Friday, August 10, 2012


I could sum up my grading practices in five words: I have to submit them.

Once I wrote on a syllabus:
Grades come with assumptions that can undermine the creation of a community learners. These include the beliefs that 
  • teachers decide the value of student work, 
  • grades are objective assessments of student performance, 
  • grades are indicators of student potential. 
There are practices around grading that foster negativity, such as when grades are used as a way to control behavior, show who’s boss, punish a student or class.  
There are negative effects of grading: a student can work for a grade and  never engage emotionally or cognitively with the subject, never learn to work persistently at understanding and/or creating knowledge for him/herself, never learn how to be genuinely curious or how to seek to know.   
Ultimately, there are subtle beliefs that can evolve and become deeply rooted. I get Cs so I must not be as good as a person who gets Bs.  
In short, I think grades can be impediments to student ownership of the process and products of their own learning. That’s on a good day. All too often, though, grades & grading seem to have the same effect as the Dementors of Azkiban.  
In the literacies and technologies class that just ended, grading is absolutely counterproductive to the atmosphere of experimentation I want students to experience.

Several years ago, students in my classes began to indicate that they had no memory of schooling without high-stakes testing. I know because I asked; I ask every semester. By now, every hand is raised.

I began asking after I noticed something different in the feel of classes. Students were increasingly cautious. They needed to know exactly what they were supposed to do to the point of not attempting to independently interpret the assignments. Anxiety about grades was sometimes almost palpable. Increasingly I find that students are quite skilled at masking their feelings about classes. How successful the American public schools have become at churning out obedient young automatons adults!

In the literacies class, I ask students to set goals for learning at the start of each week and to assess their progress toward those goals at week's end. This takes place on a Google Doc shared by the student and myself. I believe-- I hope-- that this might spark or affirm a subtle shift in attitudes about who is responsible for learning in the class. At the end of the semester, the students evaluate their work and assign it a grade. Nine times out of ten, the student and I are in complete agreement.

What matters to me is that students begin to work, learn, and think for themselves.

I think that happened in the course that just ended. Which is probably why I forgot to do grades yesterday. But I remembered today.

I submitted grades because I had to.

Image:"Bill Gates Talks 'Free Education'" by Libby Levy/opensource, used via Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 2.0

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