Monday, July 4, 2016

Throwing Out Grades

A couple of years ago I started researching the idea of totally getting rid of grades. The only way I could think about doing that was to somehow give every student an "A" in my classes. I started searching online for anyone who had done it. I didn't find anyone.

However, I did find an article from Mark Barnes' blog that talked about the same idea. Here is a link to that article:

Why All Students Should Get Straight A's

That article inspired me to try out giving every student an "A" in my classes. So, I did it. It was the end of a semester and most of classes, so I went in and manually gave every student an "A." I waited to see what would happen. I was afraid I would get emails from parents, that students would come in and complain, or that the administration in my building would come in and talk with me about it. However, an amazing thing happened: nothing. No one said anything. No one!

So, I decided to take the next step. I started to talk with my new students about what I wanted to do. We talked about what grades actually mean. I found out from our conversations that they really don't know anything about grades (in general). They know they get grades, and some even figure out how to get a better grade, but most students have not been trained in grades, so they don't know how they work.

One thing I was able to point out to them is that their ideas of what grades actually mean are totally different from one person to another. When you see an "A" on a report card one person will have an idea of what that means, and another person will have a totally different idea. That is why grades are meaningless, because they don't mean the same thing from one person to another.

Also, I didn't want my students worrying about their grades, even if the grade didn't come until the last of the quarter. I figured that the high-achieving students would still worry about the grade even if I told them not to worry about it. So, I decided to take the issue of grades "off the table." I told them I would give all of them an "A" no matter what. Guaranteed. When I asked my students what I was going to ask in return most of them said "we have to work" or "we have to complete the assignments." Wow, what training we have done on our students. I told them that yes, I did want them to complete their assignments, but more important I wanted them to learn. (I have to remind them of this every few weeks of course).

Here is the amazing thing that happened: My students worked more than any other year in the past! I started recording down the assignments they had completed. If they couldn't pass the exams I had them take, I had them go back and learn the material again and they could re-take the exam again. They could do this again and again until they could pass the exams they were given.

This was amazing to me. I told my students at one point that generally teachers think that generally students are lazy and won't do any assignment unless it is on their grade. I tell my students that they (the students) don't help out with this point of view. I tell them that any time they ask "Is this going to be graded," they (the students) are perpetuating this myth with teachers.

One of the thing I tell my students to try and motivate them is that they need to help me to prove to other teachers that they (the teachers) are wrong about how "lazy" students are. I tell them that if none of them (the students) does any work, that will just prove to the other teachers that they myth that students are lazy is actually true.

The amazing thing is that the majority of my students end up working really hard on their assignments and learning a lot of the skills I want them to learn in my class. There are of course some students that will not do any work at all. Each semester I usually will have at least one or two students that will only do a few assignments. I had to start to think of what to do with these students when they weren't working (I will take some time in a different post to talk more about this).

I have been doing this for a few years now. Each year, semester, and quarter that I get new students I take part of the first day to talk with my students about grading and how they don't need to have a grade to "motivate" them to learn. I try to incorporate them into my plan to prove to teachers that students don't need grades in order to learn.

Students also started talking to other teachers about it as well. The students told these other teachers that they were doing a lot more work in my class than any other class they were taking.

I eventually did tell my principal what I was doing, and he was extremely supportive. I was relieved. This summer I want to start to draft a letter to parents to let them know what is going on. Of course some students have spoken with their parents already about this. I haven't received one phone call or email from a parent about this at all. I did have a few parents at Parent/Teacher Conferences tell me that they were happy with what I was doing.

I will say that this experience has been very liberating and I love helping my students learn without worrying about their grades. I am hoping to start to allow students to prove their knowledge of the skills required in my class in different ways besides the assignment I have created.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Third parties may be placing and reading cookies on your browser, or using web beacons to collect information as a result of ad serving on this website.