Thursday, July 22, 2010

Come Join the Abolish Grading Movement

I want to develop a page on my blog dedicated to exhibiting teachers who have abolished, are abolishing or want to abolish grading from their classroom.

Below is my story with abolishing grading and my contact information for others to get in touch with me. If you are interested in being a part of a group of teachers who want to share their abolish grading stories, please e-mail me your story.

Joe Bower
Middle School Grades 6-8
language arts, science, physical education
twitter: @joe_bower
Skype: bowerjj

At what stage of the abolish grading game are you?

Six years ago I stopped grading. The only grade that my students ever see from me is on their school board mandated report card. That's it.

Why do you want to or why did you abolish grading?

Six years ago I became very angry and disenfranchised from the education system. I came close to quiting. I hated marking. I hated grading. I hated the judging. Rather than quitting, I began searching for a better way - I came across Alfie Kohn's The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement and it blew my mind. I quickly came to understand there is no good reason to grade.

What do you do in replace of grading?

Assessment can be simplified as the process of collecting information about student learning and then sharing that information (only sometimes would you ever need a hint of an evaluation). I use Jerome Bruner's Law to shape my collecting and sharing: "Students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information." Bruner provides us both with what we shouldn't do (reward and punish) but he also provides a rich alternative (information). First and foremost, I utilize verbal, two-way conversations with students to provide feedback. Secondly, I use written comments that take shape three ways: I describe what I see the student doing, I provide suggestions (continue to... or consider doing...) and finally I ask reflective questions about their learning.

How do you establish a grade if you have no grades?

Firstly, even if a grade is demanded of you for the report card, it makes very little sense to me that the only way to come up with a final average would be to take a list of other averages and average them together to get a final average. I'm no mathemagician, but that smells fishy to me.

1) My students collect the evidence of their learning in their paper and electronic portfolios. The paper one is nothing fancy - just a file folder while the electronic one takes the form of a discussion forum or a Ning that I created using or

2) I am a professional. I spend hours everyday with each of my students for 10 months of the year. I get to know them quite well, so my professional judgement and intuitive thinking count for a lot - and have proven to be quite accurate (there is a wealth of evidence to support that teachers assessment of their students may be the most accurate form of assessment we can depend on). There is no substitute for what a teacher can see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears when observing and interacting with students while they are learning.

3) I ask the students to self-assess. It is amazing how close they come to picking the same grade that I would pick. Interestingly enough, when there is disagreement between me and them, they are usually too hard on themselves - and the odd time a kid over-inflates their grade, I either decide to let it go or I have a conversation with the student and make the adjustment.

Together, I use these three components to justify the grade that the student and I come up with.

What fears did you have about abolishing grading?

My fears are almost too many to count. I've feared being different from my colleagues. I've feared being challenged by a parent or administrator. These fears still nag at me despite my confidence and research - I routinely have to tell my amygdala to shut-the-hell-up.

Interestingly enough, my fears have never been about the kids.

What challenges did you encounter with abolishing grading?

The high achieving students have the hardest time with this initially, but after a detoxing period, I've yet to have a student not appreciate this moratorium on grading. I received very little comments from parents - either they trust me that much, or they care that little - I have a feeling it was a combination of the two. I reflect on this often. I was fortunate enough to have very supportive administration for almost my entire career.

I am both well researched and well experienced in the game of abolishing grading. I jump at the opportunity to discuss this with parents, colleagues, administrators, anyone. If you wish to abolish grading, you have to be well spoken on the topic. Research comes first - read anything and everything you can. Start with reading Alfie Kohn and then my experiences. And if this page is successful, I hope to share a plethora of educators who can lend you a hand.

Are you willing to speak with others who are interested in abolishing grading?

Absolutely! You can contact me by:

Twitter: @joe_bower
skype: bowerjj


If you are interested in being a part of a group of teachers who want to share their abolish grading stories, please e-mail me your story. You can follow my format above or personalize your story anyway you choose. Please consider providing contact information for others to get in touch with you. I'll then post your story with mine in a page that I hope will grow and grow and grow.

1 comment:

  1. Can't believe you have zero comments.

    Just got a 2 day/week job offer where I teach my own curriculem, and don't have to give grades to high school students in school. Looking very much forward to it. (might look at putting in an experience point system though... it would allow me to reward the right kind of "failure" as well, because that just doesn't get encouraged.)