Giving Up Grading: And Giving Up Teacher Guilt

When students complete a writing assignment, I actually get excited to read them. We’ve spent weeks with mini-lessons and reviews. We’ve devoted days and days to writing. I’ve given reminders and we’ve peer-edited. All my teacher boxes can be checked off because I nailed that unit.

And then I start to evaluate their work.

Enter the Teacher Guilt.

This is the stage that inevitably sets in when I come across piece after piece with poor results. Sometimes multiple students have the same issues; sometimes multiple students have multiple issues. And no matter how many formative assessments and conversations I had with them, I end up hanging my head in my hands and wondering what else I possibly could have done during the unit to yield better results.

Of course I’m being a little dramatic. Often after all this work many students have incredible success. But it’s my nature to focus on the ones who haven’t. And it’s easy to blame the failures on them (this is one of the stages of Teacher Guilt). But this is my classroom. I want all my kids to succeed. Until they do, I look at myself and my practices to see what needs to be done better next time. In the meantime, I deal with my Teacher Guilt of feeling like I failed them.

But then I stopped grading and started doing grade conferences. And my guilt faded.

Before: I sat down at home, alone, with a huge stack of papers and graded one after another after another. I compared Student A to Student B to Student C.

Now: I open a doc with notes about every writing assignment Student A has done. When I read his/her work, I am only comparing it to past work of this same student. I can assess growth much easier.

Before: I wanted to scream at student X, whom I perceived as not listening to any of the lessons I taught.

Now: I sit next to a person. I narrate my thoughts as I read. Many of my students make changes immediately. They are eager to revise and correct a mistake. It’s not that they weren’t listening. They made an honest mistake or were honestly confused. Either way, I don’t get as frustrated with them when I’m talking face to face.  And they get to see how excited I am when I praise.

Before: I felt like I’d missed my chance to teach them. I’d failed in all my efforts, and it was too late to do anything about it.

Now: The conference is one more chance to teach. My efforts get to keep moving forward. I can try one more new approach. It’s not too late.

And if this is how much my shame is relieved without a grade, how much is relieved for my students?

The conference is one more chance to learn. Their efforts get to keep moving forward. They can try one more new approach. It’s not too late.


AP Lang: Should Authors Write Outside of Their Race and Culture?

About a year ago I started expanding my Twitterverse by following not only English teachers, but authors and literary agents, as well. The knowledge I’ve gained about the world behind the books has been invaluable.  Beginning in the summer, I saw more and more Tweets and articles about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry. Over the last six months, I’ve been collecting various sources to present to my seniors in AP Language and Composition to have them stake a position in this debate: Should authors write outside of their race and culture?

We are just beginning to look at the synthesis prompt in class, so rather than practicing this as an in-class essay, I will give this assignment to be completed outside of class over a week’s time. I’m especially excited to hear their thoughts in class discussion.

Here is the document with the prompt and sources.

In response to the final source, NYT‘s piece on sensitivity readers, Dhonielle Clayton has expanded her comments on sensitivity readers here. The article offers a lot points for further discussion.

I can’t wait to see them challenge each other’s thinking! If you use the prompt with your students, I’d love to hear about the results!

What kind of synthesis practice do you ask your students to do?


Giving Up Grading: Surprise Conferences

At the end of the first quarter, I met with each of my students and did a grade conference. Most students had continued on the same trajectory they set from the beginning of the year, perhaps fluctuating slightly higher or slightly lower. There were, however, some surprises.

Students who had the wake up call

In this post, I mentioned two students who were completely off the mark in evaluating their performance. At the first conference, they both felt they had earned a much higher grade than I saw evidence for.

One of these students has since flourished. She participates in class, has turned in every assignment on time, and has revised more than she did prior to the first conference. When we met again, we both agreed her grade should be increased, and I could see the pride in her eyes when she heard my observations of the changes she had made.

I wish the other student’s tale had that same happy ending. Unfortunately, his performance has gotten worse. No revisions were made, an assignment was missing, and he required several reminders to stay on task. However, the conference was still valuable and productive. I heard his perspective and I shared mine. He said he would feel more motivated with grades, and I agreed to score his assignments individually even while the rest of the class stays gradeless. We also came up with a plan together of how to change his classroom experience moving forward.

