Interverbal Fan Fic

I haven’t given midterms in years. Back when I did, though, it was a self-assessed analysis of fluency writes (I no longer do any sort of timed write, either, but that’s another story). Now, aside from the infuriating last-minute “all courses must have a midterm” decision we got hit with coming back from holiday break, I had a major discovery when giving the [ungraded] midterm this year.

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How To Ungrade Gradelessly In Two Steps

I’ve been told that going gradeless and ungrading are different. While that’s certainly possible, I haven’t seen a clear difference so far. That is, between blogs, Facebook groups, books, and the rare research report under either term (plus more), the similarities stand out way more than any notable differences. There’s quite a bit of consensus among even the most discerning of grading systems related to reducing or eliminating grades. Even a few systems that fall under a generic “standards-based” approach have basically the same features as those that fall under the “gradeless/ungraded.” Whatever you want to call these approaches, this post will show you how to get rid of all the points, scores, and assignment grades while keeping the focus on learning. There are two basic steps:

  1. Have students put all their classwork, assignments, and assessments into a portfolio.
  2. Students self-grade, citing evidence from the portfolio.
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Grades: Going, Going, Gone!

Here’s a quick report having gone nearly 100% gradeless. I say nearly because at my school, the halfway point of the quarter (i.e., progress reports) requires a grade. So, as of right now there’s a course grade that shows up. This practice isn’t quite in line with a true ungrading approach that would have a grade only at the very end of the grading period. I’m nearly there, and have a feeling this is as far as I’ll go, too. But that’s not a problem. There’s already been a big difference in the most important areas, and I expect things to get even better.

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The More You Hold Onto, The Harder The Shift

For this post, I had my favorite education topics in mind: grading and second language teaching. Just like the language teacher shifting focus to comprehension and maybe communicative purpose (and away from grammar, drills, paired speaking activities without purpose, etc.), any teacher shifting focus to learning (and away from grades) must change at least some of their practices for a successful and smooth rollout. How much change and what kind? The title says it all, but let’s take a closer look…

Principles & Assumptions
Key to shifting practice is adhering to certain principles and letting go of some assumptions. Otherwise, there’s not much of a shift at all. In fact, the more a teacher holds onto their old principles & assumptions, the harder it will be to make any kind of move. For a few years now, I’ve been recommending overhauling a few key practices so that new ones run smoothly. This is against common advice to just try something new little-by-little, I know. However, while that sounds appealing, in my experience the results are almost never what anyone wants. Consider the language teacher who adds tiered texts and embedded readings, yet holds onto measuring how well students identify verb endings. Sure, more-comprehensible texts is a step in a different (and dare I say “better”—gasp!) direction, but those grammar tests & quizzes under old principles will hinder the new practice.

It’s the same with grading.

If a teacher wants to try something new but holds onto aspects of their old system, there’s likely a conflict of principles, even if the teacher wasn’t aware of the old principles (which most often the case because no one really teaches teachers anything about grading). For example, attempting to teach for “mastery” while setting the gradebook to average scores creates a problem: the student who eventually masters content still has their previous, lower scores in the mix. That doesn’t make sense. While on the one hand, it’s appealing for the teacher to shift their thinking in terms of having standards to master, on the other hand the shift won’t fully be realized without adhering to the principles that make the shift actually work. In this example, the teacher would have to truly evaluate student work to make sure the most-recent learning evidence does show mastery, and have the grade reflect that. The computer can’t do that. Sure, it can automatically update the grade with a standard’s most-recent score, but that’s not the same. The computer doesn’t know whether the student had a bad day, or whether a really high score was a fluke. That’s why teachers need to collect multiple pieces of learning evidence and really know their students.

Of course, that’s if you bother with grades and points in the first place!!!!

From what I’ve seen and read in the literature, ungrading is where everything’s headed. We’ll have to wait until SBG is the dominant paradigm first, though, but I do predict more educators will recognize the ineffectiveness of and harm that grades do, just like what will eventually happen with grammar and language teaching.

So, what’s something you’re holding onto that’s preventing a smooth shift to something new?

2022-23 Grading: Process & Growth

**Updated 12.4.22** with new single-point rubrics
I began writing this post even before publishing last spring’s grading update, knowing full well that the year’s experience would result in some tweaks. At the time, I wrote how my system was “90% of the way towards equitable, time-saving grading that shifts focus to learning.” I’d say my latest updates have brought me up to a solid 97%. For example, the variety of standards and evidence I was collecting was good, but I found that I didn’t need separate standards introduced at different times. Thus, we’re back to something more straightforward: Process & Growth, every quarter, completely self-assessed & graded by students, plus the following details:

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