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5 Practices Found in the Gradeless Classroom

When grading is no longer the focus, how does an educator’s role change?

By Lani Aquino

Changes in education always rock the boat. One of the main reasons for the choppy waters surrounding change is lack of understanding. Any teacher can relate to students balking when they get frustrated with a new concept, and when educators look to institute a gradeless classroom design, a collective gasp is heard among those unfamiliar with the concept. These collective gaspers include students, parents, and other educators.

For many, a gradeless classroom conjures up images of a teacher with feet propped on a desk reading the newspaper or gazing at a screen or catching up on some much needed sleep. If grades are no longer a part of the learning process, then what are teachers doing? That’s the job of the teacher: assign, grade, repeat. If grading is removed from the cycle, the whole idea of education as we know it is removed too. Guess what? That’s the whole point.

The removal of grades does not equate to the removal of responsibility and accountability for educators. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Educators in a gradeless classroom are no longer tied to an arbitrary and subjective system of reporting. Rather than getting easier, their jobs have become exponentially more difficult. When grading is removed from the cyclical formation of what was thought to be an effective learning process, students and teachers are able to take learning to new heights.

Here are five practices teachers in gradeless classrooms employ to make this happen.

  1. Descriptive Feedback- There are no longer points or a percentage attached to every assignment. Teachers are responding to students with rich and meaningful feedback. A 5/10 is a number that gets a glance and then a discard. A written or verbal (recorded or in person) response to work offers suggestions for growth and improvement. 5 Feedback Methods for the Gradeless (or Any) Classroom shares ways that teachers put this descriptive method into practice.
  2. Facilitation vs. Information Dissemination- When the learning environment isn’t centered on grades, the role of the teacher undergoes change. Rather than supplying all the information to allow students to fill in the blanks and pass the test, teachers become facilitators of the learning process. Their new role is to supply students with the resources and strategies to discover information and explore concepts at their own pace.
  3. Progress Informs Instruction- Instead of sifting through a stack of worksheets for yet another rote and often mindless activity to buffer the point total, teachers in gradeless classrooms employ methods that reveal where students are within the learning process. A set of points or a percentage don’t report on student understanding; they are often more indicative of compliance or the ability to follow the rules of school. Teachers in gradeless classrooms value comprehension over compliance.
  4. Student-Led Inquiry- The methods and strategies chosen to delve into concepts and build student understanding undergo a transformation when grades aren’t the end goal. As facilitators of learning, teachers allow students to sit in the driver’s seat on their learning journeys. Discussing learning goals and levels of understanding with students allows students to have a voice and ownership within the process. Students are then able to be active participants in the determination of next steps and their level of preparedness for moving forward with new concepts and/or deeper inquiry.
  5. Collaborative Assessment- A gradeless classroom does not mean students aren’t assessed. The process through which assessment of learning occurs and how it is reported are significantly restructured though. With grades not being the focus of the learning, mastery and understanding of concepts become the focus. Teachers are no longer assigning arbitrary points to these endeavors. Students and teachers work together in determining levels of understanding and next steps.

The gradeless classroom teacher is not tuning out of the learning process. In fact, the removal of grades from the process allows for more actual learning to occur. By taking away an often subjective component that can create a deer in headlights response to the students on its receiving end, a gradeless classroom allows students to take more ownership of the process because their academic endeavors aren’t being owned by points and grades. Gradeless classroom teachers are transforming the learning process and increasing student success.

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