And yes, this kind of conference could have happened last year. I could have pulled him up to my desk while everyone else was working and expressed my concerns and worked toward a solution with him.

But this was different.

I wasn’t pulling him up because I’d reached a breaking point with him or as a reaction to a behavior that day. It was scheduled. Three other (successful, on-task, and motivated) students had just done the same thing. This conference was not singling him out because of his poor performance. This conference was an expectation in the classroom, an expectation that allowed both of us to lower our defenses and work together to solve a problem.

(I’ll report back later if the solution is successful. Fingers crossed.)

Students who woke me up

I had another pair of students whose conferences this quarter came with a surprise in grades. I had both of these students last year, and they have both struggled to manage their time, turn assignments in, and write coherently. At the first conference, I was discouraged because they were the only two juniors who really seemed to be floundering. My only solace was that I knew they had floundered last year in the traditional classroom, as well, so I did not feel as if I was making it worse.

Still, my goal was to make learning better for my students.

At the first conference we talked about time management skills (making lists, setting personal deadlines, etc) and I checked in with them more frequently after that than I did some of my other students.

The night before their conferences came, I saw many missing assignments when I went to prepare. I sighed and moved on to the other students, wondering what else I could say the next day that might make a difference for them.

By the time third period rolled around and I met with the girl, I was surprised to see my inbox. Classroom had sent me several notifications in the wee hours of the morning informing me of several assignments being complete. She might have stayed up until 3am to do it, but she did complete it all. We both laughed that the next goal was to complete the work during daylight, but we were both giddy with her accomplishment of actually doing all the work!

Even more surprising, was the boy. It turns out he did, in fact, have all of the work done; he simply needed help attaching it to the right assignments in Google classroom! I was stunned! This was the first time in 5 grading periods with this student he ever had more than 2/3 of the work completed! And it was 100% complete!

I hope these students continue to make progress with their time management skills, and can apply them to their future. This is a real skill needed in the real world!

I’m curious to learn more strategies to help students manage their own time and prioritize work. What strategies do you use personally? What strategies have you taught your students?

Unprepared Students

The challenge of preparing students for the next step in life after high school seems to be growing with every year. I recently asked some of my former students via social media to share an area they felt unprepared for. My respondents were all in their first or second year of college.

Their number one answer was APA format. A quick fix. Their number two answer? A much more difficult problem to solve.

Many students said they felt unprepared for the amount of work required of them in college.

In comes my quandary. If not being prepared for so much work is the problem, the solution seems to, logically, be to give them more work now. But I have several problems with this.

  1. High school is meant to prepare kids for the next step, but it is not meant to be the next step. So where is the line?
  2. More and more of my pedagogy has been steering away from giving homework and finding ways to use class time more effectively. Giving more homework seems like a step backwards
  3. I do not believe that the only way to make a class more challenging is by creating more stress by increasing the number of tasks to be completed. Classes can assign a great deal of busy work that requires little critical thinking; on the other hand, a class can give few assignments that require a great deal of problem-solving.
  4. Most of my students cannot handle more stress. Student mental health has been an increasing problem in the last two years, and while I want to prepare them, I don’t want it to come at the cost of their sanity. Or their life.

So where does this leave me? I hope it leaves me with a happy medium. In addition to going gradeless in most of my classes, I have also been experimenting with more independent learning. Rather than spending so much of my planning time creating worksheets and handouts for us to do as a class, I’ve been finding ways to increase the amount students read and write on their own.

My juniors (an IVY Tech 111) class has been operating in an entirely new way this year. After our quick write together, students fill in a task log of their plan for the day and then are released to manage their own time.

All of our assignments and standards are posted on Google classroom for the quarter. Students can work on assignments in any order for as long as needed. Or they can start one assignment, let it rest for a few days, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Or they’re at the climax of the book they’re reading and take the period to stay immersed. They get to decide.

As each assignment is finished, they hit “turn-in” or tag me in it so I can give feedback and they can revise. I spend my period answering student questions or checking in on progress.

