My mentor teacher (all employees new to the district gets one, regardless of experience) had just visited my class unannounced to watch my Language of Humour students present their final projects. They had selected a text (this group chose a Brian Regan standup clip over which someone had done stick-figure animations), developed a discussion around audience and purpose, and created a writing assignment. The group that presented engaged the audience and had well-developed activities.
They had some flaws - a few times, the presenters got into a conversation about what they liked about the video instead of paying attention to what the rest of the students in the room were doing. I LOVED that they were so passionate about it, although I would have loved for them to channel that more into the discussion. But what came shining through is their passion, their analytical ability, and their willingness to bring their classmates into discussion. It was pretty cool to watch.
Before their presentation started, one group had a question about the writing activity - I asked each group to collect and grade the work completed during their presentation. That's all the guidelines I gave them. Most groups did full credit or no credit (a reflection of how most things are graded when I am doing the grading) without asking what/how they were supposed to do. But a student in the group who had presented the previous class period wanted to know HOW he was to grade the work. I told him to grade it however he liked - five points, a million points, whatever. I trusted him and his group to be fair.
And as I was talking to my mentor teacher, he just couldn't understand two things:
- How they were grading each other
- How I was grading them
As I listened to his questions, I realised something:
My students never asked how (or even if) this would be graded. In the two weeks they had been working on it, grades had never come up once.
My mentor just couldn't comprehend how that was possible. How students could be motivated to do their work without some kind of accountability grade-wise. How I didn't have a plan for how I would translate their performance into grades.
So I thought quickly: what would I want if I were a student presenting this information?
I would want to know my successes and failures. I would want to know how effective the teacher believed my presentation to be at delivering the learning objectives.
I would want a narrative. Not a letter grade. Not a rubric.
So I decided I would give them a narrative. I'm a little obsessed with this right now, and I'm going to write some narratives in that style for my students. Depending on how it goes, I may post a few of them here.
I know some people will question what I'll actually put in the gradebook, as we still live in a point-based, letter grade world. To be perfectly honest, most of them will probably get full credit. The only ones who will receive less than full credit and the presentations that didn't include all required elements. So far, every presentation has met all the requirements. I don't feel like playing a game of "well, you lost two points for not looking up when you spoke" or "I know you chose a writing topic, but it could have been better so I'm taking off five points."
They will still get feedback on their areas of strengths and weaknesses. But their grade will reflect that they learned a lot, and helped their classmates learn something new.
This is as close to a letter-grade-free world as I can get.
My mentor teacher didn't like my answer. He wanted me to have a rubric. Assign points. Do something that was quantifiable.
But what is going to make my students grow more? What is going to develop their ability to own their learning?
What will they remember more: a letter grade or a personal letter?
I know what I would want.
And what I am MOST proud of: the fact that the grade doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to them, it doesn't matter to me.
So why should it matter to anyone else?