Big ideas and changes can lead to a very divisive climate when it comes to education. When practices within the classroom remain stagnant while the world outside of the classroom evolves, students become the ones paying the highest price. The practice of traditional grading puts an endpoint on learning. Students develop a level of indifference toward learning and growth once a grade has been assigned to their efforts. Whether the mark was good or bad in their eyes, the learning window closes, and students look to move on to the next practice of compliance. In a gradeless classroom, the learning is constantly evolving and progressing as students move their focus away from a final mark and instead move their focus toward continual growth.
The concept of the gradeless classroom is becoming more widespread. Teachers are practicing varying levels of implementation as compliance to district requirements can dictate a complete transformation. There are countless resources and forums available for teachers interested in transforming their classrooms and offering newfound ways for students to find success in the learning environment. Hacking Assessment from the Hack Learning series is a perfect starting point. Joining online cohorts like Teachers Throwing Out Grades or Teachers Going Gradeless puts educators in touch with others on or interested in the same journey. The following of hashtags like #TTOG or #gradeless can also bring about a boon of ideas and resources. As teachers find their paths on this journey, they can rest assured that they’re on the right course as the tossing of grades also leads to the tossing of these 5 learning inhibitors.
Self-depreciation- Many students tie their self-worth to the assignment of letter grades. Not achieving a particular mark can lead to a barrage of self-depreciating talk and negativity. A single letter can wield that much control over a student’s emotional well-being. By removing the letter, there is a removal of a defeatist attitude. Students focus on continual achievement as opposed to a make it or break it endpoint.
Product over Process- As students strive to attain a particular mark on a project, they lose sight of the importance of the processes being gleaned. Shortcuts and tunnel vision that can deter long-term understanding and concept development take precedence in a “one and done” learning environment where the grade for the final product is the main focus.
Terminable Efforts- Once an arbitrarily good or bad grade is received, students may toss in the towel for a couple of reasons. 1. They’ve achieved a desired mark and can float through the rest of the term on its coattails. 2. There is no way to raise the low score and attain a higher grade, so why bother trying. Efforts are likely to be interminable as the eye on the prize moves from the endpoint to the exploration.
Anxiety- By removing an all or nothing method for tallying compliance and performance, high levels of anxiety are likely to be removed as well. Looming deadlines and meeting blanket goals as opposed to achieving personal milestones can be overwhelming and anxiety producing. Throwing out grades allows students to focus on a more personalized mastery of skills and concepts.
Mechanization- When students master compliance, gaps in understanding can be masked. This often leads to issues with conceptualization and deeper understanding because the big picture is never the actual lens for learning. Working toward a letter grade can cause students to coast through the learning process in a mechanization mode fueled by compliance, rather than embracing the journey and all the offerings and takeaways to be found through trial and error.
When students are no longer held accountable by an arbitrary grading system, they can uncover a newfound accountability within themselves. Moving to a classroom where learning takes center stage because grades are no longer the star of the show can positively impact students’ preparedness for whatever the future may bring. By allowing students to revel in the eureka moments that learning can bring rather than enter the learning process with tunnel vision focused on an endpoint, teachers are helping to build confidence and a lifelong love of learning.
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