My hope is that while the amount of work is comparable to what we would accomplish in a traditional setting, the time management and prioritizing skills necessary for this classroom system will be the best preparation for the world of college and beyond.


Giving Up Grading: The Conference

It took over a week, but I finally finished my first round of conferences with my students!

With only 45 minute periods, I could only fit in 4 conferences per class. Wednesdays have an alternate schedule with a late start for teacher PD; as a result, I only felt comfortable scheduling 3 conferences that day.

I used Rebekah O’Dell’s “So I Quit Grading…” series and Catlin Tucker’s “Grade Interviews” to help me shape my own conferences.

Sign Ups
On Google Classroom, I created an assignment and attached a spreadsheet with times that students are able to edit. They were responsible for picking a day and time that worked with their schedule.

Conference Sign Up

Students are not allowed to change times in the 24 hours prior to their conference. If they are absent, they must be prepared to have their conference on the first day they return to school, and they need to pick a time outside of class to make it up.

Student Preparation
I experimented with different student preparation strategies in different classes. My 10th graders filled out a reflection answering 3 questions:

  1. What grade do you feel you deserve in the class? Give three reasons to support your answer.
  2. What is a goal you could set for yourself to work on during the next month in class?
  3. How is your independent reading going so far?

My 11th graders, on the other hand, had a much more involved process. They were given a hyperdoc to fill out. In this document, our target standards are listed out on the left, and their evidence of mastering that standard goes on the right. For the first three standards, I asked students to create hyperlinks to entire documents. For others, students could copy and paste excerpts from their writing.

This document served a few purposes. First, I wanted students to be able to identify the skills they were working on for each assignment. Second, I wanted to have one place we could both go to during their conference for quick and easy access to everything they’d accomplished so far.

Teacher Preparation
The night before a conference, I opened up that student’s Feedback Form (the running document of all our interactions and their progress that is linked to the gradebook) and every assignment on Google Classroom.

I checked to make sure I’d already given feedback for everything turned in and looked for any new revisions made. Then I updated the feedback form as necessary.

This was, honestly, probably the most difficult part. And also the most helpful.

Having students’ progress and work fresh in my mind made the conferences run much  more smoothly. In the rare instance I wasn’t able to do this preparation the night before, I felt like I was floundering in the conference. However, it was also the most difficult, because while it didn’t take very long to catch up on one student, I had four conferences in a class period, and with five different classes having conferences, that was 20 different students, each with 4-5 assignments of lengths varying from 1-7 pages.

I’m not a math teacher, but I know that’s a heckuva lot of reading to do in one night!

The Class Preparation
While meeting with one student for 10 minutes, I also had to ensure the other 27 were engaged and productive. For my juniors, this was not a problem. Every day in that class they are working on their curriculum independently and in charge of managing their time.

For my 10th graders, I flipped some instruction using ScreenCastify and gave them a list of resources on Google Classroom. I also took breaks between conferences to circulate and answer any questions. This worked better than I expected, and I will definitely be using this method in my classes more often.

Without clear expectations and practice with this level of independence prior to conferences, I can’t imagine this process being successful.

The Actual Conference
After the first few days, I found a comfortable rhythm for running the conferences. I began asking students to tell me about their reading (progress, about the book they chose, interests they have, etc). Then I let them talk a bit about the other assignments they worked on, addressing the feedback I had given them along the way.

After they discussed all their work, I asked them what goal they would like to work on for the next month. I found it very helpful to ask the students this question before asking them about their grade, because it gave me insight to where they see their own weaknesses. Goals varied from number of pages read, to reading a new genre, or from managing time in class more efficiently, to exploring a new genre of writing.

And then the moment finally came for me to ask, “Based on everything we’ve just discussed, what grade do you feel you have earned and why?”

In most cases, even with the preparation, students shifted uncomfortably and avoided eye contact, giving a nervous giggle and an “I don’t know…” to which I responded, “Yes you do! Just say it!”

And then after taking a deep breath, they finally did. And you know what? Ninety-five percent of them were within a +/- of what I would have scored them. Some of them were being modest and suggested an A- when they clearly deserved an A. Some were overly ambitious, saying they deserved an A when they still had revisions to be made and needed an A-.

