always happy when a student remarks in a blog post that they did Declarations in some other class they have taken.

GOALS. I have far too many goals here to list; the most important goals would be:
  • Remove Myself. My main goal is to remove myself from the grading equation so that I can focus all my effort on providing personalized feedback (which I provide in abundance).
  • Remove Stress. This is meant to be a completely stress-free grading system.
  • Make It Flexible. Students can choose to get an A in the class, or a B, or a C; it's up to them.
  • Make Students Responsible. The students are responsible for checking their own work with the text of the Declarations prompting them to check carefully.
  • Be Clear. At any moment in the semester, students can see exactly where they stand.
  • Be Objective about Grading. There is nothing subjective about any of the grading; it's a completely objective system (aside from the subjectiveness of the A-B-C-D-F scale itself). At the same time, there are no learning objectives; there are only learning "subjectives" (thanks to #Rhizo15 for this great term) meaning that this system allows the students to pursue their own learning paths and to set their own goals.

Without curiosity, there is no wisdom.
(Polish: Bez ciekawości nie ma mądrości.)

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