Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Why Go Gradeless?

We started with another question today in social studies about the architecture of the ancient civilizations. I asked students to think about how their homes and buildings are similar and different than the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. Students wrote done their thoughts. I could have just showed pictures on the SMART board and discussed whole class the answer to that question, but I wanted students to construct knowledge around this rather than be told the answer. Students were handed images of homes and structures of the ancient civilizations and discussed their thinking about what tools the civilizations used to make their homes and buildings, how their structures looked compared to ours, and observations they had. They jotted bulleted notes about their ideas and shared them with classmates. Then we went on a small field trip through the school for butcher paper. I asked students to work with their tables to show me how ancient civilization architecture was similar and different to ours. Every student had to be working on something. I then saw groups begin to organize themselves and plan out how to show me their thinking on the butcher paper. When I told students time was up I got groans. This is the best sound to a teacher.  I want my students to want to keep working!

After the students cleaned up we had a conversation about the method I chose, and students shared this was an activity they were excited about getting back to. I shared with students they would not be graded, which led to a conversation of how I only grade what I have to per the school’s expectations (math and reading assessments).  I asked students why they thought I went gradeless many years ago. They shared with me that I could have done this because they are not numbers, but rather people who think. One student said not grading relieves pressure, anxiety, and stress. Another said some students do not test well. These are all great explanations, and I added that I couldn’t grade growth. Students need to time to explore, love learning, develop skills, and have empathy for others. I put myself in their shoes. I was a bad test taker. I spent hours stressing over tests. No one has ever asked me for my GPA. I do not live life by a rubric. Rather I look for ways to improve my teaching and learning. At the end of each school year I groan. I miss the watching the growth of my current students. However, I know their growing has just begun. They have a whole story yet to unfold. They have a mindset that does not involve equating themselves to a number but rather see themselves as people who have room to grow and learn. Over the course of the years students stopped asking me what their grade was and started asking how they can improve. That is a question I love to hear!

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