In two cases (both 10th graders), I had students totally miss the mark. They thought they were in the B/B+ range when assignments were missing, done late, or done without their best effort (which they admitted to during the conference). And in those cases, it was very, very difficult for me to have to shake my head and say the reality. But it was also much more constructive than having a letter grade on their papers speak for me. The conferences gave us a chance to identify the problems behind the issues and brainstorm ways to improve them.

I see benefit to both the questions I asked the 10th graders and the document I gave the 11th graders. I will probably do a blend of the two for the next set of conferences. However, many students expressed some confusion about the Hyperdoc. Several students forgot how to create a hyperlink within it. Others only used hyperlinks without any excerpts. Still others merely took their best guess on what went in each row, because they didn’t really understand the wording of the standards.

To fix these problems, I plan to create a Screencastify of myself filling out the document and explaining in more plain terms what the standards mean. I already explained these things in class once, with obviously poor results. Doing the same thing again and wishing for better results doesn’t sound very effective. I’m hoping by having a video they can replay as often as necessary, students will be more comfortable filling it out independently.

Also, because it was so difficult to do my preparation for all the students the night before, I plan to encourage students individually to turn in more work as they finish it, so hopefully I can give more feedback along the way rather than seeing some work for the first time the night before.

Of course, I also asked the students to reflect on the conferences. They all had something positive to say, ranging from being able to talk privately to being given the chance to explain the struggles they had to work through on each assignment. Some also had suggestions, such as me asking what their favorite writing piece was and why.

And others had learning experiences, like the girl who thought she was being modest in her grade and was then surprised (and a little hurt) when I agreed with her self-assessment. However, in this process I want students to grow in their confidence and learn to be advocates for themselves. I’d rather they learn this lesson with me than with a future employer who might ask them how much of a raise they deserve.

I have learned a lot from this experience (and from the students), but the changes I’m seeing in my learners and in myself as a teacher make it worth it!

Giving Up Grading: 5 Teacher Benefits

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.

Giving Up Grading: The First Week’s Results

It took a solid week of answering questions, sharing the vision, and setting expectations, but finally we were able to get to work this past week.

Every day this week (with the exception of our reading day), students entered the room, did a quick write, filled out our class task log with their goal for the day, and worked until the bell rang.

A few students chose to use these days to read. Others worked on a variety of pieces from poetry to article responses,  from short stories to memoirs. All of them worked.

Tomorrow is Back to School Night, a time when parents are invited to follow their child’s schedule and visit each classroom for five minutes before zipping through the halls to the next class. I already sent a letter home explaining the changes to my classroom this year, but I’m anticipating plenty of skeptical parents arriving with an arsenal of questions.

In fact, through the grapevine I heard one mom, upon hearing her son’s excitement about not having grading, responded with, “But if you don’t get grades, how do you know how you’re doing?”

To prepare for their questions, I wanted a shield of data. As part of our first week’s reflection, I asked the students how many pages they had written this week and how many they had read. The results were shocking.

Not too long ago, I used to be a 4×4 teacher, meaning students wrote one major writing piece (2-4 pages) per quarter and read one major novel (300 pages) per quarter. I’m embarrassed now to think how little students accomplished in 9 weeks.

This year, I’ve removed grades and added more choice than ever before. Here’s a look at ONE week:

Reading Results

In one week, half my students read 80 or more pages! How many adults can say this?

Writing Results

In the same week, nearly 40% wrote seven pages or more! A whopping 71% wrote at least four pages! I am thrilled to see this much thinking happening in my room!


While I am excited with these initial results, there’s still plenty of room for me to work. For one, I need to dig into the results even further, because ideally the kid who has read the least has perhaps written the most to balance things out. However, it would be unwise to assume as much.

Similarly, I need to have one-on-one conversation with the kids who aren’t thriving in this environment and help work through any obstacles standing in the way of success.

I asked kids how they can be more productive in class or at least maintain their current level of productivity. By far and away the biggest response was to plan ahead what they would be working on, or to brainstorm writing topics outside of class so they would be ready in class. Now we just need to find some tools to make this a reality.

