Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grading: An Omnibus

I've created this post as an "omnibus" of links to different items of interest that explain the grading system I use, along with helpful links for anyone who is thinking about grading alternatives in their classes (see links below). Meanwhile, I explain my own system of (not) grading here in this guest post for Starr Sackstein's blog: (Un)Grading: It Can Be Done in College.

Starr Sackstein is the author of Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, which is a FANTASTIC book about alternatives to traditional grading. I highly recommend it! I read the Kindle version from Amazon.


You can see other posts related to the topic of grading at this blog by using this link: Grading. The students learn about the Declarations and the grading system in their very first assignment for class: Designing the Course: It's Your Choice. I've also blogged extensively about grading in my Canvas Community blog: Grading and Ungrading.

And here's the most important information:

WHAT STUDENTS SAY: This is a collection of comments about grading from the students' end-of-semester course evaluations. And while you're at it, check out what the students say about creativity too. A big part of ungrading for me is unleashing student creativity! :-)


Below is a list of articles I've bookmarked on grading/ungrading, and you can find more resources by following the #TTOG hashtag at Twitter: Teachers Throwing Out Grades.

Why I Don't Grade, by Jesse Stommel. This beautiful piece is a great way to start re-thinking assumptions about grading, showing what damage grades can do and how they get in the way of real learning.

Ungrading, by Susan D. Blum (in Inside Higher Ed). Formal education has led to a lack of learning in a number of ways, argues Susan D. Blum, and the one change that can make a big difference is getting rid of grades.
This is a detailed article which identifies the wide range of problems caused by grading, and the ways in which you can solve these problems by going gradeless.

IHE's John Warner interviews Susan Blum: I Love Learning; I Hate School 
The third [wish] is that there would be no grades. In that way, the measure of success would have to come from elsewhere--from application, satisfaction, from how well the learning actually works. As another of my touchstones, Frank Smith, says in his wonderful The Book of Learning and Forgetting, most learning--aside from in school--is continuous, effortless, independent of rewards and punishments, and never forgotten. It is only in schools that learning becomes so difficult, dependent on rewards and punishments, and easily forgotten.

And also from John Warner about his own teaching: When Students Say Grades "Matter," Give Them a Choice (and check out his other blog posts in his ongoing experiment with contract grading)

Paul Thomas: Not How to Enjoy Grading But Why to Stop Grading (Thomas is a co-editor of De-testing and de-grading schools: Authentic alternatives to accountability and standardization; see the blog post for more about that book)

Mind/Shift's Katrina Schwartz: How Can Students Be Successful in a High Stakes World?  
No grades: Commenting on a piece of work forces students to internalize changes rather than focusing on exclusively on the grade. 

David Nagel: Ditch Grades Now, Focus on Student Learning
(report on a SXSWedu conference organized by Mark Banes)

Mark Oppenheimer: There’s nothing wrong with grade inflation. Grades don't matter anyway. Here's why.
Overall, graded students are less interested in the topic at hand and — and, for obvious, common-sense reasons — more inclined to pick the easiest possible task when given the chance. 

NPR's Anya Kamenetz talking with Todd Rose: Standards, Grades And Tests Are Wildly Outdated, Argues 'End Of Average'
In higher ed we have a brutally standardized system. It doesn't matter what your interests are, what job you want, everyone takes the same courses in roughly the same time and at the end of the course you get ranked.

Jeffrey Young (Chronicle): These Videos Could Change How You Think About Teaching.
Profile of Michael Wesch, including his "not yet" grading; you'll also find his great video, here, "The Sleeper."

Justin Tarte: 10 Signs There's a Grading Problem in Your Classroom. I learned about this one via #OklaEd chat! :-)

No Grading, More Learning. An article in IHE about Cathy Davidson: Her plan? Turn over grading to the students in the course, and get out of the grading business herself. Now that the course is finished, Davidson is giving an A+ to the concept. "It was spectacular, far exceeding my expectations," she said. "It would take a lot to get me back to a conventional form of grading ever again."

John Spencer: What Happens to Student Engagement When You Take Away Grades?
Kids aren't concerned about compliance in a non-graded classroom. Don't get me wrong. There are deadlines. There are creative limitations. There are routines. I believe that limitations can be a part of what makes creativity thrive. However, when grades are gone, students are less likely to worry if they are doing things the "right" way.

And Twitter may give us only 140 characters, Christopher Moore is able to sum it all up in a single tweet: feedback is everything, grades only reveal our anxieties over the system of assessment turning against us.

Lee Skallerup Bessette: Assessment as Care, Assessment of Care. Lee's post offers a beautiful defense of assessment-as-conversation, something the vocabulary of ABCDF obviously does not support very well: Grading and assessment become conversations, instead of two competing monologues. Learning becomes the thing, instead of stand-ins for what learning could superficially look like.

Also, check out this nice article in our student newspaper with remarks from me and from Rob Reynolds (he and I have been trading ideas about grading since we met at OU back in 1999): Test anxiety, grade inflation call traditional grading system into question by Lauren Massing.

This Medium post by Arthur Chiaravalli is extremely useful, including reports on research by Hattie and others:Teachers Going Gradeless. Toward a Future of Growth Not Grades. I especially like the distinction here between gradeless as the decision to "grade less" or, alternatively, to proceed "without grades" entirely.

Great piece by Jennifer Hurley about feedback, writing, and revision... and giving up rubrics: Why I Threw Away My Rubrics: "When we acknowledge our students as individuals, when we read their work with respect and openness, we can let go of the terrible psychic burden of being their judges and “executioners.” I no longer dread reading my students’ work. I am excited to see what they have to say and to see how I can help them. Try a semester without rubrics and grades, and you will never go back."

Check out this great article by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair in The Atlantic: Why Grades Are Not Paramount to Achievement. There's a write-up of her article by Katrina Schwartz at Mind/Shift: Are Grades Diverting Focus From Real Learning?


  1. Thank you for sharing these! I'm going to be editing my Feedback LiveBinder to make sure many of these are included. :) http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=1693716

    1. I'm glad it was helpful. I try to remember to add new items as I see them! :-)

  2. I just asked this on twitter, but do you have examples of how to write the student Declarations? I simplified things this term, but want to go further.

  3. The easiest thing is just to take a look at a typical week; here's our class Calendar. For all kinds of reasons, I structure it so every week is the same pattern:
    Class Calendar
    Every activity has a Declaration, and they also have either a blog post or a blog comment that results, so there's a digital trail which keeps the blog network always hopping. :-)


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