I know there are plenty of teachers out there who feel like they’re drowning in grading, searching the web on the weekends for a life raft that will save them time or at least help them keep their head above water.
Sorry, but giving up grading is not your solution.
Giving up grading has a lot of benefits, but saving time is not one of them. I still have to devote a solid 2-3 hours every night to looking over student work and between 6-8 hours on the weekend, BUT at least I feel like my time is being spent more wisely.
Here are my reasons why giving up grading is worth it
1. Kids I have never heard before are speaking to me.
I had all of my juniors as sophomores. And I made it a point to come around and talk to them every week on writing day and during workshop time, and STILL there were two monosyllabic students who avoided eye contact and insisted everything was great and fine with no questions. I never pushed them, because their written work was great and fine!
This past week, I had 7-10 minutes conferences with each student. Those two boys said more to me in that conference than they had in the entirety of last year. They told me about their writing process, what they liked in their pieces, what they wanted to improve on, and their goals for the next month. As I listened, I marveled at how articulate they had suddenly become.
This thinking could have taken place in a written reflection, but I felt a greater connection with these two by hearing it with their voices, and grading conferences gave me the place to do it.
2. I am challenged.
Without grades, I can no longer rely on numbers to speak for me.
And it’s hard.
But it’s wonderful.
Before going gradeless, I always had the intentions of giving specific and productive feedback to every student. However, I admit, when I had 120 constructed responses waiting for me, it was easy to slap a 10/10 on the ones who did well and give a brief comment of praise and move on to the ones who were struggling.
I find myself working to include academic vocabulary in my comments and to articulate which decisions they made as writers to contribute to their success. Like I said, this was always my goal anyway, but without numbers, I have nothing else to fall back on.
3. Students can no longer play the points game.
In the past, I have seen students calculate how little they can work to pass with a 60%. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen students calculate how little work they can work to receive an A with a 92%. Students who still have a 94% are less likely to revise.
It’s sad, but true. And now it’s no longer a problem.
I often give formative assessments, ones that I want the kids to see as practice, where I want them to take risks and explore, but in the past, as much as I explained the purpose, I could still see their shoulders shrink a little if I announced it wasn’t for a grade. In my mind, practice was valuable for the final product. In their mind, fewer points meant a less valuable task.
While some may argue this can be changed by shifting the environment in my classroom, I contend that going gradeless is a distinct way to shift that environment. Without grades, everything we do is valuable because of the learning, not the point value. There is no weighing one aspect of the class more than the other, whether intentionally or not. It all matters because it is all learning.
For the last several years I have asked kids to keep track of how many pages they read every week, but I never gave points for it, for many reasons (another blog post for another time). Surprisingly, kids who never had their reading log impact their grade are factoring it in when evaluating themselves.
I never put points on reading before, and some treated it as less important than work that earned them points. Now I put no points on it, but it’s seen as equal with all the other work we do.
They know reading matters, and they know when they aren’t doing enough of it.
4. I can no longer play the points game.
I can create learning experiences for students because we need them instead of creating assignments to get in more points before the quarter ends. Parents, students, and other teachers all look online for students’ grades to see what’s been happening in the classroom. And I know there sometimes exists an erroneous assumption that without a lot of grades, there’s not a lot of anything going on in that classroom.
In my AP class, which I still run with traditional grades (for now), I found myself looking in the gradebook and thinking, “Yeesh, midterms are coming up. I better get some more points in!”
Ugh! I hated myself for thinking it, but I knew without more assignments in the gradebook, people would begin to wonder if AP was being treated with enough rigor.
Grades do not equal rigor!
Those kids have been dealing with the most difficult material and tasks, but I haven’t felt like they’re ready for summative assessments yet. This deep learning takes time, but because of a bare gradebook, I felt pressure to create more assignments for grades.
In my classes without grades, that pressure is removed. Gone. Vanished and banished back to the Hall of Horrible Stereotypes where it belongs. If someone wants to know what has been going on in my room, they now have a full page document for each student detailing our conversations, feedback given, and revisions made.
5. Some writing is beyond points.
So far this year, I’ve had a student write about a stillborn sibling she never got to meet and the conversation she hopes to have with him in heaven.
I’ve had a student write about the last time he held his grandmother’s hand before she died.
I’ve had a student write about her father walking out of both her house and her heart. Again.
Still another, for the first time, wrote about dealing with the tragedy for her sister accidentally being shot and killed in her home.
How can I possibly put a score on that?
That was beautiful and heart-wrenching and brave and honest, but shucks, the rubric has a section for mechanics and there were a few too many run-ons. 98/100
No! Students no longer see a grade first; they see my personal reaction to their human experiences followed by my articulation of the writing techniques I saw that made it successful. Then I can end by mentioning there are some areas I’d like to help them polish and encourage them to submit it for publication, present it to a loved one, or print it out and treasure it forever.
But it’s such a relief to no longer attempt to capture the value of those pieces with a two digit score.
So, while giving up grades won’t save you much time, the time spent is more valuable.