Read more about my journey in my previous posts:

Giving Up Grading: My First Steps

Giving Up Grading: The Logistics

Giving Up Grading: Student Reactions

Giving Up Grading: Student Reactions

In the true spirit of experiment, not all of my classes are going gradeless…yet. My AP seniors will be assessed traditionally, a control group. My sophomore honors will be gradeless, but follow traditional instruction.

Another experiment for me (and the school) is a blended senior year (with the instruction taught online and work completed out of class). Since I will only see these twelve students once a month, grade conferences are already built into the program.

Then I decided to try this with my junior honors, which is a dual credit 100-level class. I taught all of these students in their sophomore year, and even experimented with no-grades for a unit. This junior class will be structured in a similar, independent manner to the blended year: all work for the entire grading period will be posted on Google classroom, and students will work at their own pace.

Students have access to video tutorials, articles, their peers, and my feedback. All of their assignments involve a great deal of choice, and my goal is for them to fulfill their standards quickly so they have time to read voraciously and write intensely, all in areas of their own interests, without limits.

When I pitched the idea of no-grades to them on the first day of school, reactions were mixed.

One girl in the front row exclaimed, “I love this class already!” Others were less enthusiastic, exchanging nervous glances with their peers and rubbing their jaws after they hit the floor. Another teacher down the hall reported students leaving my room and whispering, “But how is she going to teach us?”

I was asking students to give up a lot of the expectations and structures they’d received in school for the last decade. Decade. Let that sink in a minute.

The first week would be crucial in helping them understand this new vision of learning. After some book speed dating and our reading day, I began the process.

First, students wrote for five minutes in their online notebooks about their feelings toward school and grades as our daily quick write.

Then I set the timer and gave kids 10 minutes to look through everything posted on Google classroom. Most kids felt overwhelmed seeing all of the assignments laid out before them, but after ten minutes, heads started nodding. They were clicking on instructions, reading examples, and getting inspired. “If we started this tomorrow,” I asked, “what would you still need from me in order to be successful?”

After those ten minutes, I let everyone voice their questions. I typed each question on the projector, along with my answer as I gave it. This document was then linked on Google classroom right under the syllabus for future reference.

Most questions were clarification on procedures and expectations. Some were about due dates. One was about how fast I would return their assignments with feedback.

None of them asked about the quality of the feedback.

In the first 45 minute period, we didn’t finish all their questions, so we continued the next day (I’ll swallow my jealousy of everyone reading this with 90 minutes blocks). After everyone felt comfortable with the expectations, each student responded to 3 questions on a Google form:

  1. How do you feel about no grades?
  2. What can I do to help you be successful?
  3. Do you have any other comments?

Honest reflection is one of my favorite forms of PD. For better or for worse, here are some of their thoughts:

“It will be tough not getting a grade for me, but I see the value in that.”
“…the no grades make me so less nervous about getting everything perfect.”
“I’m excited because I think this way I’ll get less bored and tired of English. Last year I felt like I was doing assignments just to do them. But with more freedom, I think I’ll take more time and challenge myself more.” (Remember, I taught all these students last year, so this was hard to read, but it makes me even more confident it was time for a change!)
“I’m a little nervous about the no grades and not really knowing what your grade is in the class. I feel like it will be better once I get used to it, though.”
“The no grades part is what is worrying me at the moment. I’m one of those people who want to know how I’m doing at all times. Also I freak out over little things, so I know it will be OK, but right now it scares me.”
“I am nervous about the no grades. I almost feel like I would get a better grade in the class if you graded it.”
“The no grades is definitely a good idea, I just don’t know how I am going to back up what grade I think I deserve. It will be hard to remember all the assignments, where I struggled etc. Maybe I should make a separate document or comments on my projects where I struggled but then later fixed the problem.” (I loved this idea so much, I’m going to suggest it to all my kids!)
“I like the no grades because I usually just do the assignment get the grade and yay i’m done I don’t revise just because I wanted a good grade and that’s all.” (Isn’t it funny how kids prove their words in their writing?)
“I don’t like the no grade thing.”
“I love getting feedback more than anything. Unless it’s a quick change that I need to make, I almost never get rid of any comments that someone makes on my writing. I like that more than whatever grade I get by a long shot (I do like to see that I got a good grade though).”
“I like the idea of no grades and just agreeing on a grade. Otherwise, grades stress me out.”
“No grades could go either way for me. I like the idea, but at the same time I need to see a letter grade so I know how I’m doing. Suggestions are great as well, but what tells me I didn’t do good enough or I need to try harder is the grade, because I’ll try to do the bare minimum without it.” (It’s sad that a single letter tells a student all this instead of several comments. We need to shift the focus!)
“I think I’m so used to getting and grade and and number to tell me how I did that I don’t know how I feel about it yet.”
“I like keeping up with my grades and knowing how well I am doing in a class. Not knowing my grades is going to probably stress me out honestly. I don’t know how I feel about it.”
“I actually appreciate grades because personally I really care about my gpa and grades so I like to know exactly where I stand in each class and what I need to do in order to maintain a comfortable gpa. Also for me it may be a bit of an overload getting all of our assignments at once, and due dates are very much appreciated so I know how much work I need to do on each assignment daily/weekly. I think that no grades and independent learning will be a good experience, but also it is very new and will take some getting used to.”
“There was one time last year where you only gave us feedback and no grades. Which it was nice because all my focus was on how can I improve.”
“I like not having grades because they don’t always reflect the effort and thought you put into it. On the other hand I don’t like not having grades because I think I’m so used to a teacher telling me what category my work is in and that needs improvement.”
“The no grades is also a huge stress reliever for me because instead of thinking about how it can be perfect, I can more creatively write.”

As you can see, these students are all over the spectrum. I have a lot of reassuring to do. And even more feedback to give.

But I’d rather spend my time doing that than justifying a two-digit number in a grade book any day.

Giving Up Grading: The Logistics


As I begin planning for the year and this new endeavor of going gradeless, I’ve been thinking a lot about all that can be gained in my students’ learning:

  • Students focusing on feedback and learning instead of a digit.
  • Students no longer comparing scores with their peers.
  • Students taking risks without fear of failure

These are just a few of a long list of hopes I have for my kids no longer burdened by daily grades. However, I’ve also had to think about what may be lost.

  • How will I communicate to parents and other teachers about student progress?
  • How will I submit grades for report cards?
  • How can I ensure the students understand their own progress?

I’m ready for the trial and error approach (and more errors and more trials, I’m sure), but these are a few of the logistical points I plan to start with.

  1. Reformat online grade book

    When parents, teachers, and my students log on to our online grade book, I don’t want them to see a blank page under “English.” I never want to give the impression that because we don’t have grades we aren’t learning. As a result, I plan to do two things to help communication of expectations and learning.

    First, when I create an assignment on Google classroom for students, I will still make an entry in our grade book. However, rather than entering a score, I will just mark “collected” or “missing.” This will give everyone a clear picture of what we are doing in the class and the students’ level of completion.

    Second, I will have a column titled “Feedback.” Our online grade book allows us to add comments to individual assignments. In the past I have used this to denote if an assignment had been revised or if it was submitted incomplete. Now, I will add a comment and provide a URL to a Google doc with the proper share settings. This Google doc will be a running record of feedback.

  2. Running record of feedback

    While I do want to give feedback on the individual work students submit, I also want to keep one doc for each student that gets updated with feedback specifically addressing the standard objectives. By keeping this information in one doc, students and I will better be able to evaluate the entire grading period as a whole and the progress made.

  3. Conferences
    At the mid-term and 9 week mark, I will take a week to schedule conferences with each student individually. During this time, students will present their work, describe their efforts, and advocate for themselves. We will review the standards marked as objectives for the quarter and look at revisions they have made based on the feedback they received. The mid-term conference will mostly function as a practice and checkpoint, while the final conference will determine their numeric grade that will be entered in the grade book for the quarter.

    I know meeting with an entire class of students for individual conferences will be a challenge. I have some classes as big as thirty. However, independent learning is already built into my curriculum with reading days and writing days.

    During this time, students are given the freedom to read what they want and write what they want for the entire period. The expectations are set that this is individual learning time, and by doubling up a few of these days in the week, combined with students who can meet in our school-wide Student Resource Time, I am hopeful I can get to everyone. Plus, by reading and writing, students are still meeting some umbrella standards and can bring their work from these days to the conferences as further proof of their learning.

    Do you have any other ideas for increasing communication on student progress? Leave them in the comments below.


Giving Up Grading: My First Steps


After eight years of traditional(ish) teaching in my English classroom, I am excited to begin another new year. I look forward to new books and fresh faces, building relationships and encouraging learners. I’m ready to greet every student with a smile, put the world of writing at their fingertips, and open their eyes to new titles in the library.

You know what I’m not ready for?


As an English teacher, grading is my arch nemesis. The Joker to my Batman. The Lex to my Superman. The Voldemort to my Harry.

I spend hours grading assignments every night, poring over rubrics and guidelines, often agonizing over the final number posted in the grade book. Will this be high enough to make Sally feel validated about her work? Will it be low enough to encourage Billy to revise? Will it be in a satisfactory range to prevent Eddie’s dad from sending me another e-mail? Will it completely demoralize Alli who has poured her heart and soul into this piece only to have it reduced to two digits in a grade book online?

I love giving students feedback to hone their craft and refine their work, but I hate giving it a score, so easily compared and discarded.

And so, I have decided to take the leap that’s been at the edge of my thoughts for years. I am finally going to give up grading. Gulp.

Step 1: Inform Admin and Staff

Fortunately, my principal is very excited for me to experiment with this new idea, but I know I will need to keep communication open for the logistics. I also want to let other staff members know my plans. Our school has a student mentoring program, and each teacher is responsible for checking a select group of students’ grades regularly. If those teachers see no numbers in the grade book, they won’t know what I’m doing in my classroom or how to help.

Plus, starting the conversation early can only foster collaboration and inspire more big ideas.

Step 2: Inform Parents

Every year  I send home a letter to parents with an overview of my pedagogy and expectations for the year (at the end of this letter, I add a small paragraph personalized for each student about why I am looking forward to having him/her this year). This year, a big chunk of my letter will be used to explain WHY I am giving up grading and HOW I plan to keep them informed on their student’s learning.

I will also provide parents with articles about this practice, like this one and this one.

Step 3: Inform Students

While I have experimented with no grades on a few isolated assignments with positive results, I know it will be a major shift for my students. I will need to work extra hard to ensure they know where they are with their learning and what steps they will need to take moving forward.

In the first week of school, I want to read articles with my kids about grades, the stress of school, and the importance of learning. We’ll read, journal, discuss, and repeat.

As a students myself, I remember being driven crazy in college when a professor would mark “B+/A-” on top of my paper. All I could think was, “Wait, so is it a B+ or is it an A-? My GPA depends on this!” I can’t imagine how I would have handled no grade at all!

I can empathize with my students who have been trained to focus on the score, not their work, and I’ll have to remember my own anxiety to help them work through theirs.

Step 4: Practice 

Before I give my first major assignment, a narrative piece, I want to give the kids a scaffold, both for the writing and the grading. Students will write a short excerpt (a snapshot, a dialogue section, etc), and I will give them feedback on it. No grade.

My feedback will need to highlight a skill they are using well and should continue, and point out a place where they need to push themselves, plus the resources for how to get there.

I admit, I will still be working long hours every night to accomplish this, but the difference is my time will be spent with their work, not their grades.

Step 5: Reflect

I love reflection. It drives my classroom, but it’s not enough for me to be the only one reflecting. After this first scaffold, I need to give each student the chance to reflect either in writing or in a conference to tell me what they got out of the feedback. Is what I wrote what they read? Or did they totally miss the encouragement and focus only on the critique? Did they understand my comments? What needs to be more clear? What could I do differently next time to be even more helpful?

My students’ answers to these questions will shape the feedback I give as we begin our first major writing piece. With this information, I can learn to give better feedback for the formative assessments, and they can refine their own learning process with what helps them best.

This is all new and scary, for me and the students. After the first 9 week grading period, we will take time to reflect in a big way and decide together if this is how we want to continue or if we need a change.

Check back to find out how the first weeks go!